Should gloves be worn when handling valuable collections?

It depends on the material(s) out of which the item is made. Gloves should be worn when handling materials that are marred by the natural oils on skin -- this includes photographs and film, metals, ivory -- and whenever there is a suspected health hazard (e.g., mold). Wear fitted, clean, lint-free cotton or nitrile gloves when handling photographs and films or directly handling film or tape (e.g., open reel instead of film/tape on a reel or cartridge). Use impermeable gloves if there is reason to suspect a health hazard (e.g., mold). Always handle collection materials with clean hands whether wearing gloves or not. 

Though clean gloves prevent the transfer of natural skin oils to paper, they reduce tactile sensitivity and increase clumsiness. Studies have shown that skin oils can affect how paper ages, but some preservation experts prioritize reducing the physical risk from reduced tactility; see "Misperceptions About White Gloves / Fausses idées sur les gants blancs," [PDF: 192 KB / 14 p] from International Preservation News.

Items like cotton gloves and microfiber cloths that are used to handle collection items can be washed in a standard washing machine. When selecting a laundry detergent be sure to choose one that is free of dyes, fragrances, fabric softeners, and optical brighteners.

Last Updated: Feb 17, 2021
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