Why wearing gloves can damage precious books
We're often led to believe that wearing gloves is essential when handling precious books. In fact, it poses a serious risk of damaging them. Our experts explain why, and share their tips for handling books safely.
How can gloves damage books?
Even clean and well-fitting gloves can interfere with our extraordinarily sophisticated sense of touch. Individual edges of pages that can be felt by the naked fingertip tend to clump together when we use gloves.
When you look at them up close, gloves are not as smooth or gentle as you might think. Cotton gloves are made of tangled fibres that can easily catch on small tears or rough areas in weak and degraded paper and leather.
They also hold onto dust and grit, making them abrasive.
All of these factors mean gloves can damage these delicate and precious pages.
How to handle books safely
Our advice follows guidance from the British Library and National Archives and reflects how our book and paper conservators handle the books they care for:
- Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling books, and at frequent intervals afterwards
- Handle books without gloves and without using hand cream
- When washing facilities are not easily available, use disposable alcohol-saturated wipes that do not contain skin lotions, then dry your hands thoroughly with paper towels
In short, handle all books with care – but never with gloves.
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