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Care & Handling of Special Collections Materials: Handling Tool Kit & Guide

This guide offers best practices for handling and using special collections materials in the Library's reading rooms. The guide is intended for those staff who work with readers, provide instruction using special collections, and security staff who monit

Book Cradles and Supports

Book cradles and book foams should be used for all bound materials being consulted in the reading room.  Cradles or supports are especially important for books with tight openings, loose boards or detached covers. 

Book cradles may be made of inert plastics or non-acidic cardboard and consist of a single piece.  These cradles can be most useful when the opening is static (book will be open to the same place for consultation).  Cradles with a single angle of opening are more frequently used in exhibitions, than in reading rooms.

Book foams, which generally consist of modular components, offer greater flexibility for supporting books when readers will be moving through the textblock.  Avoid latex foams, which are not stable. Polyethylene is a good stable material for book foams.  The closed cell foam will have a bit less "grip" or surface "tooth."  This is the choice for exhibition cases (any closed air environments) because they do not off-gas.  There are foam book supports made of Urethane that are recommended for use in exhibition case, but are acceptable for short-term display in classrooms or use in reading rooms.  "Clarkson" book foams were originally designed by conservator and book historian, Christopher Clarkson. 

Book cushions are essentially pillows that can be used to cradle an open book.  They should be made of inert materials, free of colored dyes that might transfer to bindings, and offer a smooth surface free from textures that may cause abrasion to leather and cloth book coverings.  Book cushions are often consist of polystyrene beads encased in a Tyvek outer sleeve.  The Tyvek is often heat-sealed so there is no adhesive. Book cushions are good for short-term display and reading room use.  Different sized cushions may be used in combination to build up the needed height for books with tight openings.


 Bag weights or soft weights are ...the outer stockinette materials is usually made from unbleached cotton, which will not damage paper.  They are filled with small metal beads coated in a plastic resin, sealed in a polyethylene bag or tubing.  The use of small beads allows the weight to be somewhat pliable and allow for gentle and even pressure.  Soft bag weights come in different lengths - 3, 5 or 10 inches and weights of .5 to 2 pounds.  Use the lightest weights needed to do the job of holding materials in place.


Snake weights are thin, very flexible weights consisting of metal beads in a chain covered with a Nylon cloth.  They are very similar to drapery weights.  Snake weights are most often used to hold open the pages of a book. Try to position the weights in areas without printing or media.  They come in lengths that allow them to be draped over a page and easily lifted to reposition with a the page needs to turned.




Gloves are sometimes needed for handling certain materials that are easily damaged by finger oils. Two types of gloves are generally used for reading room handling - lint-free cotton gloves and nitrile gloves.  It is important that gloves be fitted and not too large for the user. Nitrile gloves are recommended over cotton for most special handling of photographs and objects.  They come in various sizes and can be purchased through a scientific or medical supply vendor. Latex gloves and powdered gloves should be avoided as many people of allergic to Latex and the powder can transfer to objects.