Learning Through Touch: Connecting with Objects in Our Special Collections

By Joe S. Tue, May 28, 2019

In a recent CNN article titled, "Why touching art is so tempting — and exciting," Fiona Candlin, a professor of museology at Birkbeck College in London and author of Art, Museums, and Touch, argues that touching is fundamental to the way we learn and connect with artifacts from within special collections. In fact, this hands-on approach is at the heart of the new family friendly and interactive exhibition, Our Five Senses, which is on display until November 2, 2019. Visitors may choose to sign up for free tours of the exhibition, and enjoy some of the associated free programs scheduled throughout Philadelphia. If touching rare objects is your thing, but you cannot make it to the library, Traveling Treasures can come to you. For the last two years, this free, librarian-led, hands-on program, featuring over 30 objects, has traveled to schools, libraries, and senior centers throughout the region.

There is no substitute for the pleasure and excitement of touching historical artifacts, which is probably why the Free Library's Hands-on History series has been so well-received. Although barely five months old, the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Participants enjoy handling artifacts, while library staff enjoys sharing some of their most cherished items directly with the public in a more intimate venue. This past February, participants raved about exploring works from Philadelphia’s theatrical families, such as the Drews and the Barrymores. Scheduled for this June, in celebration of Pride Month, is Famous Queer Authors. In this program, fans of Oscar Wilde will not want to miss this unique opportunity to experience the manuscripts of one of our greatest authors, up close and personally.

The objects from Hands-on History are taken from our Special Collections, which include: the Rare Book Department, the Theatre Collection, Children’s Literature Department, Print and Picture Department, the Map Collection, the Fleisher Collection, the Drinker Collection, and the Chamber Music Collection.Hands-On History particpants also get first-hand access to rarely seen items from the Free Library’s outstanding subject departments, such as the Art Department, Literature Department, Social Science and History Department, Music Department, and the Business, Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC).

Hands-on History is offered on the second Saturday of the month from 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Although admission is free, registration is required. Check out the 2019 Hands-On History schedule, and sign up for your favorite classes. 

So whether you visit Our Fives Senses, attend a Hands-On History class, or invite Traveling Treasures to your institution, it's time to "get in touch" and connect with objects from the Free Library's Special Collections!

Arch Street Theatre Playbill
Arch Street Theatre Playbill
AMS [fragment] of the Ballad of Reading Gaol; Canto III with comment, page 1
AMS [fragment] of the Ballad of Reading Gaol; Canto III with comment, page 1
Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Paul Lawrence Dunbar

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