King's College home » Introduction to archives

Rupert Brooke's signature

Handling documents

When you are in a library, you are likely to flick through pages of a book very quickly until you find what you want, or photocopy parts of it to write on. You may may press the spine of a book directly onto the table to keep it open and take notes in ink. You may even take books home and read them with a cup of coffee on the table next to you. Archives have to be handled a little more carefully.

There are a few reasons why archives have to be handled carefully. The main reasons are:

  • Archives may be more fragile than the books you are used to using.
  • They are usually unique so we can’t replace them if they get damaged!
  • They should be kept in their original order.

In this photograph, the reader is looking at one file and maintaining the original order by carefully turning the page over when he has read it, creating two neat piles. He is taking notes in pencil, not pen. He is keeping his notes separate to the archival papers and is not leaning on the archives. He could have chosen to use a laptop instead of taking notes in pencil. His hands are clean and his desk uncluttered.

A reader in a Reading Room

Here, the same reader is looking at a bound volume (the term ‘volume’ is used for anything bound like a book, whether published or not). The volume’s spine is fragile so he is using a book rest. In order to avoid excessive handling of the volume, he is using weights to hold the page. Again, he is taking notes in pencil.

A reader in a Reading Room

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