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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Welcome to Purple Glove Club

Do you get a pang of anxiety every time you see a museum promo shot with white cotton gloves? Do you scream at the TV as the 'historian' dons the expected uniform?  We're got the ultimate solution to all collections management problems (well sort of) - introducing the Purple Glove Club! 

The misrepresentation of collections management goes deep into societal ideas of a museum (you know we love to chat about this!). Nope, we’re not all curators, we don’t know everything about every single thing event in history, we don’t know how valuable your Great Nan's vase is, our great institutions are certainly not dusty (*nods to Mark Carnell) and we definitely don't wear white cotton gloves all the time!  

On TV, in newspapers, social media and even in our own institutions the need to wear those impalpable protectors serves little purpose but to signify to the general public that we are handling something precious. They are the favourite accessory of the PR person or journalist, and all of us have been in those uncomfortable photo shoots in which we are forced to wear the white gloves because 'people like them'. Well, people like them because it's what they are told to like. We are ready to dispel the myth and celebrate a bit of purple nitrile.

First, we start with the basics - why do we even need to wear gloves? Yes, this is a question museum people get asked - can't you just do away with them entirely? Especially if its a TV presenter who wants to handle an object. If you don’t already know then head over to this great E-learning tool from Museum of London website.  Every object is different and while they need to be handled carefully in all instances the approach to handling can be diverse so while most objects need to be handled with gloves some just need a clean pair of careful hands or in some (now rare) cases white cotton gloves can be used. 

What's got our gloves in the twist is a thing we like to call the Mickey Mouse problem - getting our collections management hands into Disney costume ready for a show with pristine white cotton gloves. Predominantly the only time we’ve had to use white gloves is for handling photoshoots – in one job I even had a clean pair in my drawer for such occasions! While contorting yourself into an ‘object handling’ pose is a fake representation of museum work so are the cotton gloves. Collections management is a science and we use the gloves you might expect to see in a laboratory or a hospital. The difference between the stereotype of a frazzled, amateurish, secretive curator and a highly experienced museum collections professional can all be boiled down to the hands (and indeed, that's often all you see in photos of museum workers). 

It took several hours to get this shot 
But what is wrong with white gloves I hear you say? We’ll here’s our top three reasons why they are not always suitable: 

1) Can you feel it yet? The density of cotton makes it a bit more difficult to get your hands around an object without a good grip they can slip straight out of your hands (Remember the first time you broke an object?) And no press photo shoot is improved by the object in question getting smashed.

2) Wanna get dirty – you know how sweaty you get on install? Yep, imagine all of that sweat building up onto an absorbent fabric and coming through onto the object (eww). Plus they tend to look pretty dirty pretty quickly - again, not exactly great for your museum brand. 

3) Hazards bingo! If you think all that sweat can make its way out, what can make its way in? Yep, all of our favourite museum hazards can seep into your pores! It doesn't really matter how short a period you are holding the object for - even if its just for a few photos, it's not something we want to risk our lives over! 

If that’s not enough to make you want to go nitrile then ask your favourite conservator their thoughts – there’s plenty more!
But why nitrile?  Well my friend, they are durable, tactile non-absorbant and looks pretty freaking good with any outfit. We feel safe, the objects stay safe, conservators are happy, curators are happy - all that's left to do is spread the word! 

Purple gloves they may make you a bit clam-y but...

They look good with any outfit 

Even when they clash with your hair 
Credit: C John Chase

It took a whole day to rip these bad boys up!
They are super bright and cheerful 

They are tactile and help us do our jobs better

They are durable and protective 

and they bring professional museum work into the twenty-first century!

So are you ready to join the #purplegloveclub? We’re calling for a revolution in museums and to celebrate the wonders that are purple nitrile gloves! The more we can make the representation of these gloves the standard, the sooner we can give the cotton glove conspiracy the boot! Share your photos on insta and twitter and be sure to tag us! 

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