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Guide to Archival Research

A guide on using archival materials held in the Dalhousie University Archives

Handling archival material

Archival materials, rare books, and other materials require special care to ensure their long-term preservation.  Materials should be handled gently and slowly.

The following guidelines are general best practices for handling archival material at Dalhousie Libraries and other archival repositories: 

  1. No food or drink.
  2. Only use pencils. Pens, highlighters, and sticky notes are not permitted around archival materials.
  3. Clean hands. Please ensure that your hands are clean prior to handling archival materials.  This will help ensure dirt and oils do not transfer to the materials.
  4. Wear nitrile gloves when handling photographs and metal objects. Staff can usually provide gloves if necessary.
  5. Use flashless photography.  Requests to photograph materials must be made to staff.  Depending on the nature of the request and the materials being requested, researchers may be asked to make an appointment for photography.
  6. Leave items on the table. Do not hold them in your hands to read them. Keep items flat and do not bend paper unnecessarily.
  7. Keep items in the original order in which they are found. Folders should be returned to boxes in their original sequence and items should remain in folders in their original sequence. 
  8. Do not lean on (or drape computer cords over) items. ·
  9. Avoid touching fragile surfaces like flaking ink.
  10. Consult with staff before attempting to unfurl rolled items. Unfurling items can cause creases and tear paper, especially with rolled photographic prints.
  11. Use caution when unfolding items. Use two hands to unfold one crease at a time. If the item is printed, the perpendicular creases can be supported with small weights. Do not place weights directly on manuscript ink or painted surfaces.
  12. Use book cradles or wedges and light weights to prevent stress on a book’s binding.
  13. Turn book pages by lifting from undamaged areas, and this usually means avoiding the corners.

Staff will usually inform you of any special handling requirements for the materials you have requested. 

Handling photographic prints

Handling photographic albums

Handling bound volumes

Artifact and rare book handling: To glove or not to glove?