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Perspectives From the Archives

The Care and Handling of Library Collections

Mar 6, 2022 4 MINUTES

The staff of the Sherman Fairchild Center for Book Conservation, Thomas J. Watson Library, has put together this video to assist our patrons in the care and proper handling of library materials. Please follow these guidelines and help us to preserve our collection for years to come.



Welcome to Watson Library. In this video, we will share some guidelines for the care and proper handling of library materials.

Food and beverages other than water are not allowed in the library. Please dispose of food or gum before using the library materials. Water bottles with lids are allowed in the reading room, but prohibited at the special collections table. If you are using special collections material, you may store your water bottle in a library locker.

Please make sure that hands are clean and dry before handling library materials. There are water-based non-allergenic wipes at the circulation window for this purpose. Continue to clean your hands periodically if you are handling dusty materials, so that the dirt is not transferred to the pages.

Photography is allowed, but please turn off your flash. Scanners are also available, but oversized, brittle, or fragile materials should not be scanned. You may place the book on supports and take photos.

Use only pencil when taking notes at the special collections table.

Paper bookmarks are provided to mark your place. Avoid using other books or any other materials. Sticky notes leave damaging adhesive on the pages.

Books are easily damaged by large or sharp jewelry, which can scratch or dent materials, dangling scarves and long hair, which can catch on page edges, and nail polish, which is easily transferred to pages. Bags are available if you wish to remove jewelry while consulting library materials. Also consider removing long scarves and tying back long hair.

Gloves are not required for most library materials, but when handling original photographic material, metal, Plexiglas, or if otherwise indicated on the item's packaging, please wear the provided gloves.

If your item is in an enclosure, place the box flat on the table and open it carefully. Take care to note any instructions indicated on the enclosure.

Books are easily damaged when they are stacked high or carried in large piles. Carry no more than you can comfortably hold in your hands. Keep stacks low—no higher than your hand—and put the largest books on the bottom to prevent them from falling.

When consulting multiple books, avoid stacking them while they are open, as this can cause damage to the binding. Please be sure to keep books on the table rather than leaned against the edge.

Book supports of various types are available throughout the reading room. These hold books in place to prevent damage and provide better access to the text. Use book supports whenever possible, and consult staff if you need help choosing the appropriate support. Light weights are also available to gently hold pages down, and should be placed on blank areas of the page. Using a smaller opening angle is recommended for large or fragile books.

Turn pages slowly and carefully from the center (not by turning one corner), and avoid touching printed areas. For brittle or damaged pages, or any that are difficult to turn, please use the provided tool. If you come to a fragile foldout, consult library staff, who can assist you in opening it properly.

When handling stacks of plates, lift one plate at a time and carefully stack them to one side, rather than turning them over like book pages. To put the plates back, reverse the process and handle one at a time. Ensure that each plate is aligned, rather than jogging the plates on the table to align the stack.

Always consult library staff if you need assistance or to report any damage. Thank you for helping us to preserve our collection!