The Tactile Access to Collections workshop was developed for curatorial and learning staff who want to implement ‘opportunities and an infrastructure for the public to handle objects from their collections’. Twenty participants gathered for today’s session. We began with a group exercise based on a selection of objects provided by the workshop convenor, Charlotte Dew, in which we were asked to make note of what we could tell about objects simply by looking at them. This exercise revealed that observation is the best way to determine the colour of an object, and a good way to determine its shape and any symbolism, but looking proved to be inadequate as a way of determining texture, materials and manufacturing technique. A pair of bowls in our selection of objects could have been moulded or 3D printed. A small battleship could have been plastic, ceramic or metal. A necklace could, at first glance, have been jet or French jet (glass) but closer observation revealed mould marks meaning it was plastic. This state of looking but not touching was frustrating.
Next we were asked to handle the objects wearing gloves. This exercise made clear to me that handling and touching are not the same thing. I was able to handle the objects - pick up the bowl, turn it over, determine that it was not 3D printed, and was in fact moulded, but I couldn’t feel the texture. Wearing gloves, I was able to confirm that the battleship was metal, and a light metal like lead. But I still wanted to feel it without the gloves on. Similarly, I wanted to test the beaded necklace with my teeth to really confirm the material. This simple exercise revealed that one of the benefits derived from handling objects is that we simply have more information when we can use our hands, about weight and structure, and more still when we can use our sense of touch, about texture.
We then moved to consider the risks involved in object handling, both to the objects and the people involved. Objects may go missing, become damaged, or suffer wear and tear. People engaged in handling may be at risk from certain materials such as lead and asbestos, or from actions such as pinching and cutting. We used a traffic light system questionnaire for determining the suitability of objects for handling, the risks to the objects of handling them, and the risks they present for participants. Green+ objects can leave the museum site, and objects graded green can be handled in unmediated situations. Amber objects can be handled under supervision. Red objects can only be demonstrated to visitors by museum staff. We took into account variables such as rarity, significance and cost in making our assessments of suitability for handling, as well as the benefits of restricted use of various types in offsetting risks.
Handling policies and procedures can be developed to assist in managing the risks of allowing tactile access to collections. They provide clarity across an organisation and can be used as a training tool with staff and volunteers. Policies can cover selection criteria for handling collections, storage, access and use, risk assessment procedure, processes for auditing handling collections and care and repair, procedures for reporting loss and damage, disposal of objects for various reasons (wear and tear, changed relevance), object documentation, and strategies for interpretation.
Planning meaningful engagement opportunities involving object handling can be facilitated using a session development matrix, learning theory and examples of good practice from other organisations. We planned a handling session using some medieval floor tiles held at Guildford Museums service, which communicated the importance of local trade in tiles between monasteries in the thirteenth century and encompassed handling clay as well as tiles. We referred to Learning for All and Generic Learning Outcomes to make sure that our session offered something for everyone. Detailed planning is clearly an asset in managing risk in relation to tactile access to collections.
Professor of Design History
Reposted from https://www.graceleesmaffei.org/home/2018/11/28/teg-tactile-access-to-collections-workshop