Library explores the FAQs around ‘Exploring Human Origins’ exhibit

By on June 4, 2015
Smithsonian exhibit will debut here July 29
How many remember the television show, “Dragnet”? Sergeant Friday would say in that robotic, deadpan voice, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”

The purpose behind that phrase was to eliminate all unnecessary drama and description and to focus on the very basic, objective certainty of the situation.

Unfortunately, some subjects cannot simply be presented as “just the facts.” Perception and emotion are attached to those facts like a lead weight on a balloon.

Such is the case of “Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean To Be Human,” a four-week exhibition coming to the Ephrata Public Library July 29-Aug. 25. The American Library Association Public Programs Office, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Human Origins Program, has made the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins traveling exhibition available to the public. The library is one of only 19 in the nation to have been awarded this exhibition.

The title itself, “Exploring Human Origins…” has already invoked strong feelings and opinions that have been expressed to library staff, though the exhibition is still a number of weeks away. While many of the comments expressed have been positive, much of the feedback has been laden with debate and concern, so much so that the library feels it must address the concerns, dispel some misperceptions and answer the most frequently asked questions.

What Is It?
“Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean To Be Human” is a four-week traveling display and public programs exhibition. The components of the display include 40-full color information panels, two interactive touch screen kiosks, a display of skulls, a relief mat of early-man footprints, a statue of a Neanderthal woman and child, and two DVDs.

For the first week of the showing, associated programs will be facilitated by the Hall of Human Origins curator, Dr. Rick Potts, and his associate and leading paleontologist, Dr. Briana Pobiner. The Broader Social Impact Committee’s Dr. Connie Bertka and Dr. Jim Miller will also be sharing in these programs.

Furthermore, the Ephrata Public Library is offering programs during the four weeks that complement the theme of the exhibition: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

What is the Smithsonian Institute’s Purpose for the Exhibition?
The purpose of this exhibition is to create an opportunity for audiences across a wide spectrum of beliefs to engage in the complex field of human evolution research in ways that are understandable, fulfilling, captivating and relevant. Reflection on the question, “What Does It Mean To Be Human?” will be discussed.

Exhibition sponsors endeavor to create a respectful and welcoming atmosphere for public audiences to explore how, when and where human qualities emerged. The goal is to inspire audiences to initiate and engage in open, constructive and civil conversation about the natural world and evolution through the lens of human origins.

Why Did The Ephrata Public Library Get Involved?
There are several reasons why the library sought out this grant, and is so thrilled to have received it.

First, this exhibition fits the library’s mission: “…to offer free access to information reflecting differing viewpoints in order to support an open and democratic society.” It felt that this exhibition was an appropriate means to further its purpose and vision for the community in which it serves.

A second reason is because the exhibition provides the opportunity to develop listening skills and to find common ground.

“This is a teachable moment and desperately needed in our community,” said Penny Talbert, director of the Ephrata Public Library. “This is an extremely difficult subject to discuss. There is a lot of emotion in it. But, in reality, the subject of human origins impacts a community very little. By learning to focus on what we think it means to be human and learning to find common ground in this, we feel it will transfer to other difficult subjects that greatly impact our community, such as crime or the drug problem.”

“By learning to listen to each other in a civil and respectful way–by finding common ground–we can proceed to finding a solution–expediting a resolution,” said Talbert.

The library is not so naïve as to think that all people will stop complaining and debating. Complaining is one of those things that makes humans human. But, if just one person, or a group of people, learns how to listen to each other, and agree to disagree, then the library’s goal has been met.

Human Reunion Handprint

Human Reunion Handprint

A third reason is because this exhibition is a great opportunity to provide STEM education to our community’s youth, particularly those who are underserved and/or underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

“This may be the only Smithsonian some of our kids will ever see,” says Talbert.

Dr. Connie Bertka of the Broader Social Impacts Committee shared with Talbert and Joy Ashley, Ephrata Public Library’s director of development, that one of the main reasons the library was selected for this exhibit was because of the diversity represented in the exhibition’s Advisory Panel.

“One of the requirements of the grant was to create an Advisory Panel made up of members of our community,” said Ashley. “We asked community leaders, members of the clergy and media as well as active homeschooling parents to participate.”

The responsibilities of these pivotal roles are to serve as sounding boards for the development of publicity and to reach a large audience with program and exhibition information. The panel includes: Mayor Ralph Mowen, Andy Fasnacht, editor of the Ephrata Review, George Di’Ilio, Shade Tree Commission chairman, Pastor Joe Hyatt, pastor of New Beginnings Church, Darvin Martin, scientist and local historian, and homeschooling parents, Steve and Michele Landis.

Please note that the viewpoints of this exhibition may not necessarily be the viewpoints of the Advisory Panel.

Why Isn’t the Library Showing An Alternative Creation Exhibition?
This exhibition is supplied by a grant from the American Library Association and the Smithsonian Institute. It is not a grant from any other organization in the country; for example, Answers in Genesis. Therefore, the library needs to follow the guidelines of this grant. Furthermore, the Smithsonian is presenting its latest findings and interpretations from its scientific perspective confirmed by the scientific community world-wide. Naturally, it is not going to present other viewpoints from other groups’ perspectives.

Furthermore, the library cannot provide one religious viewpoint without providing all the viewpoints. For example, if a side exhibit depicting literal six 24-hour day Creationism is made available, the Library would then need to provide a Native American exhibition, an African exhibition, and so on.

The point of the exhibition is “to spark a conversation” about what it means to be human. It is not to debate the scientific findings, but reflect on the larger meaning behind these findings: what does it mean to me? By introducing an alternative world view, the library feels it would be fostering debate, which defeats the purpose behind the Smithsonian’s exhibit.

How Will I have a Chance to Express My Thoughts?
Again, the focus of this exhibition is to reflect and respond to the question, “What does it mean to be human?”

One of the final panels that the audience will view in the exhibit is the “response panel.” Here, individuals will pull a sticky note and write a word or a brief phrase about what they think it means to be human, than stick this note directly onto the panel. Examples of responses may be “Love” or “Creativity” or “Our desire to worship”.

“There are no wrong answers,” said Ashley, “The sticky notes are then collected after a time and sent to the National Museum of Natural History to be part of the Hall of Human Origins collection.

Imagine! Hundreds of thousands of sticky notes collected from across the country over a two year period reflecting on what we think it means to be human.”

The audience will also have opportunity to share their thoughts during some of the programs. “A Community Conversation,” a program facilitated by the Broader Social Impact Committee’s Drs. Bertka and Miller, will discuss how the scientific discoveries relate to people’s personal understanding of the world and their place in it.

Furthermore, the library will be issuing a writing contest for teens and adults. Participants are encouraged to visit the exhibition, than complete an essay answering the question, “What does it mean to be human?” The two winners from both age categories will receive a $50 Amazon card.

The Exploring Human Origins Facebook page is another avenue for people to post their thoughts about what it means to be human. The link for this is: facebook.com/exploringhumanoriginsephrata.

The library is not trying to change any one person’s personal conviction or beliefs. It is to provide access to information, and the audience is free to interpret the information, and even to test the information, at a very personal level.

How is the Library Paying for This Exhibition?
The exhibit, the scientists from the Smithsonian and their associated programs are all part of the grant. Costs to adequately promote this exhibition and costs incurred for additional Library-run programs have already been covered by sponsorship funds.

Furthermore, on Aug. 29, the library will be hosting “Sharing the Bread.” This is a farm-to-table community fundraising event to support the Library. Two highly reputable chefs will be preparing the best of Lancaster County’s bounty to serve to guests, with a live auction being held over dessert.

“One of the activities that make us uniquely human is food sharing,” said Ashley, “Humans have broken bread with one another for thousands and thousands of years. We break bread as a social activity, as a means to share our blessings or as entertainment, more than we actually do to survive. This event fits very appropriately with the theme and is the perfect finale to the Exploring Human Origins exhibition.”

Where Do I Find More Information about the exhibition? The best place to look for more information is the library’s website: ephratapubliclibrary.libguides.com/humanorigins This library guide shows videos of the exhibition and the scientists. It lists books and DVDs purchased as part of the Library’s permanent collection. For those visitors outside of the community, a special links page has been added for hotel and restaurant information. Viewers can also learn about and purchase tickets for the upcoming “Sharing the Bread” Farm-to-Table Community Benefit Dinner.

The event Facebook page is another opportunity to stay apprised of the latest information. The link for this again is: facebook.com/exploringhumanoriginsephrata.

Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human? was organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in collaboration with the American Library Association Public Programs Office. This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and support from the Peter Buck Human Origins Fund.

About digital editor

2 Comments

  1. Shad

    June 23, 2015 at 10:54 am

    “Just the facts”? Yes, let’s! Let’s look at just the facts. Bones have been found in the dirt. That’s a fact. The bones do not have a date stamp. That is also a fact. They do not have skin, hair, or an indication of what their kids looked like… or even if they had kids. And they defiantly don’t have any evidence that their kids looked any different than them. All we know is that they died.

    In order for something to be considered a scientific fact, it must be observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable by experimentation. Otherwise it is just a theory. Theories are useful. But a theory is never a closed case.

    Obviously, we cannot in the present time observe, nor can we repeat human origins. So to claim that the Neanderthals living 10,000-400,000 years ago evolved from ape-like creatures is a fact (which is what this display claims on the library website) is not only bad science, but blatant propaganda–seeking to impose their religious theory on impressionable children. Where is the critical thinking? If it is a theory, present it as such.

    And don’t call one theory “science” and one theory “religious.” All theories about human origins are just that, theories, because they don’t meet all four criteria required for anything to be labeled a scientific fact (again, something must be observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable by experimentation.)

    “Just the facts, ma’am.”

    • Debra Eastburn

      July 24, 2015 at 10:50 pm

      Thank you Shad. I find it so hard to believe that our public library is holding this “Human Origins” 4 week event. There are NO facts relating to this exhibit…just theory folks…just theory. Penny Talbert talks in circles, using phrases like “common ground”, spark a conversation” and “purpose & vision”. I think this article makes it clear that Penny Talbert is using the library to further HER purpose and vision for our community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *