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Visiting Special Collections

Special Collections at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery

Handling procedures

The materials held in Special Collections are meant to be used firsthand by researchers -- meaning that we invite researchers to use the materials in-person. This is different from a museum or exhibit where the items are on display and cannot be touched. There are certain precautions in place to protect the items and help ensure that researchers, like you, can continue to use these materials for years to come. Our department has specific handling procedures that all researchers must followed. These procedures are outlined below, but our staff will always review them with you when you are in the reading room.

Most Special Collections departments and archival repositories will have similar procedures, perhaps with minor local variations. You can always ask the librarian or archivist that you are working with to review their handling guidelines.

Handling books

There are a few guidelines we follow when we use any book, regardless of the age or condition. We don't use gloves with books but should have clean, dry hands. All books should remain on the table in a book cradle. The purpose of the book cradle is to protect the spine, joints, and text block; these are very susceptible to damage. Please do not bend, force or pull on the pages, if a book is prone to closing we have snakes and book weights available.


  • Book cradle: A book cradle comes in many varieties and can be made from foam, molded plastic, or fabric. The soft book cradles are similar to pillows and they allow the book to open up at a natural angle.The firm book cradles keep a book opened at a predefined angle.

  • Snake: A snake is a weighted string that is used to keep pages in place.

  • Book weight: A book weight is similar to a snake, it is intended to hold a book open without placing stress on the binding or spine. They are usually more heavy and concentrated than the snakes.

Handling photographs

When handling photographic materials - including prints, negatives, and slides - there are three rules to remember: gloves, corners and contact.

  • Gloves are required when handling photography. This keeps the image safe from naturally occurring oils and dirt on our hands. UMBC uses latex-free nitrile gloves; cotton gloves are also available upon request.
  • When handling the photographs in our collection it may be necessary to pick them up, move and adjust them in order to read additional information on the back. To properly support the images, all photographs should be picked up an inch or two away from adjacent corners. No buckling, creasing, or bending should occur. If you are unsure or need assistance please ask before acting.
  • Photographs should have full contact with the table below it, corners and edges included, and should never be flipped image down. This minimizes risks of accidents and damage to our prints.

Handling archival collections

Archival materials consist of correspondence, documents, notes, and manuscripts. These materials are typically organized by box and folder, and researchers may view one box at a time and one folder at a time. Additional boxes should be kept on the cart provided, not on your table.

Please keep all items in the original order within the folder, and do not remove items from their folders - this eliminates the risk of losing or misplacing the documents. If you would like to flag an item to come back to review, or to request a scan, use the large paper flag provided to mark your spot.