On Twitter last night I was surprised to see the National Records of Scotland (www.nrscotland.gov.uk) tweeting an image of television presenter and archaeologist Neil Oliver wearing a pair of white gloves whilst examining a document for the BBC2 documentary “The Hector: From Scotland to Nova Scotia”. I wasn't surprised because he was in an archive wearing gloves, but because I have personally never been required to use a pair of white gloves at the NRS in over a decade!
So I did what every good researcher tries to do, and simply asked them - why was Neil wearing white gloves? The answer, in short, is that it was for the telly! But helpfully, the NRS has actually posted a blog post by archivist Dr. Tristram Clarke to clarify specifically why the presenter was wearing them, and the archive's policy on the use of gloves, which you can read at https://blog.nrscotland.gov.uk/2017/06/29/white-gloves/.
Having previously made historical documentaries myself for the BBC, I'm not a hundred per cent convinced on the whole response - yes, presenters may be required to hold a document up for two or three takes, but probably no more so than somebody using the same document to make a transcription for research purposes, for example (who would probably hold it a lot more!). But I do agree with the last line: "The gloves are also a visual indication that the document is fragile and precious, and that we are caring for it professionally." It is television shorthand now to wear gloves, it's the equivalent of someone walking into an old shop with a sign above it saying "Ye Olde Shoppe" so that everyone watching knows that person is going into an old shop - it help sets the tone and context of the environment being portrayed.
So the bottom line at the NRS is that for the most part you will still not have to wear them, and that their policy has not changed - unless you are accessing photos (as identified in the archive's response), or intend to turn up with a camera crew (please give the archive advance notice on the latter!).
But what do you think - should we have to wear white gloves at archives?!
(With thanks to Christina and Tristram at the NRS)
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