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Teaching with Special Collections: Guidelines for handling materials

Information about using special collections materials in classes for Stanford instructors

Guidelines for handling Special Collections materials

Information about handling Special Collections materials can be found in a series of videos created by Stanford Libraries' Conservation Services Department. 

Please share these guidelines with students before they begin working with collections. These points should be reinforced while using materials during the class.

  • Handle archival and library materials gently. Your careful actions safeguard archival and library materials for future users.
  • Wash and dry your hands immediately before working with special collections.
  • Food and drink are not permitted.
  • Pencils only!
  • Notify reading room staff if an item or enclosure is damaged in a way that makes safe handling difficult so that it may receive conservation attention.

Books and bound volumes:

  • Keep volumes on table; do not hold in hands.
  • Do not rest your hand, arm, or any object on a book or manuscript.
  • Use a book cradle and special weights to hold the book open.
  • Ask for assistance with any fragile, heavy, or, awkward items, especially scrapbooks.


  • Remove only one folder at a time from manuscript boxes.
  • Use the blue card as a place holder for folders as they are removed
  • Keep folders and pages flat on: table; do not hold in your hands.
  • Maintain the order in each folder.
  • Never remove manuscript pages from folders.
  • Align pages carefully but do not tap pages to realign them.
  • Use a separate folder to turn over fragile or large items.
  • Ask for assistance with folded, rolled, and other awkward items.


  • Wear nitrile gloves and use two hands when handling photographs

Materials with unique handling requirements

Special Collections holdings include many extremely rare and fragile documents and objects, including cuneiform tablets, ancient papyrus fragments, computer hardware, architectural models and more.  Special Collections staff will provide assistance and guidance in handling these materials.

This video, prepared by Stanford Libraries' Conservation Services Department, demonstrates how to view very fragile paper in folders and papyrus stored between sheets of glass from Papyrus Collection M1421.