The Conan Doyle Collection is made up of 3,500 objects, 16,000 books and 40,000 archives. These are held in a permanent exhibition in Portsmouth Museum, or by appointment to see the archives in the Portsmouth History Centre.
We saw this project as an opportunity to work out how to translate the collection for the enjoyment of everyone, including blind and partially sighted visitors. The aim was extremely ambitious and attempted to achieve something that hadn’t been done before for this collection. The process therefore involved trying and testing a range of methods, so took much longer than anticipated.
As the Collection had only just been fully catalogued, we decided the best format was to produce a small-scale sensory exhibition for touring purposes. Working with the University of Portsmouth’s School of Creative Technologies, and using a blind and partially sighted steering group, a free-standing plinth type case was produced with 16 audio described panels, detailing this huge public collection. The Sensory Exhibition is a surprising take on the usual handling objects. The case tries to capture the essence of a scene within the archive – a Spirit appearing physically over Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s shoulder, and Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes actually battling on the wind-swept cliff top of the freezing Reichenbach Falls.
The case is not only portable to different venues, but the panels are in a ring binder so can easily come out. The panels are comprehensive in giving information about Conan Doyle’s life and the content of the Conan Doyle Collection. The A3tactile panels fix inside a book structure and provide accessible interpretation of various further elements of the authors story using braille, tactile images and large print. Sound spots which work with the Discovery Pens provide audio description of the contents of the pages. The unit also incorporates a refrigeration system, which chills the area of the waterfall in the Reichenbach Falls, making it cool to touch for those experiencing the depiction.
We have succeeded in creating a very unique experience for people, allowing them to engage with a previously hard to reach collection. Feedback from blind and partially sighted groups so far has been excellent and they have thoroughly enjoyed this creative approach.
“A big plus of this exhibition and the removable pages is that it can be put into a familiar, known, venue which enables blind and partially sighted people to have freer access in their own time and is much more enabling” Michael Gunton – Senior Archivist, Arthur Conan Doyle Collection
- Collaborate with other companies or organisation’s as it exposes you to new possibilities and ideas.
- Having a portable exhibition enables more visitors to engage with it in a meaningful way.
- If using audio description in an exhibition, make sure that consideration for any audio for online resources is built into the original plan. We didn’t anticipate making an online version of the Sensory Exhibition, and had to negotiate extra recording time in the studio and extend the time with the volunteers who were involved.