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How to handle documents

We want you to enjoy using our archive collections and to help us look after and preserve them.

Our Services
Because our documents are unique and irreplaceable, we ask you to take care when consulting them. Damage to documents builds up over time and is not always visible straight away. Good handling is therefore essential in order to safeguard our archives, some of which may be weak and fragile. We all have a responsibility to preserve our unique collections.

We hold documents in a variety of formats, including:

  • Maps and plans
  • Parchment and paper
  • Bound volumes
  • Glass slides
  • Photographs and photograph albums.

The following guidelines will help you to use all of these items correctly:

  1. Please ensure your hands are clean when consulting documents.
  2. Use pencils only for taking notes. Pens and biros are not permitted in any part of the archive searchroom. This is because they may leak and if a document is accidentally marked, it cannot be erased.
  3. Please take care when handling documents, touching them as little as possible. We can supply strips of acid-free paper to enable you to follow lines of text rather than using your fingertips (as in the illustration)
  4. Do not lick your fingers to turn the pages of a document - this will cause staining and weakening of the paper.
  5. Avoid leaning on documents and do not place notebooks on top of them when writing.
  6. Do not place any documents on the floor.

Searchroom Equipment

To help you read a document at a comfortable angle, we have a range of materials in our searchroom which will ensure good handling procedures.


We have a variety of weights available. 'Snakes', which are little lead weights in a cotton cover, are used for holding down the pages of volumes that keep turning. Round weights covered in leather are used to hold down the corners of maps and plans. Searchroom staff will assist in unrolling maps and placing weights on documents.

Book Cushions

When used correctly, these protect the spine and hinges of bound volumes. 


We appreciate that certain documents may be difficult to read and decipher. We have magnifying glasses and a video magnifier in order to assist you. Please ask searchroom staff if you would like to use them.

Polyester Sleeves

These are used to cover maps and provide protection when consulting them.


The use of cotton gloves in archive searchrooms can be seen in many family history television programmes. Indeed, it is good practice to wear cotton gloves when touching rare manuscripts and unprotected photographs. However, cotton or latex gloves can make it more difficult for us to handle fragile or brittle material as our sense of touch is lost. It is therefore not our policy to provide gloves for every document that is issued in the searchroom. Most of our collections, particularly our photographs, are protected with enclosures and polyester sleeves. Ensuring that your hands are clean before and after consulting documents will help to prevent the transferring of surface dirt from one document to another.

Remember, our staff are always present to give advice and guidance on handling documents: please ask them if you have any questions. We want to ensure that future generations enjoy access to our collections, and our policy is to achieve a high standard of care.