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Smithsonian, ALA Bring Exhibition ‘Exploring Human Origins’ to Libraries

The American Library Association (A.L.A.) Public Programs Office, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (N.M.N.H.) Human Origins Program, is accepting applications for the traveling exhibition Exploring Human Origins, the A.L.A. announced on Tuesday, August 19, 2014. “The exhibition seeks to create an opportunity for a wide spectrum of audiences to engage the complex field of human evolution research in ways that are understandable, fulfilling, captivating and relevant.”

The opportunity is open to public libraries. Nineteen sites will be selected to host the 40-panel, 1,200-square-foot exhibition for four weeks each between April 2015 and April 2017. The exhibition will include at least two interactive kiosks, a display of skulls and two DVDs.

Full guidelines and an online application are available online here. The application deadline is Wednesday, November 19, 2014.

Exploring Human Origins is made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Sir John Marks Templeton (1912-2008), an American-born British investor founded the Templeton Growth Fund in 1954, established the Templeton Prize in 1972, founded Templeton College in 1983, and founded the Templeton Foundation in 1987.

According to the A.L.A., “Through panels, interactive kiosks, hands-on displays and videos, Exploring Human Origins invites audiences to explore milestones in the evolutionary journey of becoming human — from walking upright, creating technology and eating new foods, to brain enlargement and the development of symbolic language and complex societies — milestones that define the unique position of humans in the history of life.”

In addition to the traveling exhibition and all shipping costs, selected sites will receive a $500 programming support grant; presentation of three or four programs by members of the Human Origins Program and its Broader Social Impacts Committee; and a variety of educational materials and support.

Sites will be required to host several related public programs, including an exhibition opening and community conversations. Sites must also convene a panel of community members to serve as advisors for developing local programs.

The traveling exhibition is based on the exhibit What Does It Mean to Be Human? at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (N.M.N.H.). Over 20,000,000 people have visited the Hall of Human Origins exhibition since it opened in 2010.

The Smithsonian Institution, which bills itself as “the world’s preeminent museum and research complex,” and arguably the statement is true when we regard all of the Smithsonian’s operating units. Today, the Smithsonian Institution has nineteen museums, the National Zoo, and nine research facilities. The Smithsonian has approximately 14,000,000 artifacts and specimens. Three-quarters of Smithsonian staff members are employees of the U.S. Government.

When Congress established the Smithsonian Institution, it allocated a fifty-acre site in the District of Columbia between Seventh Street and Twelfth Street where the Smithsonian Institution Building (“The Castle”), the Arts & Industries Building, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Freer Gallery of Art were all built. Joseph Hornblower (1848-1908) and James P. Marshall (1851-1927) of Hornblower & Marshall designed the Smithsonian’s third purpose-built museum, the Beaux-Arts style National Museum of Natural History, with help from two of the most famous American architects of the day: Daniel Hudson Burnham, Sr. (1846-1912) and Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909). The Natural History Building opened in 1910, although construction was not finished until 1911.

Natural history specimens transferred from The Castle and the National Museum Building (now called the Arts & Industries Building) to the new building. According to the Smithsonian, the N.M.N.H. “is dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery and learning about the natural world through its unparalleled research, collections, exhibitions and education outreach programs. Opened in 1910, the Natural History Museum on the National Mall was among the first Smithsonian buildings constructed exclusively to house the national collections and research facilities.”

According to the A.L.A., its “Public Programs Office provides leadership, resources, training and networking opportunities that help thousands of librarians nationwide develop and host cultural programs for adult, young adult and family audiences. The mission of the A.L.A. Public Programs Office is to promote cultural programming as an essential part of library service in all types of libraries.”

Projects include book and film discussion series, literary and cultural programs featuring authors and artists, professional development opportunities and traveling exhibitions. School libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, and special libraries across the federation benefit from the office’s programming initiatives.

Sir John Marks Templeton expected the John Templeton Foundation, now based in West Conshockocken, Pennsylvania, “to stand apart from any consideration of dogma or personal religious belief and to seek out grantees who are ‘innovative, creative, enthusiastic, and open to competition and new ideas’ in their approach to the Big Questions,” according to the Templeton Foundation. He donated a substantial part of his fortune to the Templeton Foundation. His obituary in Nature placed the sum he gave the Templeton Foundation as $1,500,000,000.