Mayor’s Office

Fletcher Free Library Selected as One of 19 US Public Libraries to Host Smithsonian Exhibition

March 12, 2015

Contact:  Rubi Simon, Library Director

Fletcher Free Library Selected as One of 19 U.S. Public Libraries to Host Smithsonian Exhibition
Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human?,” a Traveling Exhibition and Programming around Human Evolution

Burlington, VT — Mayor Miro Weinberger, Library Director Rubi Simon, and community partners today announced that the City of Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library (FFL) has been selected through a nationwide competitive process as one of 19 U.S. public libraries to host “Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human?,” a traveling exhibition developed by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and the American Library Association (ALA). The exhibition will be hosted at FFL from February 18, 2017 – March 17, 2017. Through panels, interactive kiosks, hands-on displays and videos, the exhibition 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 — advancements that define the unique position of humans in the history of life.

“Fletcher Free is very proud to be selected to host the ‘Exploring Human Origins’ exhibition,” said Director Simon. “We understand evolution is a controversial topic, and we are happy to host respectful community conversations about it here at our library. Additionally, programming is a key library service and an essential component of how libraries connect people with ideas in a changing world. Being selected to host the Smithsonian exhibition at Fletcher Free reinforces our strategic emphasis on providing programming and reinforcing partnerships for the Burlington community.”

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to host such a significant exhibition in Burlington,” said Mayor Weinberger. “Our community has a strong history of embracing diverse backgrounds and experiences, while fostering connections with each other, and Fletcher Free Library contributes significantly to that tradition. This exhibition will provide rich cultural and educational opportunities that will continue this important tradition for Burlingtonians and all who visit our remarkable library.”

The members of Vermont’s congressional delegation – Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Representative Peter Welch – supported the library’s application to host the exhibition in a joint letter to the Smithsonian’s NMNH.  Leahy is a longtime member of the Smithsonian’s governing board, the Smithsonian Board of Regents.  In a joint statement, Leahy, Sanders, and Welch said:  “The Smithsonian’s selection of the Fletcher Free Library in the competitive application process for this exhibit says much about the library and its community.  This exhibit will facilitate open, constructive, and civil conversations that encourage the exploration of the science of human evolution.”

“We are delighted to be selected for this wonderful programming opportunity,” added Barbara Shatara, Programs and Partnerships Librarian and Exhibition Project Director. “A conversation around what it means to be human will be a welcome counter-balance to highlighting our differences, allowing us to discover through dialogue our similarities and celebrate our collective uniqueness human beings. We have proposed a six-month programming and community engagement period prior to exhibition display – starting in the fall of 2016, building context and a shared understanding of different sides of the debate. We look forward to working closely with our community partners to develop robust programming that will enrich the exhibition’s presence in Burlington.”

Based on the Smithsonian’s “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” permanent exhibition hall at the NMNH, the “Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human?” exhibition seeks to shed light on what we know about human origins and how we know it. The exhibition welcomes different cultural perspectives on evolution and seeks to foster positive dialogue and a respectful exploration of the science. The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of free library programs, including presentations by Smithsonian and local scientists. Additionally, the NMNH is developing a unique evaluation process to understand how people engage with the exhibition and associated programming in the local communities. The Fletcher Free Library will promote the exhibition in school districts around Vermont and plans to maximize the number of K-12 students statewide who visit the four week exhibition in Burlington.

The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s preeminent museum and research complex. Each year, more than fifty exhibitions travel to hundreds of cities and towns where millions of people engage with discoveries and collections that give the Smithsonian its special place in American life. The Exploring Human Origins traveling exhibition is believed to be the first Smithsonian exhibition to be hosted in Burlington, Vermont.

FFL staff joined forces with over 30 local organizations and individuals representing diverse perspectives – education, research, religious, cultural, the humanities, and community engagement – to develop Burlington’s application.

Director Simon added: “We are excited to be developing the programming for this exhibition with a wealth of local experience and expertise.” Partners to date include the University of Vermont (UVM) and the University of Vermont Medical Center, Champlain College, St. Michael’s College, the Burlington and Winooksi School Districts, the Partnership for Change, the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Paul’s, the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, RETN, VPR, Rice Memorial High School, Vermont Commons School, Rock Point School, the State Department of Libraries, the State Division of Historic Preservation, and Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO).

"My colleagues and I at the University of Vermont are excited that the Fletcher Free Library was selected to host this important exhibit," said Deborah Blom, Chair of UVM's Department of Anthropology and member of the Consultation Panel that will advise the library on community engagement and programming development. "We look forward to helping widen the exhibition’s impact by contributing our expertise in anthropology to programming prior to and during the exhibit in partnership with a variety of community groups. Our goal is to promote a dialogue that celebrates differing perspectives and points of view. The exhibit will also provide invaluable learning opportunities for University of Vermont students in a broad range of disciplines."

Dr. Debra Leonard, Professor and Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UVM’s College of Medicine shared in support of the exhibition, “As a pathologist, my clinical practice focuses on the human genome and its influence on health and disease.  I am excited personally that this exhibit is coming to the FFL because it will provide a window not only into human evolution, but also into the role genetics has played in our evolution. Medical students, graduate students, residents, and faculty from the UVM College of Medicine and UVM Medical Center will benefit from the opportunity to see this exhibit and participate in these discussions.”

“I am excited that our school is partnering with the Fletcher Free Library to integrate the “Exploring Human Origins” exhibition with our curriculum,” stated Don Laackman, President of Champlain College. “Champlain College and our faculty will help develop programming that will engage and challenge not only our students, but all visitors to the exhibition, from Vermont and beyond.”

“I am very pleased to partner with the Fletcher Free Library as it hosts the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition “Exploring Human Origins,” added Jess Robinson, Vermont State Archaeologist. “The Burlington community's diverse make-up is one of its great strengths, and it is also one of the reasons that a conversation and exhibition related to our shared human origins will be particularly impactful. As the Vermont State Archaeologist, one of my central concerns is archaeology education and outreach. The exhibition allows us an unprecedented opportunity to explore with the public the processes, discoveries, and implications of important archaeological and paleoanthropological research.”

Phelan Fretz, Executive Director of ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, said: “Science education is in a crisis in this country, and at the core is a lack of understanding about evolution, especially human evolution. This exhibition provides the platform to better understand evolution as a foundation for exploring and celebrating all that makes us human.”  

“Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human?” is organized by the NMNH in collaboration with the ALA Public Programs Office. This project is made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and support from the Peter Buck Human Origins Fund.

The libraries selected to host “Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human?” represent a range of communities, from small towns to large metropolitan areas. To view the list of selected sites, visit

About the Fletcher Free Library
The Fletcher Free Library is Vermont’s largest public library.  It is known regionally for its programming which inspires discussion, advances knowledge and strengthens our community.  FFL has established partnerships with many national, state and local organizations, and in recent years has participated in events that have laid groundwork for hosting this exhibition. Fletcher Free is located at 235 College Street. The exhibition is free and will open to the public during library hours from February 18, 2017–March 17, 2017.

About ALA’s Public Programs Office
ALA’s 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 ALA 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, public, academic and special libraries nationwide benefit from the office’s programming initiatives.

About the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s preeminent museum and research complex. The museum 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.


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