One question we often get in the Waterman Research Center from researchers handling manuscripts is, shouldn’t I be wearing gloves? Here at CHS we have determined that clean hands are less damaging to the documents than gloves would be. Note the emphasis on clean. Your fingers are highly sensitive to the edges of pages, can feel if a document is particularly weak or beginning to tear. Gloves reduce that sensitivity and could lead to further damage due to decreased dexterity and sensation. However, if you are using photographs, handling textiles or furniture, looking at works of art on paper . . . and the list goes on . . . you will be asked to wear gloves. In these cases, the oils on your fingers are more dangerous than the gloves.
One of my favorite graphics, created by Rebecca Goldman and on her blog “Derangement and Description“, is a flow chart about using gloves. It is hanging by my computer. The first question is “Will you be handling photographs?” If the answer is yes, then you may need to wear gloves. If you are not handling photographs, the next questions are “Are you a bandleader?” “Are you performing a medical procedure?” and “Are you Mickey Mouse?” If the answer is no, you do not need to use gloves in the archives. If the answer is yes to any of these, “You are already wearing gloves” making the question of gloves moot.
I laughed out loud when I saw it the first time. I guess you need to be an archivist or a museum curator to really get the humor.