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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Special Collections Division Portal: Handling Materials

See something? Say something!

Please bring damaged items to the attention of a staff member to help preserve the collection. Inform Preservation Services of any evidence of insects, mold, or moisture.

QUESTIONS? – Unsure of how to unbox or handle an object? Always ask a staff member for assistance.

More Videos on Care & Handling

Murder in the Stacks - Columbia University (1987)

Care & Handling of Rare Books, Paper, Manuscripts, Photographs & Archives - Auckland Libraries (2013)

The Many Stations of Book Preservation - Brigham Young University (2014)

The Basics

HANDS – Dirt, oil, and color can transfer to collection materials. Thoroughly wash and dry your hands.

            Do not use lotion or moisturizer.

            Do not wear pail polish.

GLOVES – Only wear gloves if working with photographs, electronic media, or metals. When working with books and paper, gloves can hinder manual dexterity and may present more of a danger to the object.

CLOTHING – Be mindful of loose clothing or dangling materials such as jewelry, sleeves, or ties that can damage the surface or catch on library items and tear them.

PENCILS ONLY – Pens should not be used around library and archives materials. Under no circumstances should pens ever be used to write on objects. Never write on paper that is laying on top of library materials. 

SIGNAGE – Please pay attention to signs and instructions on shelves, folders, and boxes. Some may pertain to handling or use.

DO NOT RUSH – This is when accidents happen and damage occurs. Take your time and plan your movements.

Storage Environment

Keep lights off and/or cover items to reduce light exposure.

Make sure items are stored properly on shelves when not in use.

PEMs are placed throughout the stacks and used to monitor the temperature and relative humidity of the storage environment. Please do not disturb or move them, as it can affect the data they record.

Moving Items

Plan out the movement and pathway of objects before actually moving anything. Before you pick something up, ensure that you have a clear work space to set it down. 

Notify patrons or other staff that you will be moving through the area and always move to the side for someone moving an item. 

Think about maintaining good body position when moving objects. Library materials can be very large and heavy, so don't endanger yourself or the object!

  • Use two hands (or second or third person if necessary) to support an item completely.
  • Use a step stool or ladder when you need to remove an object from a high shelf.
  • Always use a cart or support to move more than one or two items. Make sure there is adequate space for the object to sit on the cart before loading it.

Handling by Item Type

Check the whole item before handling. Consider the sensitivity of media, quality of the paper or support, and overall stability of the item.

BOUND ITEMS - If there is enough space between the top of the volumes and shelf above, simply reach over the top and pull the volume toward you by applying your fingers to the fore-edge of the textblock. Alternatively, you can push the neighboring volumes on either side in and grasp the spine at the boards. Never grasp a book by the endcaps!

Readjust the books on the shelf after you have removed one so that they are not leaning. Books sitting at an angle place undue strain on the joints and can cause damage. Don’t shelve books so tightly that they cannot be easily removed. Leave space behind the books and shelves for air to circulate.

If an item is too tall to be shelved vertically, ideally it should be shelved horizontally. If space is not available, the volume should be shelved spine down instead of fore-edge down. This will prevent gravity from pulling the textblock away from the binding.

Books should be placed on book carts like they would go on a shelf: either flat or upright, and always supported.

Always carry large volumes by supporting the spine.

PAPER - Always use a board or rigid support when lifting or moving. Place the board underneath by lifting one corner of the print and sliding the support board underneath. If this cannot be done safely, lay the board down next to the item and pick the print up by two opposite corners to move it onto the board.

Any items with friable media should not be stacked.

PHOTOGRAPHS - Wear cotton gloves when handling photographs

MATTED ITEMS - Always check the hinge or corner placement before lifting an item in a mat. Never assume the item is attached to the mat. A spatula can be used to gently locate hidden hinges. 

Open mats slowly as air pressure can cause lifting of the item and damage it.

Mats usually open like a book, from the right-hand side or bottom.

FRAMED ITEMS - It is best to move framed items flat; however, if the item is too large to pass through doorways, then move it upright with the top of the frame up. Use gloves when handling a gilded frame

The Reading Room

Ensure that the workspace is clear before setting out library materials. Clutter can harbor unseen hazards.

DO NOT pile more than 3 books on top of one another

DO NOT place larger books on top of smaller ones

DO NOT place books with metal furniture (i.e. metal corners or bosses) or clasps on top of other objects.

Support all books with soft cradles and/or weights and don't open a book more than the binding and paper will easily allow.

Be careful when opening boxes or enclosures, as there could be loose pieces. Look for handling instructions printed on the enclosure.

When finished, check the item for objects that could be used for bookmarks: Paper clips, sticky notes, rubber bands, etc. These materials can cause discoloration or damage over time if stored with the item.

Preservation Profile Guide

Preservation Unit  

425 Library, MC-522 
UIUC Library 
1408 West Gregory Dr.
Urbana, IL 61801 

Conservation Lab  
Oak St. Library Facility
OSLF, 2nd Floor 
809 South Oak Street 
Mail Code 527 
Champaign, IL 61820 

Preservation Services Website