Manuscripts and Special Collections

Handling material in the Reading Room

Careful handling of books and documents is one of the best ways to keep items safe for the future.

Transporting material

Handling procedures start with how we bring items to the Reading Room to be consulted by researchers. Our staff locate the items in the store and take them carefully off the shelves. Loose items are placed in boxes for transportation, and if they are fragile, may be placed in inert polyester sleeves to protect them from accidental damage.  

If the items are suitable for production, they are brought to the Reading Room on a trolley. The Duty Officer assesses them and sets up any supports that are required. Loose items are brought out in small groups of 10 or so items at a time, and are counted out and counted back in again to make sure that none are lost or misplaced.

Bringing material into the Reading Room 

Bringing material into the Reading Room

Supporting material

We provide cushions or foam wedges to support bound volumes. These supports keep the items still and prevent pressure being put on book spines. Spines of bound volumes are very vulnerable to damage. They can split and break if the books are forced open too wide, or pressed down hard onto a table when open.  

 Handling a large bound volumeHandling a tightly bound volume

Handling bound volumes

Flat foam supports are used to support papers. Books and documents should not be held up in the hands to be read, but should always be left on the supports. 

 Handling a bundle of paper documents tied at the top

Handling a bundle of paper documents tied at the top

Lead weights, either in blocks, pads or ‘snakes’, can be used to hold down edges. This leaves your hands free to make notes and keeps the item safe from sudden springing movements.

 Handling a medieval parchment roll

Handling a large parchment deed 

Lead weight 'snake' and leather-covered weights used to hold down the edges of documents

Handling material

Reading Room regulations prohibit food and drink, as spillages from food and drink will cause stains. We also ask readers to use pencil to make notes. Accidental pencil marks can be rubbed away, but biro and ink can cause permanent markings on documents.  

Our staff are available to give you advice about how to handle documents and books safely. Ask them if you are uncertain or need assistance.

Finger marks are unsightly, and do lasting damage. Oils in your skin (and any dust or dirt you are carrying on your hands) can permanently stain and weaken paper and leave marks on photographs. For this reason, you should make sure that your hands are clean and dry when you handle documents. Do not use your finger to keep your place as you read down a page, and never lick your finger before turning a page. As well as damaging the paper, it could also damage your health by transferring mould spores or dust to your mouth!

It is easy to tear paper. Items in bundles or files that are sewn, pinned, tied or tagged together are especially vulnerable to damage when the pages are turned. Take your time to turn pages, and move documents carefully, holding them flat and in both hands. Members of staff are always on hand to help.

 Handling a bundle of letters

Handling a bundle of letters

Use an acid-free piece of paper as a marker, so that you are not tempted to use your finger to move down the page. You can also use acid-free paper strips to help you turn the pages of bound volumes.

Laying a sheet of inert polyester on top of large items like maps helps to protect against accidental leaning when you are trying to see a detail.

 Placing a polyester protective sheet over a large map

Placing a polyester protective sheet over a large map

Photographs are very easily marked by handling, but this can be prevented by wearing white cotton gloves. If using gloves to handle paper, which is easily torn, we recommend wearing disposable surgical gloves. These fit snugly on the hand and make it easier to handle page edges without tearing them.

 Handling photographic prints

Handling photographic prints

Readers do not need to use gloves to hande photograph albums and slides, but care should still be taken to hold slides by the edge of the mount, and to refrain from touching the photographic prints inside the album.

 Handling slides

Handling a photograph album

Handling slides and photograph albums


Next page: Extending access by making copies

Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651