Library expects 60,000 to visit earth exhibit

By on May 15, 2013



An Ephrata Borough worker brings in the enormous box containing parts of the Discover Earth exhibit which opens here Saturday. (Photo by Rebecca Zinner)

Beginning Saturday, the Ephrata Public Library will be transformed into a community science project as the "Discover Earth: A Century of Change" exhibition opens to the public.

The exhibition has been traveling the United States visiting 10 libraries selected through a grant process conducted by the American Library Association. The exhibit features an 18-inch-diameter Magic Planet globe and a 42-inch multi-touch table computer. The exhibit incorporates personal narratives, stunning graphics, video, animations, weather artifacts, animal specimens and simulation-based educational games. In addition, the library received a real-time digital weather station that collects data and shows how local temperature, pressure and precipitation change during the time the exhibition is at the library. The exhibition will allow visitors to understand how Earth’s global environment changes, and is changed by, the local environment of all the exhibition host communities.

The exhibition is part of the STAR Library Education Network (STAR_Net) led by the National Center for Interactive Learning at the Space Science Institute. Exhibit partners include the American Library Association, the Lunar and Planetary Institute and the National Girls Collaborative Project. The exhibit is supported through a grant from the National it’s sponsored by Blue Ridge Communications, The Ephrata Review, The Borough of Ephrata, Royer Pharmacy, The Denver Ephrata Area Rotary Club, Douple Insurance, Edward Jones Investments, Hauenstein Agency, Inc., LaserLab, Complete In Box, The Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of the Ephrata Public Library.

"The exhibition itself is only part of the fun," said Penny Talbert, executive director of the library. "We have over 100 programs planned for the summer that focus on various science topics for all ages."

The library is no stranger to hosting large events, which have included three consecutive years of "Big Reads," sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and The Civil War Road Show. Discover Earth is the largest initiative planned by the library in its history.

"In 2011 when we were notified that we’d gotten the grant I knew it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Talbert who – along with Mary Ebersole, a member of the library’s Youth Services Team – flew to Colorado to see the exhibit firsthand. "I told Mary on the flight home that she wasn’t allowed to talk about it with anyone except her husband." Talbert says she did this because she knew it was going to be an overwhelming project.

An introduction to the project was presented to the board of directors first and then to the Friends of the Library.

"Without their support," said Talbert, "we were not going to be able to make it amazing."

With the support of both groups under their belt, Talbert and Ebersole began to slowly introduce the project to the library staff, first showing them photos and blueprints of the exhibition.

"Several months later, after it was all on the table, we told them when it was coming – at the same time as summer reading," said Talbert.

Summer reading at the Ephrata Public Library has consistently brought thousands of children, teens and adults into the door and reading. "It’s always our busiest time," said Talbert. It is not unusual to have days when 2,000 or more people come through the door.

While it is difficult to estimate how many additional visitors the exhibit may draw, Talbert estimates that it could be 60,000-80,000 people. Classes of students from Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks counties will be arriving over the first three weeks of the exhibit for field trips.

"This is a new idea for us," said Talbert. In the past, Ephrata Area School District has brought several dozen students to the library to visit the annual art show or get an introduction about the public library. With Discover Earth, the library has field trips planned for over 1,600 students, who will have docent-led tours of the exhibition and visits to StarLab, a portable planetarium owned by the IU-13.

With library funding from the state at an all-time low, the question of how the library can afford such a huge undertaking is a logical question. "We knew it was coming," said Talbert, "and we planned ahead. We took it into account when we created our budget and spread the cost over two years, but it’s really the support of local businesses and the Borough of Ephrata that made it work."

Each year, the Borough of Ephrata distributes Cultural Arts grants and the library included their Discover Earth activities into their proposal. Businesses of all sizes contributed. The library also receives grants each year for special projects.

"All of our discretionary grant money is going to Discover Earth this year," Talbert said.

One may wonder how a small library like Ephrata’s can handle the enormity of tasks involved with such a large undertaking. Talbert explained that the board of directors, the Friends of the Ephrata Public Library, volunteers and library staff members have been making final preparations all year. One glance around the library will prove they have. Fifty-pound bags of birdseed are piled up in one office, thousands of key chains with small globes attached in another. Two large storage units were moved to the library property just to hold supplies and the containers that house the exhibit during shipping.

The exhibition will kick-off on Saturday, May 18 at 9 a.m. with docent-led tours and celebration. At noon, a special opening ceremony will take place. Refreshments, experiments, giveaways and special guests will fill the day, along with a keynote speech by Dr. Kevin Manning. Manning, who has worked with many well-known organizations such as NASA, the Chantra X-Ray Observatory (launched on the space shuttle with the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and other ground-based observatories such as Brookhaven National Laboratory, will be presenting, Astronomy for Everyone: Size and Scale of the Universe. The presentation which take place at 2 p.m. and does require registration due to limited seating.

"This is not just a library event," explained Talbert. "This is a community event. We take very seriously our charge of being a hub of the community, and this is one of those perfect storms that has just reinforced that mission."

The idea of a community hub has become more evident in the past several years. Recent news about the library taking on the Ephrata Skate Park is just another example of how the library is partnering with government to provide services and programs to serve the community.

"When people say the library is becoming obsolete…that we’re just a building with books," said Talbert, "it’s clear they haven’t been in our library recently."

But books are still the largest part of the library’s services. For two years in a row, the Ephrata Public Library has been the largest circulating library facility in the county and there is a good chance this will continue in 2013. Passport services make up over 15 percent of their budget and the recent addition of a Village Post Office also helps to support the library’s collection.

"We have made it a priority to expand services beyond what people think," said Talbert. A recent article in Library Journal featured Ephrata’s library and their circulation of Rokus, a digital content delivery system, which provides patrons with the opportunity to watch educational channels like the NASA channel. The service, the initial attempt to circulate the devices, made the library the very first in the entire world to provide such a service. Kindles and Kindle Fires circulation began last year. With Discover Earth, the library took the opportunity to begin circulating a telescope, which patrons can check out for a week.

Digital content has also become an important service. Talbert explained that local patrons can access a variety of online content including Zinio, an online magazine service; OneClick Digital, an online audiobook service; and Universal Class which offers over 500 online classes on a variety of subjects. All of these services are paid for by the Friends of the Ephrata Public Library, who raise money through Books & Stuff, the bookstore in the library’s hallway, and their annual book sale. Jill Hilt, longtime president of the Friends, explains the Friends’ commitment.

"Our members believe in the library and advocate on its behalf," Hilt said.

Last year, the Friends donated over $50,000 to further the library’s goals.

Gil Sager, president of the library’s board of trustees, echoes Hilt’s sentiment.

"It’s not a fluke," he said. "This is a community that recognizes the library’s importance and embraces change and innovation. The board had no doubt that library staff could handle this monumental task."

As the library’s "blasts off" with their newest initiative, Talbert and the entire library staff have seen the Ephrata area’s support more than ever.

"We’re ready," she said. "This is a community experiment, and we want everyone to come out and see what we’ve done.

The exhibit will be on-site through July 11 and is free of charge.

For more information, visit the library’s website at ephratapubliclibrary.org.

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