Zombie ideas and common sense: Let's talk about white gloves

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Every discipline has their zombie ideas, even library science. This could be a good discussion to have with students in the Intro Psych research methods chapter regarding the pitfalls of common sense. Ask students via clicker, Plickers, or by a show of hands this question:

When touching the pages of old, valuable books, you should wear white gloves. Yes, no, or I don’t know?

Most of your students will likely say yes. Now ask how do they know? This will be a harder question for them to answer. They may not remember how they learned this. They may even say that it’s common sense.

Common sense may be common in that a whole lot of people think it is true, but that doesn’t make it true. And that’s the case with wearing white gloves when touching the pages of old, valuable books.

In this New York Times article, librarians describe this belief of needing to wear white gloves when handling the pages of old, valuable books as an idea that will not die (Schuessler, 2023)—a zombie idea, if you will. The rationale for why wearing white gloves is a bad idea is good: “Gloves reduce your sense of touch, increasing the likelihood that you might accidentally tear a page, smear pigments, dislodge loose fragments — or worse, drop the book” (Schuessler, 2023). Gloves also tend to gather dirt and cause hands to sweat (Schuessler, 2023). Dirt and moisture are bad for books.

The librarians remind us that the books have been handled with bare hands for as long as they have been around.

There are a few exceptions to the no-glove rule, however. Nitrile gloves are recommended for photographic pages and certain book covers (e.g., book covers that contain metal, ivory, velvet, and certain other types of cloth). Also, wearing gloves is a good idea for handling book covers that may contain arsenic, but that’s for protecting the reader, not the book. Although one librarian added, “The moral of the story is, don’t lick the books and you will be fine” (Schuessler, 2023). Don’t lick the books. Got it.

If the white glove thing isn’t actually a thing, why did Sotheby’s take a photograph of Brontë family manuscripts with white-gloved hands (Schuessler, 2021)? They are likely taking advantage of our ‘common sense’ for their monetary gain. If white gloves signal ‘valuable book,’ then we may be likely to pay more money for it (Schuessler, 2023). No white gloves? Then perhaps the book is no different than the paperback we picked up last week from our local bookseller.

If you’d like to expand this discussion into one of ethics, ask your students if some of their ‘common sense’ knowledge comes from what they’ve seen in movies or television shows. Do producers and writers have an ethical obligation to present accurate information or to note when they are not? What about the creators of YouTube or TikTok videos? If the content creators do not have such an ethical obligation, does the responsibility then lie with the viewer to sort out what is fact and what is fiction? If so—and if we choose not to expend the time and energy to do so—then are we at risk for spreading misinformation?

This could be a good opportunity to launch a discussion on the importance of information literacy.



Schuessler, J. (2021, May 25). A lost Brontë library surfaces. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/25/arts/bronte-library-sothebys-auction.html

Schuessler, J. (2023, March 9). For rare book librarians, it’s gloves off. Seriously. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/09/arts/rare-books-white-gloves.html



About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.