Use of Rare Books

When you arrive at the Cowles Rare Book Library, please go to the staff desk and sign in. Because the rare books are housed in locked shelves or in the vault, they must be requested by readers; staff will bring the books from the vault. A photo ID with current address, such as a current faculty/student ID, driver’s license, or passport, will be required in order to have use of a rare item. Rare books may be used only in the Cowles Rare Book Library and must be returned to a member of the staff. If you intend to use a book on more than one day, you may ask staff to place the volume on the Hold shelf within the vault for you.

Leave all belongings except paper, pencils, and laptop on the coat rack and storage shelving in the Rare Book Reading Room. You may keep a purse with you if you place it on the floor.

Handle all rare books and manuscripts with care.

Please wash your hands before handling any materials. White gloves and / or a book cradle may be issued at the discretion of a librarian.

Select a desk that is not in direct sunlight, to spare the rare book undue exposure to light.

A "cradle" is an angled book rest that allows you to read a book without opening it flat. This prevents stress on fragile bindings and reduces actual touching of the volume. As a rule of thumb, use a "cradle" or "book pillow" for any volume produced before 1900. When using a folio volume (a book more than 30 cm. in height), take care to support the entire length of the book, in order to avoid damaging its spine. If no folio-sized cradle is available, ask staff to help arrange a safe means of support for the book. If using a book pillow, make sure to adjust its filling to support the full length of the book's spine.

Never put pressure on an old book. Open the book gently, only so far as is easy for the binding. Never force a book to open flat, as this can cause damage. Also, do not hold a page down too firmly with one hand while taking notes with the other. "Snakes" are supple weights that can hold a page in place gently but steadily; they are available from staff.

Use only pencil and paper or laptop computer for taking notes. For your convenience, pencils, pencil sharpeners, a magnifying glass, and acid-free paper strips are available from the circulation desk in the Cowles Rare Book Library.

For temporary book marks, use only acid-free paper strips. The use of "post-its" is strictly forbidden, because their glue is acidic and can leave a damaging residue.

If you discover book stamps or noteworthy inscriptions or other details within a rare book that are not yet included in the electronic catalog record on that volume, please call this to the attention of the staff. Also, if you discover damage to a book, please report this also.

If your research leads to a publication involving one of the rare books, the University would welcome and appreciate your providing staff with full bibliographic information and, if convenient, an offprint.

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