Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

01 April 2014

Handle with Care: Using Collections

Poor handling is one of the main causes of damage to library and archive collections. The damage is accumulative occurring over many years, and is not always immediately apparent. Conservation work is costly and can mean that certain items are not accessible for long periods. All users have responsibility for the care of collections, and information and advice on how to handle collections should be available to all users. If you are unsure about how to handle an item here at the British Library, then don’t hesitate to ask our very experienced staff in the Reading Rooms.

There are guidelines published by the Preservation Advisory Centre outlining the differences in handling protocol for books and bound volumes; documents and letters; maps, rolls and charters; prints and drawings; photographs; papyrus; and even globes. There is such a variety of material available for consultation that it is well worth reading through carefully. Loose items should always be kept in order, seals should be supported with flat foam, the surface of photographs should never be touched, papyrus leaves mounted in paper should be turned by the supporting paper, and although gloves are not recommended for flat material, they are required for touching certain materials such as lead seals or the surface of globes.

Collection Care icons have been designed for use in the British Library reading rooms and we share them under a creative commons license. Heritage organisations are encouraged to use them freely in their own publications. Image files can be copied from the Collection Care icon page or higher resolution .eps versions are available on request ([email protected]).

Top left icon is a hand holding a card saying “Pass.” Top right icon shows aa coat, bag and umbrella crossed out, indicating no coats, bags or umbrellas are allowed. The bottom left icon shows two hands outstretched, indicating clean hands. The bottom right icon has a teacup, sandwich, and water bottle crossed out, indicating no food or drinks allowed.
Graphic icons illustrating do’s and don’ts of the British Library

The top left icon is a pencil, indicating to only use pencils in the designated area.  The top right icon shows a highlighter, and two pens crossed out, indicating no pens allowed. The bottom left icon shows s book opened, supported on the right and left sides, with snake weights on top of either page. This icon is a prompt for readers to use book supports when needed.  The bottom right icon shows a desk pilled with books on top and falling off, reminding readers to keep their area tidy.
Graphic icons illustrating do’s and don’ts of the British Library

The top left icon is a cell phone with a volume symbol crossed out beside it, indicating to turn sound off. The top right icon is a camera crossed out, indicating no cameras allowed. The bottom left icon shows a laptop with a volume icon above crossed out, reminding readers to turn off any sounds.  The bottom right icon is a camera with the flash going off crossed out, indicating no flash photography is allowed.
Graphic icons illustrating do’s and don’ts of the British Library
The top left icon is the profile of a face with a hand held up to the face with the index finger outstretched by the lips in a shushing action, indicating this is space is a quiet area.  The top right icon has a pair of opened scissors and a scalpel, indicating no sharp implements allowed.
Graphic icons illustrating do’s and don’ts of the British Library

CC by Collection Care icons by The Brtish Library Board is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License

You can also find out more about handling collections in our British Library Collection Care videos.

Christina Duffy


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