On the evening of September 23, twelve brave Philadelphia-area citizens came to the Rosenbach to attend the first of the Rosenbach Docent training sessions! Some faces were familiar and some had never been to the museum before. As each of the participants in the training course introduced themselves, we asked them to share a story about a formative museum experience. Some spoke about the awe of being children in natural history museums, some of libraries which inspired and welcomed them, others of the experience of seeing a work of art they had spent hours studying in books. As we discussed their museum experiences, one thing was made clear--these are all people passionate about culture, public access, and talking! All great qualities in docents!
In the next eleven training sessions the class will begin to learn all about the Rosenbach, from our founders, the Rosenbach brothers, to how to operate the light switches in the historic house. Between meetings, class members are assigned readings for discussion. For instance, before we have a lecture on Book History and the trajectory from manuscript to book, to later editions and even on to the e-book (or digital reading), they will read an excerpt from Marianne Wolf’s book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. In this excerpt Wolf discusses the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates’ objection to young people learning through reading. Socrates believed strongly in oral culture and learning by memorization. He argued that reading required less intensive, personal, and attentive learning than the act of memorizing. Wolf writes “Like the ancient Greeks we are embarked on a powerfully important transition—in our case from a written culture to one that is more digital and visual.”
If the new Rosenbach docent class can talk with visitors in the rare book library about the transition from oral tradition, to written tradition, and looking forward a digital tradition I think we will be truly engaging the public with history, collections, and the Rosenbach!
Farrar Fitzgerald is the Sunstein Family Assistant Director of Education and the coordinator of the Rosenbach's docent program