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Rusty Hands In the Vault

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Your favorite fantasy fiction, movies, and even Mr. Bean aside, wearing cotton gloves (aka the “cotton menace”) isn’t the best way to show love for rare books when you handle them. As the Ransom Center has observed, “[t]he conservator’s explanation in support of bare hands is that they afford much greater manual dexterity. Ungloved hands allow a firmer grip so that an item doesn’t accidentally slip out of your hands when moving it.”

The palms of five people standing in a circle are brown and rust-colored after a day of working with rare books.
Hands of the rare book move team at the end of a shift– Brian, Alexander, Ellie, Dentor, Jennifer (r-l) [photo by Geraldine Dávila González]
As we reported in July, the Law Library is the proud custodian of a new secure storage facility (SSF) for rare books. This new facility has better temperature and humidity controls than the temporary storage we used for our rare books, and we were eager and ready to move our collections to the SSF. This move has been a project involving teams of technicians and librarians carefully removing items from the shelf and placing them on the shelves in their new location with our clean hands– at least we started out that way. For preventive conservation, our bare hands are better than any fabric, which retains dirt that will be transferred to the books. At the end of a shift, though, we are the dirty ones. Our medieval codicologist says he can tell when colleagues have been working in collections all day: their hands are black and tan.

We’ve finally populated our new vault. Although we were too busy working to take photos while we were on the move, we took the time at the end of a shift to get a photo of the evidence. The whole shifting team isn’t pictured, but thanks to Ellie, Dentor, Alexander, Brian, Jon, Mariah, Julius, Eric, Monica and Nathan, our rare law collection is (mostly) sorted.


  1. Wow! lot’s of hard work and dedication.

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