Rubber bands, what a wonderful invention.  They can be used for fun: stretched into sling shots, wrapped together to make a ball, linked together to make a giant rubber band, whatever your imagination can think to do with them.  They can also be used to help you: to hold papers together, to wrap around items like sticks that need to be kept together, worn on your wrist to help remind you of something, or snapped to help you break a bad habit.

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Office supply sling shot, ball of rubber bands, and giant rubber band made up of smaller rubber bands. [Note: The Preservation Department does not condone using office supplies to construct a sling shot at work. This sling shot serves the purpose of illustration only.]

However, using rubber bands as a long term solution for holding things together is not a good idea.  They can dry out or turn sticky, causing them to break and leave remnants of the rubber behind on the object.  In the past, I would use rubber bands to bind together some of my paper work and bills at home.  If I packed the papers away, after a few months or years when I retrieved the stack, the rubber band would have broken and the papers were no longer being held together.  Often the papers that were touched by the rubber band would have stains from the rubber.

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Aged, broken rubber bands.

Health issues may arise from using rubber bands.  The most serious is that rubber bands are made from natural rubber latex, which may cause allergic reactions.  Another problem is when a band breaks as you are using it, the snapping band will hit your hands or fingers causing a bright red spot and stinging sensation.

Here in Preservation Services at Iowa State University Library, we use rubber bands to hold together the serial publications that are to be bound by our commercial bindery.  This helps keep the issues and paper work together as they pass through our unit and then on to the bindery, where the rubber bands are removed.  This process may take up to three weeks with the bands being used around the publications, but this is not long enough for the rubber to deteriorate and cause stains on the issues.

If you need to hold papers together for longer periods of time, it would be preferable to tie them up with cotton string.  Another more long term option would be to make or purchase a box to hold the papers.

Rubber bands may be used for convenience and short term usage, or to have some inexpensive fun, but please do not use them for long term storage!

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