Handling vault materials

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The Folger Shakespeare Library is a working collection where materials are made accessible to scholars whenever possible. Folger curators and conservators are charged with the challenge of maintaining the condition of the collection. Our readers also play an important role in the conservation process. By handling materials with attention and care, you can help ensure the continued life of the Folger collection for future generations. Please review the following instructions on handling our collection. If you have any questions, please ask a member of the Reading Room staff.

Care and handling of the collections

Please view the short video Handling Rare Materials for general principles and Folger-specific guidance.

Washing your hands frequently

Wash and thoroughly dry your hands before handling vault materials. Continue to wash your hands throughout the day as you work with the collection. This will help reduce damage from natural oils and help prevent acidic leather dust (commonly known as “red rot”) from transferring to and damaging other books and materials. Please refrain from using hand lotion. The oils left on your hands from lotion (no matter how well you rub it in) can show up over time as stains.

Opening and supporting books

Unless otherwise instructed, all vault books must be placed on a table cradled by foam supports. These supports help minimize damage to spines and joints, the most common damage occurring in our collection. Our cradles come in several sizes; choose the most appropriately sized cradle so that the book's boards (the front and back covers) are fully supported at all times. Allow the book to tell you how far to open it; if you feel resistance, don’t open the book any farther. Keep the book well supported at all times, adding and adjusting foam to meet the needs of the book as you leaf through it.

Keeping the book open

Do not hold a book open with your hands. Various sizes of “snakes,” or weighted strings and bean bags, are available at all reader tables for this purpose. Never use these as place holders or book marks, and do not leave a book open when you are not using it. You will be able to feel how far a book will open without putting undue stress on the binding; paying attention to this is crucial to conservation efforts.

Turning pages

Take your time. Pages may be weak and brittle from age, use, and acidity, and this causes corners to break off and fore-edges to tear. Evaluate each page before turning and select the best area to hold before slowly turning the page. Touch the surface of the paper as little as possible. Never fan quickly through the pages.

Guidelines for using vault materials in Folger seminars and classes

  1. Like all Folger readers, seminar leaders and participants must follow Reading Room guidelines for the proper handling of vault materials.
  2. Seminar leaders should consult with library staff on the vault materials they propose to use in class at the earliest opportunity, before the term begins, in order for restricted items (if any) to be identified and reviewed, conservation treatments to be undertaken (if needed) or facsimile images produced (if appropriate).
  3. Normally no more than six vault items may be used in a seminar or class at any given time; if it is necessary that more than six be consulted at once, the Folger staff member responsible will be accompanied by a second staff member. The responsible staff member(s) will insure that there is a clear and uncluttered surface for the safe handling of rare materials.
  4. When possible, items to be consulted should be requested a week or more in advance of the seminar or class in order to allow library staff to review materials for use. Vault materials requested on short notice may not be available for classroom use.
  5. A Folger staff member must sign out, set up, and monitor the use of vault materials at all times. The same Folger staff member is responsible for returning the materials to the circulation desk.
  6. Specific page openings that seminar participants wish to display should be marked in advance with acid-free flags, with care taken not to clump bookmarks together to avoid putting pressure on the spine.
  7. Only one person at a time may handle a vault item and, then, only under the same conditions of use as followed in the reading rooms.
  8. Display trays may be used to pass around small format items for class consultation.

Report damage or concerns

Should you notice any damage to vault materials, please bring it to the attention of Reading Room staff.