Have you lost that glovin’ feelin’?  Or more to the point, do you lose some tactile sensitivity or manual dexterity when you use gloves? Many archivists and archival researchers report this problem when they use gloves. That’s why we don’t always require that gloves are worn when handling historic records in the Archives Reference Room. It has been shown that more damage can be done when researchers try to turn pages with gloved fingers than if they simply use clean, bare hands.

    A conservator handling paper using bare hands

    Of course there are some exceptions, such as when handling photographs, which can be irreparably damaged by bare hands. Some objects in the Museum’s collections must also be handled with gloves all of the time. This includes anything made of metal, which can corrode from the acidic oils in our hands and natural history specimens that may once have been treated with nasty pesticides and so now present a health risk. Even in the Royal BC Museum, though, there are some objects that should not be handled with gloves. This includes very slippery surfaces, such as glass and glazed ceramics and fragile basketry, with small brittle fibres that can catch on gloves. In these cases cotton gloves are just too risky.

    A conservator wearing gloves handling a glass vase

    Of course, nitrile gloves are acceptable, but some people find them to be uncomfortable. Occasionally, museum conservators have been known to use mittens, in this case to prepare wheat starch paste for mending documents.

    A conservator does work using mittens

    Did you know that museum workers now tend to use nitrile gloves instead of latex when they need to keep a good barrier between their hands and an object? This is because of the very common latex allergies people have. Even if you don’t currently have a latex allergy, you can develop one from continual exposure to latex.

    So if you’re working in a museum or archives and you’re wondering “when will I be gloved?” just assume that gloves are worn whenever museum or archival collections are handled, unless you are advised otherwise.


    Kasey Lee


    Former Senior Conservator

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