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Care & Handling of Special Collections Materials: Books and Other Bound Materials

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

The Way Books Open


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• Use book cradles and book foams for all books, but especially to support books that cannot fully open or have broken bindings (e.g. loose boards, loose text block)

• Avoid forcing volumes open that have stiff or tight bindings

• Turn pages starting at the top right corner, using your whole hand to turn the page rather than grasping just the corner. Avoid turning the page from the bottom, as pages are more likely to tear when turned from the bottom


• Vellum bindings can be stiff

• Watch for brittle paper, tears, and breaks in the page

• Boards may be partially or fully detached from text block

• Parchment is stiff

• Painted surfaces are inflexible, especially on parchment and vellum

Bound Medieval Manuscripts

Never touch the illuminations, and avoid touching the manuscript lettering

• Touch only the blank margin area to turn the pages

• Do not attempt to fasten binding clasps


Books with Foldouts


• See how the item is folded up before attempting to unfold it

• Unfold slowly and carefully

• Use a horizontal support card for large foldouts and place behind an

adjacent page, rather than directly behind the foldout

• Weights and snakes may be used to keep foldouts open, if needed

• Work with a partner; sometimes more than two hands are needed


• Watch the area where the foldouts attach to the book — tears often start here from mishandling

• The folded areas of the foldout may be weaker than the rest of the sheet due to repeated unfolding and refolding

• Foldouts are not always printed on the same type of paper as the textblock — some can be very lightweight and delicate, while others may be heavyweight and stiff