Guidelines for Handling Collections

Handling museum collections may be hazardous.

Follow the guidelines provided here to ensure safe handling.

Archeological collections can contain broken glass and rusty metal objects with sharp edges. Historic material may retain chemical or biological contamination. Natural history collections contain chemical preservatives and possible biological contamination. Archival collections may be contaminated with mold, insects, and vermin droppings, or may contain asbestos or cellulose nitrate film.

  • Use caution in handling collections, and wear gloves when requested to do so.
  • Curatorial personnel will retrieve and replace material for anyone using the collections. Direct access to material may be restricted if the object is very fragile.
  • Do not remove materials from storage packaging without the permission and assistance of the curatorial staff. The packaging is necessary to prevent damage and deterioration of the specimen, and to protect the researcher from potential injury.
  • Always handle objects with clean hands. Use white cotton gloves when handling metal, photographs, paper, and leather objects; washed white duck gardener's gloves may be required for heavy objects.
  • Do not use white cotton gloves when handling glass or other objects with slippery surfaces, very heavy objects, or items with friable or brittle surfaces.
  • Do not pick up anything before you have a place to put it down and your path to this place is clear.
  • Look over an artifact before lifting it to see how it is stored and to observe any peculiarities of its construction, fragility, etc. If an object is made in separable sections, take it apart before moving it. Do not attempt to carry heavy or awkward objects alone. Never carry more than one object at a time, and be particularly careful with long objects.
  • Except for small items, always grasp an object with two hands, and grasp the largest part or body of the object. Slide one hand under fragile items as you lift them. If an artifact has a weak or damaged area, place or store it with that area visible.

Special Objects

  • Mounted herbarium specimens should be laid on a flat surface and the folder cover and specimens handled gently, taking care not to bend the sheets or touch the actual specimen.  Pinned insect specimens should be handled as little as possible, and then handled by the pin. Avoid bumping and strong drafts when handling these specimens.
  • Skulls and skeletons should be kept in their jars or containers while examining whenever possible.
  • Ceramics and baskets should be supported from the bottom, never lifted by the rim or handles.
  • Photographs, transparencies and negatives should be handled by the edges, and should remain in protective Mylar sleeves whenever possible. White gloves should always be used when handling photographs.
  • Unrolled textiles should be broadly supported from underneath rather than by holding from the edge.

Reporting Damage

Please report any damage you observe or cause to specimens.


  • Food, beverages, smoking, and pets are not allowed in the storage or study areas.
  • Staff members are responsible for the behavior of any person accompanying them into the collections.
  • Children under six years of age must be accompanied by an adult and physically controlled at all times. Other minors must be under the direct supervision of an accompanying adult at all times.

I have read and understand the above policy.
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Last updated: October 5, 2017

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