Curators and experts who handle objects wear gloves for important reasons. One reason is that our hands naturally have oils, dirt, and dust on them. These things may not seem harmful, but they can actually damage the objects. The oils and dirt can make the delicate artifacts deteriorate more quickly. Some objects may even have dangerous substances which we don't want on our bodies. For example, weighted silk can contain arsenic and old medical instruments contain mercury which can be harmful.
To avoid leaving marks, dirt, or fingerprints on objects, curators wear gloves. Curators have used cotton gloves in the past but have found a few issues with the material. They can get caught on objects, especially ones made of rough wood or sharp metal. Also, cotton gloves can't protect against water or chemicals, which can be a problem for certain objects.
Curators and people handling objects at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center use nitrile gloves. These gloves are great because they are water and chemical resistant. They also have a more textured surface that helps with gripping objects. With nitrile gloves, curators can focus on appreciating the beauty and history of the artifacts without worrying about accidentally damaging them.
The next time you visit a museum or gallery, take a moment to think about the hard work of curators. By simply wearing gloves, they make sure our cultural treasures are preserved for everyone to research, view, and enjoy for years to come.