Handling vault materials
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 rare 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
All rare 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.
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.
Report damage or concerns
Should you notice any damage to rare materials, please bring it to the attention of Reading Room staff.