The Wallace Collection


Collection Blog

Gloves or no gloves….

Ways to handle rare objects often cause debate even amongst specialists. In this blog by Helen Jones, Library Cataloguer, she explores how she handles the fragile books in the Wallace Collection’s library.

I am really pleased to see that the recent blog posts on some of our Library’s treasures have proved so popular – we always love presenting our most valued items to an interested audience! I’ve also noted that there has been some debate over the lack of gloves on the hands shown in the short clips (mine, in case anyone wanted to know!).


New #blog out exploring a 1788 guide to Paris from our Library #library #book #paris

A video posted by The Wallace Collection (@wallacemuseum) on


The gloves or no gloves debate divides even the professional librarians and archivists. It will surprise no one to hear that I am firmly on the no gloves side of the debate so I will explain why and hopefully be able to set people’s minds at rest.

I know that programmes on TV often show librarians and archivists handling items while wearing gloves. The main argument for the wearing of gloves is that the natural oils and dirt on the skin will, over a prolonged period, damage the bindings, paper or print/ink of the books. This is a good argument but the issue can be overcome quite simply by making sure that hands are freshly (and thoroughly) washed before handling rare items. The wearing of hand lotions and nail varnish are severely discouraged and obviously hands should be washed if they have been in contact with food or any other dirty or greasy substance before books should be touched at all. Actually, I would consider this sensible for the handling of all books, not just the rare ones.  

There are different types of gloves: cotton, latex and non-latex alternatives. The arguments against wearing cotton gloves are as follows: They make you clumsy as you lose sensitivity of touch when you are wearing them. You are more likely to tear pages of drop items. Cotton gloves absorb dust and dirt (often from the outside of the book) and then simply transfer it to the inside (unless you wear clean gloves every time). Sweat simply soaks through them and could get to the book anyway. The cotton fibres of the gloves can catch on the often rough paper edges of old books, thus creating damage. The fibres can also damage ink and pigments on the surface of the paper. Many people are allergic to latex and such gloves are coated in a powder that is bad for books. The non-latex alternatives are the best option if gloves are to be worn but even they are not ideal.    

Make no mistake; there are circumstances when gloves should be worn but most damage can be avoided simply by careful handling and by refraining from touching any part of the works other than the cover and page edges. Obviously, touching images and manuscript text is always a very bad idea if they are to be preserved.

The books that we have shown in the blogs are all in good condition. The paper is of excellent quality and they contain no manuscript materials. I make sure not to touch the coloured illustrations. The bindings are all fairly sturdy and I know how to handle them to minimise damage. The last work shown – the Henri Moser catalogue – was published in the twentieth century and has a wooden box and sturdy buckram portfolio. Clean hands (unless very careless) will not damage these items on the rare occasions that they are consulted. We would not permit heavy use of these items as they are valuable and we wish to continue to make them available to interested readers for a long time to come.   



I hope I have given a good explanation for my lack of gloves – please be aware that museum objects are in a completely different category and I would never advise anyone to touch them without gloves. I can only speak about the library materials under my care. It would not be overstating the matter to say that I love them and would never knowingly put them at risk.

Just so that you can see that I am not alone in this, here is a short article (with various videos attached) containing guidance from the British Library.

Please continue to enjoy the blog posts and Instagram clips on our Library’s treasures and do get in touch with any questions or comments.

By Helen Jones

Comments are closed.