American Numismatic Society Librarian Elizabeth Hahn published a nice Library News article in the 2012 issue 4 of ANS Magazine, the award-winning quarterly sent to all ANS members. At my request Elizabeth kindly sent me an excerpt for publication here. Thanks!
In June 2012, I received a confirmation letter stating that my application for grant funding assistance for preservation needs in the ANS Library was being awarded $5,000 from The Bay and Paul Foundations, an independent private foundation located in New York City. I was thrilled, not only because this is the first grant I wrote that resulted in funding (and such applications can take a great deal of time), but because there are limited funds available in the ANS Library budget that can go towards preservation projects (of which there are many).
Although still a very modest sum, the grant will allow for very necessary re-housing of rare auction catalogs and periodicals and also for a general inventory of preservation needs in the rare book room with help from a professional conservator. The project allowed me to bring in a student intern with an interest in preservation and rare books to gain hands-on experience dealing with issues that are encountered by all libraries.
In working so closely with the rare books over a period of time, I was reminded of the popular question that I am repeatedly asked: Are gloves required in order to handle rare items? The short answer is no, although it is worth reviewing why. The policy of wearing white gloves was initially intended as a barrier to prevent dirt and skin oils from damaging paper items. However, as the British Library attests, wearing white gloves is no longer considered best practice when handling paper collections. I have always preferred the practice of not wearing gloves but handling with clean hands for the very reasons outlined in the articles that were linked to in a recent issue of The E-Sylum. In particular, delicate or brittle pages may more easily tear if the added barrier of a glove is present.
The dexterity of a clean, uncovered hand can more delicately handle the pages than a glove, which is still prone to pick up dirt or absorb sweat and oils of the user. In addition, users may feel a false sense of protection in wearing white gloves, which can lead to increased mishandling of the item. There is also an aesthetic appeal that is lost when wearing gloves. If the user cannot feel the physical attributes of the item, important information about the object may be missed, as a perceived interaction with the physical attributes of the paper can help to provide important and complementary information. It is not clear when the practice of wearing white gloves to handle library and archival materials began, but for preservation purposes, it may have developed from photographers wishing to prevent fingerprints from damaging their negatives (a practice that could have started in the mid-19th century).
What’s more, there is no scientific evidence that even regular handling of paper collections with bare hands causes chemical damage to the item.
So as we worked our way through the rare book room items, we did not use gloves but approached the project with clean hands and steady fingers.
Above is the "after" picture of a section of the library's auction catalog holdings. What a wonderful resource for numismatic researchers! If any of our readers have been to the ANS Library for a past research project, please tell us your story. I've been more of a tourist than a researcher in my short visits there, and have not yet been to the ANS' new home. It looks great!
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
MORE ON WEARING COTTON GLOVES
Wayne Homren, Editor
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