When TV documentaries visit an archive they often show a white gloved archivist or presenter gingerly handling documents. We are often asked by visitors why we do not use gloves to protect our archives. In the UK this has largely become a thing of the past as archives have realised the disadvantages of wearing gloves. Firstly, they actually make it more likely that a document will be damaged because they reduce dexterity. It is easier to turn pages when you can feel what you are doing directly, rather than through a layer of cotton. The other reason is that of practicality. Gloves get dirty quickly and need to be washed or the dirt will be transferred onto other documents – most archives are not likely to have facilities to launder gloves, or the budget to cover the expense of cleaning and replacing them. Hands are very much easier to wash!
Some archives do issue gloves to visitors who wish to look at photographs, which are more sensitive to the oils in skin and more likely to be damaged by handling. Others will just ask people to handle them carefully by the edges and avoid touching the image. Providing suitable supports or weights, careful supervision, and encouraging gentle handling all help to protect documents without needing to worry about gloves.