Traveling Treasures: A Special Collection Worth Touching

By Joe S. RSS Fri, May 5, 2017

Much has been written in academic journals about the need to increase access to special collections in public libraries, museums, and universities. This topic is particularly relevant to the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia as we continue to explore new ways in which to promote our special collections and services to the general public. 

It is within this context that we developed Traveling Treasures. This free, librarian-led, outreach program is designed to introduce people of all ages to items that represent some of the collections within the department. In the program, we bring select objects to libraries, schools, and various institutions in and around Philadelphia. We encourage participants to touch, feel, and even smell, the items we bring, as in the case of the 19th century Ethiopian Coptic satchel book that was shipped to us directly from Ethiopia after surviving a flood or a fire. 

Participants are almost always intrigued and excited by what they see. They enjoy learning about the connections that a few of our items have with the city in which they live, like our 1846 copy of Graham's Magazine that was printed in Philadelphia, and which includes two works written by Edgar Allan Poe, who (like them) lived in Philadelphia and edited the magazine to which he contributed. Occasionally, they are surprised to find out that some of our earliest books that have survived thousands of years are made out of clay, as in the case of our cuneiform tablets. Or that for hundreds of years people used sheepskin or goatskin, and sometimes calf skin, as writing platforms.They ask fascinating questions that are not too dissimilar than what book studies scholars ask, such as: What makes a book a book? What language is it written in? How was it made? Do you know who owned it? Why are some of these books made so small? How much did it cost? Although I am unable to answer all their questions, I am always encouraged by their sense of wonder and curiosity.  

The response to Traveling Treasures is overwhelmingly positive. We have many future visits scheduled but are always eager to add more. Please contact us immediately to inquire about scheduling your free visit.

Over the next few weeks, the staff of the Special Collections Division of the Free Library of Philadelphia will be writing about items from their collection that relate in some way to Philadelphia. 

The Special Collections Division includes the Automobile Reference Collection, the Children’s Literature Research Collection, the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, the Maps Collection, the Print and Picture Collection, the Rare Book Department, and the Theatre Collection. These collections are here to inspire you; if you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to contact us for more information. You can also visit our Digital Collections, which are home to over 40,000 digitized items from our collections.

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