Kathy Tuchman, 59, is a visitor services coordinator at the Library of Congress and the designer of the “Touch History” tour for the blind. Alas, her name is not pronounced Touchman. She lives in Bethesda.
Who had the idea for a Library of Congress “Touch History” tour for the blind?
I did. We start with the normal tour of giving normal history and whatnot, and then this building lends itself to tactile exploration.
In what way?
We have our moldings, the carving of the librarians’ names that someone can feel, the intricate toppings of the pillars. You can really get a sense of the beauty of this building. At one point on the tour all the participants can stand around a desk and get a sense of how heavy this brick is. We also have marble cladding. The exterior is the granite, which is just a facade, and on the interior we have the marble cladding. I can hand you a piece of the marble and you can get a feel for how smooth and cold it is. We are told we are one of the safest buildings in Washington.
In terms of fire, flood, everything?
Wow. So, come here!
And go on the tour! The other thing I have to touch is shells. Throughout the building is a shell design, so I have fan shells because not everyone has been to a beach.
Or knows what you mean by “fan shell.” I wouldn’t have known that term even though I recognize the shape. You’ve been working on the idea since January?
Since January we’ve done eight tours. One gentleman said to me, “The building really came alive to me. I really could see the building.” We want someone to leave the building feeling they’ve had an equal experience.
What’s an example of some of the more descriptive or evocative language you use on this tour?
Minerva stands at the entrance to the Main Reading Room. She stands about 18, 20 feet tall. She’s about six feet wide. She has the bright sunshine coming over her right shoulder, casting the clouds off to the left. The clouds of ignorance are being pushed aside by the bright sunshine of knowledge. In her left hand is a scroll that unfurls with all the academic pursuits that you can see here. In her right hand, the reason we know she’s no longer at war — she’s at peace — is that she’s holding her staff point down and at her feet are the beautiful shield and her helmet. And at the bottom it says in Latin, “Not unwilling, Minerva builds a monument more lasting than bronze.”
What’s something that’s happened since you implemented the touch tour?
The best thing is when I had a [blind] student who said to me, “You made my day.” It wasn’t just that he was in this fantastic building, hearing about it, but he was actually manipulating items and being a part of it.
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