The two things I hear most often when leading collections programs are, “Oh, those look fragile, we’d better find something else to do.” And, “Why do we have to wear gloves?” Boston Children’s Museum is all about hands on learning, but sometimes that means gentle touching too.
Sometimes more delicate objects are chosen to share with our visitors. These objects are important enough and compelling enough to be worth bringing out, but we have to be particularly careful with them… While we cannot invite visitors to touch these objects, we will still bring them out on special occasions. In the interest of sharing these notable artifacts with our visiting families, we have to be willing to add a bit of risk to our collections program if it means offering a better experience or showing an object that may be captivating in one way or another.
Usually when “breakables” are selected for programs, it is because we have multiples of them in collections. Certainly a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable object will not make the cut for a program but instead will be secured in a display case when shown. However, choosing these objects from time to time also cues visitors in to something special happening. If we only brought out familiar or heavy duty objects, would they be as interesting to explore?
As for the gloves, there are several reasons why we ask visitors to wear gloves when touching collections items (yes, grownups too!). Even if we have just washed our hands our skin contains oils which can imprint on various materials and often cannot be removed. Over time this will damage or weaken the structure of the object. At the same time, we cannot “throw the objects in the wash,” so especially for our natural history specimens, the gloves add a protective barrier between the object and the visitor. Gloves are not meant to deter visitors from stopping to look or to hinder explorations, but they are for the protection of the handler as much as for the object.