Exploring Human Origins

Project Guidelines

Exploring Human Origins-Promoting a national conversation on human evolution through a traveling exhibition and programming for public libraries

RECEIPT DEADLINE: November 19, 2014

Date posted: August 18, 2014


Contact the American Library Association (ALA) staff at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 5045, or

I. Project Overview

The American Library Association Public Programs Office, in collaboration with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) Human Origins Program, invites applications from public libraries for the traveling exhibition Exploring Human Origins- Promoting a national conversation on human evolution.

The 1,200-square-foot traveling exhibition is based on the exhibition that opened in 2010 at the NMNH to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the museum. Please see and for information on the exhibition and the NMNH Human Origins Program. Over 20 million people have visited the Hall of Human Origins exhibition since its launch. Its popularity and impact have led the NMNH to plan a traveling exhibition for libraries which will engage communities across the United States in reflecting on the question "What Does It Mean to Be Human?" and the science of human origins.

The traveling exhibition project is made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. This invitation is for public libraries only. Nineteen public libraries will be selected to present the exhibition in their communities for a period of four weeks. All sites selected for the project will receive programming support in the amount of $500. The project director from each site will attend a planning workshop at the NMNH March 19 and 20, 2015. Extensive online and printed programming resources will be available. The exhibition will travel from April 2015 through April 2017.

The goal of the traveling exhibition and public programs is to create an opportunity for audiences across a wide spectrum-from those who do not question the scientific study of human origins to those who are troubled by its findings-to engage the complex field of human evolution research in ways that are understandable, fulfilling, captivating, and relevant. Reflection upon the question "What Does It Mean to Be Human" can be informed by the arts, religion, ethics, philosophy, science, and everyday experience. The NMNH Human Origins Program's approach to the discussion of human origins is to communicate both the nature of the life sciences and their discoveries concerning human evolution, and to be open to different cultural perspectives on evolution by fostering positive dialogue that encourages a respectful exploration of the science of human evolution.

To support such a far-reaching public conversation, scientists from the Human Origins Program and members of the project's Broader Social Impacts Committee (BSIC), composed of 15 representatives of diverse religious and philosophical communities across the United States (, will work with libraries to offer a series of three to four public programs at each exhibition site (see Public Programs below). Library sites are required to create a local community consultation panel with diverse representation to help develop programs and publicity.

Through touring the exhibition and providing public programs to communities across the U.S., the 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.

The exhibition

A common assumption in the scientific community is that the presentation of evidence-fossils, archeological remains, and genomic data -should be sufficient to convince public audiences how organisms, including humans, have come into existence. The notion is that scientific evidence alone can transform how people think about the causes of human origins and their implications. Therefore, scientific evidence is often separated and kept distant from people's beliefs about the world as informed by religion, philosophy, literature, and the arts in general, as well as their personal hopes, aspirations, and experiences.

There is growing empirical evidence that this approach to public science understanding is unproductive with regard to human evolution. Scientific discoveries concerning human evolution continue to rewrite the narrative of how humans came to be. This changing narrative has profound implications for how people comprehend the world and their place in it. The perspective of the Human Origins Program is that public understanding is framed by personal meaning. Thus, respecting and paying attention to the connection between scientific discoveries and the meaningful framework orienting people's lives are essential to engaging them with new research discoveries on human origins.

By presenting the themes of the traveling exhibition in terms of the question "What Does It Mean to Be Human?" the project sponsors intend to avoid the presumption that scientific findings, by themselves, tell us all there is to know about the qualities that define human uniqueness, its causes and its implications. The goal of the traveling exhibition and its associated programs is to encourage a public conversation that focuses on multiple perspectives concerning the nature of humanness-one that embraces the ideas and beliefs of non-scientists and fosters greater appreciation of the complexity of the science of human evolution. The organizers understand that views on this subject cover a wide spectrum, and they welcome that variety in a respectful and civil community conversation.

The exhibition is designed to establish a shared, factual foundation for that conversation by communicating compelling messages about the emergence over time of the defining features of Homo sapiens and the relationship of our species to the rest of nature. Through panels, interactive kiosks, hands-on displays and videos, it invites audiences to explore the milestones in the evolutionary journey of becoming human-from walking upright, creating technology, and eating new foods, to rapid brain enlargement, development of symbolic language, and creation of societies-milestones which have led to the unique position held by humans in the history of life.

Although science has uncovered the ancient roots of many defining qualities of human beings, public usage and understanding of the word "human" can be substantially broader than that of science alone. Therefore, the exhibition audience will be invited to offer their own ideas on what it means to be human, and thus connect their personal perspectives to the scientific discovery of how humans evolved as part of life on Earth.

One display will show a group of skull casts that visitors can rotate by hand to explore changes in the face and braincase of early human ancestors over 2.5 million years. A public bulletin board will ask for personal responses to the thematic question of the exhibition: What does it mean to be human? The exhibition is an invitation to explore many ways to answer this question, including physical traits, behaviors, values, beliefs, emotions, and spirituality. Libraries will be responsible for reporting the public's answers to the Smithsonian's Human Origins website on at least a weekly basis. At interactive kiosks, visitors will examine the human family tree, find out how different species are identified, and explore different hypotheses about how early human species are related to one another and to our own species, Homo sapiens. Videos will show the succession of milestones in the human evolutionary journey. Visitors will be able to walk in a replica of bipedal footprints that are based on a trail made by human ancestors in East Africa 3.6 million years ago. A section on Social Life will show how early humans shared food, cared for infants and other adults, created shelters, used fire, and built social networks. A statue of a Neanderthal mother and child will travel with the exhibition.

Exploring Human Origins thoroughly explores the process of scientific investigation by communicating not only what we know about human origins but also how we know it. The exhibition makes available the major scientific findings on human origins, including the evidence that distinctive features of our species did not arise all at once, that survival challenges led to evolutionary changes in human ancestors, that human adaptations accumulated over time, and that new questions and discoveries continually refine our understanding of the timing and the process of human evolution.

  • The exhibition requires 1,200 square feet in one location in a library for optimum display. Because of the nature of exhibition content and the historical sequence of human origins findings, the exhibition components should be displayed in a prescribed order. The exhibition consists of 40 panels: one standing panel tripod unit of eleven panels; one tripod unit with nine panels; two curved units of eight panels each; one curved unit of three panels; and one single standing panel unit. There will also be at least two interactive kiosks (55" H x 19" wide x 25" deep), a display of skulls, and two DVDs.

  • Host sites are asked to provide two DVD players and two monitors for use by the public throughout the course of the exhibition.

  • There must be wireless Internet access in the display area, and four to five electrical outlets nearby. Electricity must be available for the kiosks and for two DVD players and monitors.

Please see the exhibition floor plan for the desired arrangement of exhibition components. (PDF, 200kB) Some flexibility in placement of exhibition components will be allowed; this will be discussed at the exhibition workshop.

Public programs

In order to reach a large audience with programming, library sites are required to have a formal opening of the exhibition. They are also required to create a project consultation panel composed of community members of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The panels are meant to serve as advisors for developing local programs and publicity, and for organizing and conducting community discussions about evolution. The panels will ideally be composed of people from different religious, educational, humanities, civic, scientific and other community groups. The size of the consultation panels is flexible depending on community needs. In addition, the BSIC will help provide libraries selected for the tour with connections to local networks and groups interested in the science and religion dialogue.

Scientists from the Human Origins Program and members of the project's Broader Social Impacts Committee (BSIC) will develop program schedules at each library selected for the tour in early 2015. Programs are supported by the project grant from the John Templeton Foundation. They will include the following:

1. An evening of community conversation on the topic tentatively titled "What Does Human Evolution Mean to You? Public and Scientific Understandings," led by BSIC co-chairs Drs. Connie Bertka and Jim Miller

The discomfort felt by many people about evolution, particularly at the point where science and religion converge, has resulted in a lack of opportunities for the public to reflect on findings in human origins research and how these discoveries relate to people's personal understanding of the world and their place in it. This program will offer that opportunity and address a popular misconception that there is an inherent conflict between science and religion in the area of human origins. The BSIC has developed the Primer on Science, Religion, Evolution, and Creationism, a document that promotes a respectful, welcoming, and insightful public conversation on a topic audiences often see as troubling or prefer to avoid. The primer may be found at:

2. Event for clergy and community leaders. If individual libraries are interested in specifically engaging religious leaders in their community on the topic of human evolution, the BSIC co-chairs will coordinate a focused event for clergy and community leaders to explore the exhibit with Human Origins Program scientific and education staff and BSIC members. The agenda for discussion following the tour will be coordinated with input from the local project consultation panel. Ideally one or two local, respected, clergy and community leaders will work with the BSIC co-chairs to invite their local colleagues to this event. (This event is optional for libraries.)

3. Educator workshop . Dr. Rick Potts, the exhibition curator and director of the NMNH Human Origins Program, and Dr. Briana Pobiner, who leads the Human Origins Program's education and outreach efforts, will present a half-day workshop on human evolution for science educators in each community hosting the exhibition. The workshop is for classroom teachers, science and nature center and museum educators, homeschoolers, and other local educators. It will feature exploration and hands-on practice in presenting the Human Origins Program resources provided for each community. These resources include a set of five early human skull casts; classroom-tested, high-school Biology teaching supplements on "What Does It Mean to Be Human?", and a teacher resource on cultural and religious sensitivity strategies. Depending on the size of the community, project sponsors would like to have from five to 20 teachers attend this workshop.

4. Evening science program. In consultation with each library's program developers and community panel, Dr. Rick Potts or Dr. Briana Pobiner will give a lecture for the general public about the latest research in human evolution and an overview of exhibition themes and messages. This program will ideally also involve another scientist speaker from the local area, and would very likely be held on or close to the opening day of the exhibition.

Other programs. In addition to the programs presented by NMNH and BSIC staff, libraries should present at least one public program during each of the other weeks of the exhibition. The consultation panel should also serve as advisors for these programs. Programs may be lectures by experts in this area, panel discussions, book discussions (a list of recommended books will be provided), readings, performances, and other formats.

Collaborations with schools, including universities and community colleges, science centers, and museums in presenting programs are recommended. Presenting a free program at a different public venue to help draw different audiences is encouraged. Libraries are also encouraged to work with local experts in the science of human origins, religious studies, ethics, philosophy, and the arts and humanities in developing these programs. Applications that mention specific scholar presenters for the programs and provide resumes or biographies of them will increase their competitiveness.

The project funder and organizers would like libraries to engage with schools in presenting the exhibition to the community. Visits to the exhibition by school groups are strongly encouraged. Statistics and descriptions about school engagement with the exhibition will be part of the project evaluation for each site.

The sites selected will be asked to provide project sponsors with brief descriptions of their final list of additional programs.

Planning workshop

An expenses-paid workshop for library project coordinators will be held on March 19 and 20, 2015, at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The workshop will be focused on the goals, scientific content, community programming, audience interaction and evaluation strategies, and conversational approaches that are the foundation of this project. Participants will also be able to explore the traveling exhibition and view demonstrations on assembling and disassembling it.

Project evaluation

The Human Origins Program at the NMNH is developing a unique evaluation process that uses quantitative and qualitative methods to understand how people engage with the exhibition and programs in the local communities. In addition to the familiar paper surveys filled out by visitors leaving the exhibition, the evaluation will include observations of the public programs and in-depth interviews with residents, educators, students, and clergy members in a subset of the 19 communities. An evaluation advisory committee composed of library staff and community leaders from several of the host communities will help the evaluation team design and interpret the study. This multi-method approach will allow us to develop a final report that captures some of the social, civic, and personal dynamics that occur as a result of the project and explores any changes in the scope and complexity of people's personal understanding of what it means to be human. All exhibition sites will be expected to take part in the evaluation process, although the nature and extent of that participation will vary among the 19 communities.

II. Award Information

Nineteen public libraries will be selected to host Exploring Human Origins between April 1, 2015 and April 30, 2017.

Benefits for project sites

Sites selected for this grant program will receive the following:

  1. A programming support grant of $500 from the project sponsors (grant funds may not be used to support indirect costs, i.e., general administrative expenses of any kind, or to purchase equipment).

  2. The traveling exhibition for a four-week loan period (shipping costs are covered by the project grant).

  3. Presentation of three to four programs at each site by NMNH and BSIC staff (costs covered by the project grant).

  4. Extensive printed and online support materials from the NMNH and the BSIC.

  5. A set of five early human skull replicas, which will remain in the care of a local science educator and made available for educational activities in the classroom and in the community.

  6. A press kit with images for use in publicity and on websites.

  7. Downloadable exhibition brochure, poster, and banner (sites will be responsible for printing these items)

  8. An online site support notebook, which will offer resources to assist sites in presenting public programs, shipping and installation instructions, and other resources.

  9. Expenses for the library project director to attend a planning workshop at the National Museum of Natural History March 19-20, 2015.

  10. Technical and programming support from the ALA Public Programs Office throughout the project, including participation in an online discussion list for sites.

Requirements for project sites

Sites selected for this traveling exhibition tour are required to:

  1. Appoint one staff member as the project director (local coordinator) of the project. The project director from each selected site must participate in the planning workshop March 19-20, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

  2. Organize a local consultation panel composed of people from different religious, educational, humanities, civic, scientific and other community groups to serve as sounding boards for development of local programming and publicity for the exhibition. The size of the local consultation panel is flexible depending on community needs; proposals should concisely address the factors that determined the proposed composition of the panel.

  3. Identify local partner organizations which can help market the exhibition and reach target audiences (Suggested partners are: public television and radio stations; other public, college, or university libraries; science and history centers; museums; state humanities councils; local ministerial, ecumenical, interreligious, ethical or humanists associations.)

  4. In addition to the programs presented by NMNH and BSIC staff, present at least one public program during each of the other weeks of the exhibition. All exhibition-related programs must be free to the public.

  5. Use designated sponsor and funder credits and/or logos on all locally produced publicity materials in any medium and follow guidelines for their use.

  6. Promote the exhibition and programs to the widest possible public audience.

  7. Provide two DVD players and monitors in the exhibition area.

  8. Provide wireless Internet access in the display area, and sufficient electrical outlets nearby to support at least two kiosks and two DVD players/monitors.

  9. Follow exhibition space guidelines (display the exhibition in 1,200 square feet of space, follow display guidelines for placement of exhibition components).

  10. Provide adequate security for the exhibition; monitor it on a regular schedule during library open hours.

  11. Provide all reports to the project sponsors by the deadlines requested, including an exhibition condition/damage report and a final project report.

  12. Participate in evaluation as requested by the project sponsors.

  13. Add the exhibition to the institution's insurance coverage or obtain an insurance rider for the length of the display period (insurance value available in January 2015).

I II. Eligibility

Eligible institutions include public libraries in the United States. Individuals are not eligible to apply.

Federal entities are ineligible to apply. Applications from organizations whose projects are so closely intertwined with a federal entity that the project takes on characteristics of the federal entity's own authorized activities may also be deemed ineligible. This does not preclude applicants from using grant funds from, or sites and materials controlled by, other federal entities in their projects.

Please contact the sponsors if you have questions about eligibility.

Late, incomplete, or ineligible applications will not be reviewed.

IV. Application and Submission Information

ALA will accept applications for Exploring Human Origins between August 18 and November 19, 2014.

Getting started

To begin the application process, go to

To apply to for the exhibition, you must complete the following nine steps:

  1. REGISTER (if you have not registered when applying for a different project)

  2. LOG IN (if you have already registered when applying for a different project)









Before you can access the application, you must register to create an application account.



If you have already registered when applying for another ALA Public Programs Office grant project, you may log in, using your e-mail address and password.


Note: The Project Director is the person who will be responsible for coordinating the traveling exhibition at the site. He or she will be the primary point of contact for the project at the applicant institution. Please attach a c.v. of up to two pages for the project director in Section 6.A.

To complete step 3, provide all the information that is requested on the Project Director Information screen. You must then save the information.

One piece of information that you must supply is the applicant institution's DUNS number. All institutions receiving an award are required to provide a DUNS number, issued by Dun & Bradstreet. Project directors should contact their institution's grants administrator or chief financial officer to obtain their institution's DUNS number. Federal grant or subgrant applicants can obtain a DUNS number free of charge by calling 1-866-705-5711. ( Learn more about the requirement.)

This section will also ask for shipping information for each applicant site.

After clicking the "SAVE" button, you will be able to return to the application at any time and log in, using your e-mail address and password. This will allow you to edit, save, and return to your application as needed prior to the submission deadline.


Before you compose the narrative part of this proposal, we strongly recommend that you read the guidelines carefully. If you do not, your proposal is unlikely to be competitive.


Please describe your plans for presenting Exploring Human Origins. The proposal narrative consists of seven sections (described below). Please note that each section of the narrative may not exceed 400 words.

Be sure to address the following points in your narrative:

  1. Describe why your library would like to participate in this project, including community interests and demographics; local history, collections, or other resources pertinent to the project; and why your community would benefit from public conversations about what it means to be human. What does the library hope to accomplish by bringing this exhibition to the community? If relevant, summarize briefly your library's experience with programming on topics for which there is a history of strong personal responses.

2. Exhibition sites are required to organize a consultation panel representing diverse perspectives in the community to serve as advisors for creating local programming and publicity. The panels will ideally be composed of people from different religious, educational, humanities, civic, scientific, and other community groups. The size of the consultation panels is flexible depending on community needs. Please describe the members of your community consultation panel and the reasons each person is on the panel. Vitas or biographies of committee members should be attached in Section 6.A. Letters of support from panel members may be attached in Section 6.B.

3. What are your plans for presenting the NMNH/BSIC community conversation, educators' workshop, and science evening program to your community? Are you interested in the pre-public exhibition tour and discussion with clergy and community leaders? Why or why not? Discuss your plans and themes for other programs. How will they complement the programs from the NMNH and the BSIC? If you wish, please attach letters from other local project supporters in Section 6.C.

4. Provide the names and titles of other people with expertise in the area of science of human origins, religious studies, ethics, philosophy, history, the arts and humanities who may be program presenters. This might include a local scientist to join Dr. Rick Potts in presenting the Evening Science Program near the opening of the exhibition. Describe their experience with the topics of the exhibition and with programming for public audiences. Attach a vita or biography (up to two pages only) for them in Section 6.A. Support letters from them may be attached in Section 6.B.

5. Describe your target audiences and how you will reach them for the exhibition and programs. Do you anticipate any challenges in attracting an audience? How will you approach possible challenges? What will be the "tone" or message of your publicity for this exhibition? Please attach a typical communications plan for a public programs project presented by your library in Section 6.D and add anything that you might do differently for this project.

6. Where will the exhibition be displayed in your library? Please describe the space and its relationship to traffic flow in the library. Does the area have wireless Internet access and sufficient electrical outlets? Please attach a floor plan and photos of the exhibit space in Section 6.E.

7. Describe how you will work with educators and schools in your area and estimate how many school-age children might visit the exhibition, and how many educators might participate in the educator workshop. Note any long-term relationships you have with local educators that might prove beneficial to the effort to recruit participants for the educator workshop.


Fill in the information requested in the drop down menus in this section of the application form. Please indicate five acceptable display periods and five unacceptable display periods for the traveling exhibition. You may indicate "No Preference" for any of the display periods. Please note that the exhibition organizers cannot guarantee that you will receive one of your preferred display periods. There is a comments area in this section if you would like to add more information about scheduling preferences.



Upload the vita or biographies of the project director, consultation panel, and possible program presenters with expertise in this subject, as described in the instructions in the "Project Director Information" section, and in Numbers 2 and 3 of the proposal narrative.


Upload letters of support from members of the consultation panel and expert presenters for programs, as described in the instructions for Nos. 2 and 3 of the proposal narrative.


Upload other letters of support for the project from local organizations and institutions.


Upload a typical public program communications plan for your library and note anything you might do differently for this project, as described in No. 5 of the proposal narrative.


Upload a floor plan of the exhibition space in your library and photos of the space as described in No. 6 of the proposal narrative.


An application to host Exploring Human Origins is an application for an award from the exhibition organizers. ALA is required by law to ask applicants to identify for each application a certifying official, who is authorized to submit applications for funding on behalf of the applicant organization.

To complete this section, you must enter all of the information that is requested.


The Review and Edit page summarizes all the information that you have entered, including your Project Director Information and your Proposal Narrative. From this page you can

  • review and edit each section,

  • save the entire application and log out of the system, or

  • move ahead to certify and submit your application.


Once you have completed all parts of your application, you may submit it at any time by selecting the "Submit Application" button. All applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central Time on November 19, 2014. Applications submitted after that time will be considered ineligible. Applications and support materials may not be mailed or e-mailed.

Note that once you have submitted your application, you can no longer alter it. The application will then be submitted for review.

You will receive via e-mail a confirmation of the submission of your application. At the confirmation page you will be able to print out a copy of your application, which you should keep.

V. Application Review

Applications will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Clarity and completeness of the application . Has the applicant supplied all required information, including the names for the consultation panel, seven sections of the proposal narrative, and the preferred display dates for the exhibition? Are plans and ideas for programs described clearly?

  • Evidence of local programming and publicity support, such as the consultation panel, experts in the field who could be program presenters, and local organizations and institutions.

  • Ideas and vision for exhibition programs. How do these programs relate to the applicant's community? How will conversations about human origins contribute to the community's cultural life?

  • Quality and comprehensiveness of communications and audience recruitment plans.

  • Institutional administrative support for the project.

Other factors that may influence the final selection of exhibition sites include the following:

  • Location of the sites . The selection committee would like programs to take place in all regions of the country.

  • Size and demographics of the community . The selection committee seeks a selection of communities of different sizes and varied demographics.

Applicants are encouraged to address questions about the selection guidelines, process, and requirements to the Public Programs Office, American Library Association, at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 5045, or

Review and selection process

Each application will be assessed by qualified reviewers in collaboration with the exhibition organizers.

The exhibition organizers will make the final decisions.

VI. Award Administration Information

  • Application Deadline: November 19, 2014

  • Grant Notification: January 14, 2015

  • Project Workshop March 19 and 20, 2015

  • Exhibition Tour Period: April 2015 through April 2017

Award notification

Applicants will be notified of the decision by e-mail on January 14, 2015.

Reporting requirements

Award recipients will be required to submit an online final performance report to ALA thirty (30) days after the exhibition and programs end at their site.

VII. Points of Contact

If you have questions about the program, contact:

Public Programs Office

American Library Association

1-800-545-2433, ext. 5045

To access the application system, sign in with your profile.