Monday, June 20, 2011

And the verdict is...

...ick.

That is, the verdict on wearing latex gloves in the archives -- something that this archive I'm visiting today asks all their patrons to do. They are gross, sweaty, and my resultant lack of dexterity can only be bad for the 14th-century paper registers I'm handling.

Ick.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps cotton ones would be better (and easier to deal with) like the ones handbell ringers use.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

We had a thread on this a while back, in which professional librarians and archivists weighed in that gloves, once de rigeur, were now generally considered a bad idea, except in the case of handling photographs (in which case cotton ones are used). I think this archive just hasn't gotten the memo.

Historiann said...

Cotton isn't particularly helpful in protecting documents, but at least it's more comfortable. I think making easy access to lavatories for regular handwashing might be the best thing that archives could do for their documents (as well as for public heath too.)

At least, I always feel like I need to start with clean hands, and I sure as heck feel like I need a good hand-wash before heading out to lunch or away for the day. (With all of those nuns dying of what sounds like TB and even one dying of smallpox 250-375 years ago, you can never be too sure!)

Susan said...

I hate the latex gloves. The one archive I used which required that allowed you to purchase cotton ones. They don't fit as well, but they are a lot more comfortable.

And just think, every doctor or nurse that examines you works with those gloves....

Scholasticamama said...

I agree that gloves of any sort are so icky - and it destroys for me some of the wonder of feeling an 800 year old manuscript. And, after several years of paleography with some of the foremost experts in the world, they have me totally convinced that we _need_ the oils from our hands on those skins; without the oils, the manuscripts dry out. That said, once a place starts using gloves, I've heard it's harder to get out of the habit, as the ms start to get brittle and are much easier to harm - using gloves is a slippery slope!

(I agree with Historiann about hand washing, especially after. The smell of those old manuscripts seems to invade my skin cells, much like the sweat from the handshake of the perennially drunk; more pleasant, but just as invasive.)

Anonymous said...

I've only had to work in one archive that required gloves, but it only provided a *very* used pair of cotton gloves. I'm not sure which would be worse for someone like me, who is allergic to both latex and parchment dust! And has anyone else ever tried buying cotton gloves in July? Fortunately, when I go back to that archive next month, it will be to buy copies of the microfilms of my sources.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I would use vinyl or whatever else it is that surgeons use -- you can build up an allergy to latex, and you don't want that.

Jonathan Jarrett said...

I was going to say the same thing about latex; I know one person for whom this is a real lifestyle complication.

I used to have to use cotton gloves for my museum work; it always made me much more afraid that what I was handling would slip from my hands and therefore grip more tightly. With large lumps of bronze that's probably OK; with brittle silver shells, not so much. Basically I think clean hands are better than anything else we've yet invented. That said, I'm not sure I buy the essential oils theory of manuscript use above. What's supposed to happen to rarely-consulted manuscripts in that case? Is there such a thing as a frequently-consulted manuscript?

Historiann said...

I've got a small drawer full of my grandmother's old cotton gloves from the Mad Men era. I could probably freshen them up and pack a pair on my next archival trip--the cotton gloves in the archives are almost inevitably poorly fitting, and make my hands look like giant Mickey Mouse puffy hands. That may be why we dislike them so much (and yet, not as much as latex. Physicians usually wear them just a few minutes at a time--except for surgeons, I guess. In most physical exams, they're on and off in a snap.)

For the past 6-1/2 years, I've wondered why these gloves are the only remaining scraps she saved from her wardrobe 50-some years ago, and I've also wondered why I wanted to take them home and why I keep hanging on to them. Maybe this is why? (Maybe I should have a contest on my blog and send the winners commemorative vintage cotton gloves for their archival use & comfort?)

Yael said...

Historiann: Some people who work in biology labs wear them all the time (and they only take a break to switch gloves)! Nowadays I feel icked out if I have to touch my stuff with bare hands. Not because the chemicals are gross mind you, but the thought of skin keratins getting into my samples makes me shudder.

Kim said...

Re: Jonathon and oils on manuscripts. I don't have my materials with me this week (on holiday), but both my paleography professor (Dr Timothy Graham, late of Michigan, now at New Mexico) and Dr Michelle Brown (late of the British Library, now at London) have both said that handling ms with the bare hands is better for the parchment, as our oils help to keep the parchment supple (being skin and all). These were personal statements from both made during class time and one-on-one. I'm sure I could dredge up a "real" case, but the it makes sense to me that skin would dry up and that oils would help it out. My understanding of this could be that I live in a dry state.