Readers using rare materials in the Special Collections Reading Room have been asking this question long before wearing protective gloves became a Covid-19-related concern.
There are various opinions on whether gloves are necessary when handling archival material and rare books in reading rooms, but in most cases clean, dry hands are best. The loss of dexterity caused by wearing gloves is in fact more of a risk to fragile pages than not wearing them. However, they are necessary sometimes, including when handling photographic material as the oils on your hands can damage the surface of prints and negatives.
So, we give readers white, cotton gloves to wear when needed. Each pair is issued once and then put aside. When there are more used gloves than clean ones, a staff member takes the used gloves home to wash. This may seem like a chore, but there is something hypnotic about the way they swish around in the soapy water like lots of ghostly hands and wave as they tumble about in the dryer. Once dry and sorted into pairs, they are ready for the next reader who needs them.
The Covid-19 lockdown means the library is closed and our gloves aren’t being used at all. The good news is that no gloves are needed to explore our locally digitised collections, which include Special Collections material such as Early New Zealand Books, as well as Broadsheet – New Zealand’s Feminist Magazine, Oral Histories and more.
Katherine Pawley, Special Collections.