Historic Documents & Books

Not sure how to handle, store, or display historic documents and books in your museum collection? You’ve come to the right place! If your organization plans to start an archive with its documents, be sure to check out our Archives page, in conjunction with the helpful handling guides below. If you’re looking for information about works on paper that are not documents, like prints or drawings, head to the Photographs and Paintings tab.

Best Practices

The Maine Memory Network produced this guide to handling historical documents safely. It is directed toward students, but can be adapted to train volunteers or as a handout for local history researchers.

The Northeast Document Conservation Center will walk you through the cleaning process for books and shelves as well as basic guidelines for the storage of books, unbound paper, over-sized materials, newsprint, pamphlets, scrapbooks, and photographs. University of Delaware History and Museum Studies graduate student Alexander Ames wrote this helpful guide to the proper care, storage, and exhibition of books and works on paper.

Wondering how to properly label and mark paper objects? Here’s a quick tutorial.

To glove or not to glove? While gloves may protect paper from the oils of our hands, they also make us less sensitive to touch, and more likely to rip papers. Here is a quick overview on why wearing gloves while handling historic books and documents is not considered best practices by many institutions.

Dianne van der Reyden for the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education compiled guides on Developing Solutions for Paper Artifacts and Specialty Papers.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne offers a Preservation Self-Assessment Program that assists with identifying different types of office printing and reprographic processes. Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute outlined sources of Deterioration and Damage to Paper Materials, offers handouts on Paper Artifacts Preservation Do’s and Don’ts, Housing & Environment Options for Display of Documents, Housing & Environment Options for Storage of Documents, Framing & Unframing works on paper.

This instructional video from the Folger Shakespeare Library provides a good overview of how to properly handle historic and rare books. Another short video from the Newcastle University Library offers a concise guide to handling historic documents.

How to properly store a scrapbook:

Book care and restoration:

More book care and restoration: