Archives services handling guidelines

Updated on 14 February 2023

Help us preserve the records for future generations by following these document handling guidelines.

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Physical handling of original documents can be a significant and cumulative threat to their long term survival. Our search room facilities and practices are designed to minimise damage to the documents, maps, plans and photographs while they are consulted by users.

The guidelines below outline the document handling practices in operation in our search room. We recommend that you familiarise yourself with these before a visit.


  • Clean, dry hands are best for handling. This prevents moisture and grease from staining the paper
  • Please don't wet fingers to turn pages or run fingers along text: use one of the provided slips of paper instead
  • Gloves are required for handing photographs, unless they are encapsulated


  • Pencils only are allowed in the search rooms for handwritten notes. Pens such as biros can leave indelible marks on documents
  • Please make notes without leaning on a document, as this can leave permanent marks
  • Only use our acid-free paper slips to mark a page; other kinds of markers can stain


  • A document or volume should always be adequately supported while you are using it to prevent damage. Please use book cushions and other supports provided by staff


  • Handle documents where possible at the edge, being careful of tears
  • Avoid excessive flexing of the paper
  • Please do not fold or crease any document


  • Rolled maps or curled and folded documents are safer to handle using weights to restrain them. Please use the soft leather weights provided rather than your hands or other books. Request these before attempting to open such an item
  • Book pages can be gently secured using small beaded weights; do not use your hands


  • Please maintain the order of loose documents you are consulting and make sure you do not mix up items from different bundles


  • Many documents are packaged for protection.  Please take special care when removing items from enclosures, especially envelopes
  • Items in transparent sleeves do not need extracting
  • Ensure any cotton ties are securely refastened but do not cut into bundles

Leave it

  • Please leave any fastenings you may find such as staples, ties, paper clips and seals. Removing these can cause significant damage and affect the order of a bundle.
  • If a fastening causes an obstruction, forcing a page to see hidden text is also damaging. Ask for help from staff


  • Ensure you have enough space to examine the documents produced and consult one item at a time. If documents are piled on top of one another, or overhang table edges, they can be crushed and dirt is transferred from one to another


  • Please ask for permission before tracing images e.g. from a map. You may be allowed to do this through a transparent sheet to protect the document from becoming marked


  • Please ask staff for help with handling awkward, large items, or if you are unsure

Tell us

  • Inform staff if you notice damaged or missing items


+44 (0)1382 384095

From Archives
Corporate information category Records management