The British Library has come clean on the White Glove Ritual. You’ve seen it: the suitably awed TV presenter is allowed to hold the precious mediaeval manuscript, and solemnly goes through the ritual of donning the White Gloves, before gingerly opening the priceless volume.
Well, white gloves are fine for evening dress, waiting-on and a verger in a full fig, but it turns out that the manuscript business is just for show. (And I have to say that as someone who somehow scraped a DPhil based on work on manuscripts, gloves were hardly ever brought out – though there are plenty of good practices you do need to follow that are more important. Look at the video.)
Here’s what they’ve got to say:
Whenever a British Library manuscript is featured in the press or on television, we inevitably receive adverse comments about our failure to wear white gloves! The association of glove-wearing with handling old books is in fact a modern phenomenon, and one that has little scientific basis.
The British Library has published advice on the use of white gloves. Essentially, we recommend that it is preferable to handle manuscripts with clean dry hands. Wearing cotton gloves to hold or turn the pages of a book or manuscript actually reduces manual dexterity, and increases the likelihood of causing damage. Gloves also have a tendency to transfer dirt to the object being consulted, and to dislodge pigments or inks from the surface of pages.
This short video demonstrates how not to handle a manuscript wearing white gloves (or, indeed, gloves of any colour).