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How to Handle Rare Books at the 5th Floor Special Collections

Handling Rare Books

  • Wash your hands
  • Handle the book gently
  • Open the book slowly to protect bindings
  • Never bend back the covers or pages
  • Turn one page at a time, slowly
  • Do not flip through the pages
  • Do not touch ink on pages, including marginalia
  • Do not touch illustrations
  • Do not write on top of the books or use sticky (Post-It) notes
  • Keep the book's spine supported
  • Use foam cushions as described below
  • Use book snakes to keep pages open
  • Use archival quality bookmarks

Special foam cushions to support the spine and boards of a book are available in the Roller Reading Room.

Use foam cushions when reading books from the vault. For other books, use foam cushions if the binding is in poor shape or if the book has loose or detached boards. If a book is in poor condition, notify the attendant when you are finished so that we can assess the book for conservation measures. To use the foam cushions, build a station consisting of the following parts:

  • One base wedge to tilt the book toward the front
  • Two blunt wedges (each half the size of the base) to form the left and right side supports so that the book will not have to lie flat
  • A strip to support the spine
  • One or two thin rectangular cushions to offset the thickness of the text block

To begin, place the rectangular cushions on the left side to support the front cover. As you read the book, transfer them to the right side as needed to compensate for the thickness of the text block. Book snakes and paperweights are available to keep a book open to the current page without pressing the gutter of the book flat. To avoid tearing a page, remove the snake before turning the page. Staff will demonstrate how to use foam cushions and snakes.