In a paper published last year (pdf) but only getting noticed in the mainstream media recently, conservation consultant Cathleen A. Baker and librarian
Randy Silverman argue that for the handling of most types of materials, white gloves don’t help, may hurt, and create a false impression of protection where none exists.
Current reading room rules do little to instruct patrons about preferable handling practices, relying on the impression that wearing gloves adequately achieves collections care. Even if cotton gloves were capable of providing effective prophylactic barrier between patrons and the collection, their use promotes the false illusion that the hands, once encased, are somehow transformed into “safe” instruments. Wearing gloves actually increases the potential for physically damaging fragile material through mishandling, and this is especially true for ultra thin or brittle papers that become far more difficult to handle with the sense of touch dulled. Measures must be taken to reduce collection risks through instruction and example, we submit, but not through the use of gloves.