Collection Care blog

01 April 2014

Handle with Care: Using Collections

Poor handling is one of the main causes of damage to library and archive collections. The damage is accumulative occurring over many years, and is not always immediately apparent. Conservation work is costly and can mean that certain items are not accessible for long periods. All users have responsibility for the care of collections, and information and advice on how to handle collections should be available to all users. If you are unsure about how to handle an item here at the British Library, then don’t hesitate to ask our very experienced staff in the Reading Rooms.

There are guidelines published by the Preservation Advisory Centre outlining the differences in handling protocol for books and bound volumes; documents and letters; maps, rolls and charters; prints and drawings; photographs; papyrus; and even globes. There is such a variety of material available for consultation that it is well worth reading through carefully. Loose items should always be kept in order, seals should be supported with flat foam, the surface of photographs should never be touched, papyrus leaves mounted in paper should be turned by the supporting paper, and although gloves are not recommended for flat material, they are required for touching certain materials such as lead seals or the surface of globes.

Collection Care icons have been designed for use in the British Library reading rooms and we share them under a creative commons license. Heritage organisations are encouraged to use them freely in their own publications. Image files can be copied from the Collection Care icon page or higher resolution .eps versions are available on request (

Collection Care icons

Collection Care icons

Collection Care icons

Collection Care icons

CC by Collection Care icons by The Brtish Library Board is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License

You can also find out more about handling collections in our British Library Collection Care videos.

Christina Duffy


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