“Explora is honored to receive this tremendous recognition," said Dr. Patrick Lopez, Explora’s Executive Director. "We thank the people of Albuquerque and all of New Mexico for making Explora a new kind of learning center that welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds. This award is also a tribute to our staff, board and volunteers for always putting the community first.”
According to IMLS Acting Director Marsha L. Semmel, “This year’s National Medal winners are serving their communities across the country with innovative and creative new approaches to lifelong learning, commitment to addressing diverse community problems, plain old hard work and a lot of heart. Many of our winners have evolved and grown despite tremendous challenges – all to empower and enrich the lives of their community members by cultivating understanding and openness. I am deeply appreciative of their efforts to make a difference. They serve as the nation’s role models.”
Explora is a new kind of learning place, where families learn together and share new experiences about science, technology and art. On any given day at Explora, a visitor may come across children using pipettes to mix colors in test tubes, a father showing his son the mechanics behind musical instruments, teenage friends tinkering with electricity or a grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter exploring the Water of Life; Life of Water exhibit area. Explora offers its community more than 550 inquiry-based programs and exhibits that encourage critical thinking and foster lifelong science learning.
Through its Classroom Explorations initiative, Explora has developed more than 200 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs that travel to every county in New Mexico, and have served 86 of the state’s 89 school districts. Teachers are grateful to have these programs in their classrooms, noticing a difference in students’ understanding of complex scientific subjects. One educator noted, “As we discuss various scientific concepts, [my students] now have a quicker, more accurate grasp because of the hands-on activities you provided.” In addition, Explora travels three different sets of tabletop exhibits to libraries and community centers around New Mexico.
For preschoolers and their caregivers, Explora offers the biweekly Growing a Scientist program, in which children and parents learn basic science principles through playful experiences. Teens on free or reduced-price school lunch can participate in the Youth Intern Program, where they learn to facilitate scientific programs for children. The interns take Explora programs and exhibits into the community, using their expertise to make science learning come alive.
Understanding the critical importance of engaging families, not just children, in scientific activity, Explora created Family Science Nights for Title I schools. These special evenings give students, teachers, principals and extended family members the opportunity to investigate Explora's multi-outcome exhibits and follow their own lines of thinking in a safe, bilingual environment. Forty-five percent of Explora's staff is bilingual and exhibit signs are in Spanish and English.
Explora has a worldwide reputation for developing small-scale exhibits with transactive qualities. Both the exhibits and their users can change in unexpected ways, and the exhibits retain evidence of previous activity. Explora's exhibit environments are semi-private spaces to support prolonged engagement, focused, thoughtful inquiry, and easy conversation.
The design of Explora’s exhibit areas promotes family learning and collaboration. “Our goal is to be inclusive,” explains Paul Tatter, associate director. “The more comfortable people are at Explora, the more freely ideas flow at the exhibit areas, and the more people of all ages learn.” This multi-generational focus has enduring results, with more than 5,600 families holding memberships. What’s more, of these families, 71 percent visit Explora three or more times each year; 61 percent visit four or more times; and 262 families visit more than 20 times a year, indicating that Explora plays a significant role in many families’ lives. Explora served 225,000 attendees last year.
In addition to Explora, other recipients of the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service are the:
- Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, Fishers, IN
- Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS
- Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, CA
- The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY
- Rangeview Library District and Anythink Libraries, Adams County, CO
- Peter White Public Library, Marquette, MI
- West Bloomfield Township Public Library, West Bloomfield, MI
- Patchogue-Medford Library, Patchogue, NY
- Nashville Public Library, Nashville, TN
Any individual may nominate a museum and/or library in the United States and its territories for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. Members of the National Museum and Library Services Board, the Institute’s presidentially-appointed policy advisory board, review the nominations and make recommendations to the Institute Director who selects the winners. To view nomination information, please go to www.imls.gov/medals. The deadline for 2011 nominations is February 15, 2011.
About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.imls.gov.