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John M. Kelly Library

Using the Rare Book, Archival and Manuscript Collections

The Rare Books Collections and the Manuscript Collections have several policies regarding access to, and the use of, their holdings. These policies are designed to allow the fullest possible access to the materials by patrons, while controlling the use of those materials in order to protect their integrity.

Reading Room Procedures

By definition, the items in Rare Books Collection and the Archival and Manuscript Collections are unique and irreplaceable. The Library has established these procedures to ensure that items in its collections are preserved for future scholars.

  • Please leave your coats, briefcase or carrying bag with the Special Collections staff member.
  • Researchers must fill out a Researcher Registration form and deposit with the Rare Book and Manuscript Collections staff a piece of identification showing their photograph (e.g. university card, drivers license). A Request for Materials form is to be filled out for each item you wish to consult and presented to the Rare Book and Manuscript Collections staff.
  • The material will be brought directly to you in the Rare Books and Manuscript Reading Room. Only three volumes or one box of archival material may be used at any one time.
  • Items may only be used in the Rare Books and ManuscriptReading Room and may not leave this area. Items must not be left unattended. If you need to leave the Reading Room and are not finished with the items, please return them to the Rare Book and Manuscript Collections staff member.
  • When you are finished consulting the materials, and at the end of the day, return all items to the Rare Book and Manuscript Collections staff member.
  • All items must be returned by 3:45 p.m.

Handling Rare Books

Few people have much experience with handling rare books. But the basics are easy to master and success mostly requires patience and physical care.

Follow these basic points:


There are two things you have to care for, the book's paper and the book's binding.

  • Paper is usually the more durable of the two except for the period of acidic paper which was at its height from about 1850 to 1950 but can affect books from the 1400's until now. If the paper is browning or very thin or shows signs of flaking, handle with extreme care. Otherwise handle with care. Move the individual page or group of pages from the top right or left-hand corner of the text block.
  • Bindings hold the text block together but over time the glue, leather, paper, cloth and string become fragile or wear out. The two weakest points of bindings are the hinges where the boards are attached to the spine and the spine itself. Both are subject to cracking.
  • To preserve a binding the basic technique is to open the book as little as you can and to support the spine and boards so that they will not be required to flex.
  • For larger books we have foam supports that will keep the book stable.
  • Smaller books may be safer if held carefully in your hand, at a 90 degree angle of opening. Close the book if it is not in use.

White Gloves

Some rare book libraries ask their patrons to use white gloves when handling rare books to keep natural skin oils away from the books. Some do not since gloves make the hands clumsy. Here we use the no glove policy with the occasional exception. It is important for your hands to be clean before you handle our materials. Please refrain from applying hand lotion or cream before handling materials.

Do Not.

  • Do not place the book face, (i.e. text side), down.
  • Do not trace or make rubbings from rare materials, mark them in any way or erase any marks. Do not use pens to make your notes, use pencil instead.
  • Do not fold tear or cut documents.
  • Do not use paper clips, fasteners, tape, "post it" notes or rubber bands. Handle materials carefully and with two hands.
  • Always place a book flat on the table or use the foam cradles provided to avoid damaging the binding.
  • Never lay an open book face down on the table, lean on a book, or place other books or objects on it. Turn pages slowly and gently; the turning of pages should not be audible. Take extra care when handling large volumes, materials with brittle paper, and in opening folded plates and maps.
  • Our staff will be glad to help you learn these simple preservation techniques. Please request assistance if you need it.

Handling Archival Material

By definition, archival materials are unique and irreplaceable. Therefore, they must be handled with care.

Always handle archival records with both hands to ensure the safety of the record. Only one archival record should be handled at a time. If records are kept in folders, remove only one folder from one box at a time and do not remove records from the folder. Please leave archival materials flat on the table surface as much as possible.

Avoid letting records overhang past the tables edge.

Handle records carefully and deliberately.

Move the records by sliding them from one pile to another. Replace them in the same way when you are finished, sliding them back into their original order. Researchers must maintain the exact order of documents in a folder and folders within a box. If an error in arrangement is suspected, please advise the Special Collections staff member.

Do not rearrange records yourself. Gloves will be provided for patrons using photographs, drawings, and other sensitive material.

Only pencils may be used in the Special Collections & ArchivesReading Room due to the potentially damaging residue from ink. Please ask for a pencil if you do not have one. Smoking, eating and drinking are not permitted in the Special Collections & ArchivesReading Room.

Access to some records may be restricted. The Special Collections staff member will inform the patron of any conditions that may restrict access to records being requested.

Service Limits on Research Questions

Special Collections & Archivesstaff are available to assist researchers in locating archival or published material, to advise on research questions and to carry out copying requests.

Requests from researchers of a librarian or archivist to conduct in-depth research fall outside the scope of work we are able to carry out. For example, we are unable to accept requests to search archival fonds or collections for all material related to a person/subject area or date range.

Similarly, we are unable to carry out copying requests that do not indicate specific items/files in an archival collection.

If you are not able to come to the Kelly Library yourself, you may wish to hire an independent consultant to conduct research on your behalf.