POCATELLO — People living throughout the state will soon have the chance to see exhibits prepared by the Idaho Museum of Natural History from the convenience of their local libraries.
Furthermore, the museum’s new Idaho Bound program will provide an outlet for Idaho State University researchers to share their findings, helping them qualify for grants offered by entities that place a premium on raising public awareness about science.
The museum will be partnering with the Idaho Commission of Libraries and will soon begin accepting applications from Idaho libraries that would like to host one of four traveling exhibits for a three-month period. Leif Tapanila, the museum’s director and curator, said the exhibits will be available to libraries at no charge, starting in 2020.
“We’ll do the launch at the end of this month. Right now we’re working out graphics for the marketing piece,” Tapanila said.
Exhibits have been designed to fit into roughly 500 square feet, which should fit well into most Idaho libraries, he said. Most of the materials have been designed to mount on walls to conserve floor space.
“The big motivation on the part of the museum is we’re trying to get the message out across the state that we’re a statewide museum and we’re located in Pocatello,” Tapanila said. “We’re getting the exhibits out so everyone has access to our resources.”
Tapanila announced plans for the program in January, when he addressed the state’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. He said the museum hopes to partner with a dozen Idaho libraries in the initial year. Traveling exhibits focusing on sharks, snakes, the research of Edson Fichter and Craters of the Moon National Monument have already been created.
“I’m particularly interested in getting (exhibits) to rural places. ... They deserve just as much access as anyone in Southeast Idaho to state resources we have at the museum,” Tapanila said.
Tapanila has been having conversations with researchers in biology and geology encouraging them to consider traveling exhibits as a “vehicle in their grant proposals.” For example, the National Science Foundation requires recipients to consider how they’ll share their advancements to science with the general public. Tapanila believes future traveling exhibits highlighting ISU grant-funded research would be an ideal fit.
Terri Bergmeier, the museum’s director of development, estimates it will cost $15,000 per year to package exhibits in crates and to transport them to Idaho libraries. She’ll be seeking sponsors to help the museum supplement its funding for the effort. During the forthcoming I Love ISU fundraising campaign, Bergmeier explained the museum will invite sponsors to earmark funds either for the traveling exhibit or for its endowment.
“It’s a statewide venue for folks, so if there’s a business out there that has a little bit bigger focus than just on Pocatello, this is one of those programs that will cover all four regions of the state,” Bergmeier said.
The sharks exhibit will be a smaller version of an exhibit now on display at the museum, called Sharkabet. The exhibit features the artwork of artist Ray Troll, providing a shark for every letter of the alphabet. The entry for letter “H” is Helicoprion, also known as a buzzsaw shark — a prehistoric sea creature.
Tapanila and Jesse Pruitt, manager of the Idaho Virtualization Lab, have been working together to determine how the buzzsaw shark’s jaw functioned and to recreate the shark’s appearance. The museum has about 90 buzzsaw shark fossils found between Pocatello and Soda Springs, representing most of the world’s supply.
The snake exhibit features the photography of ISU biologist Chuck Peterson.
The Edson Fichter exhibit, called The Naturalist Within, includes original artwork and descriptions of the contributions to science made by a former ISU biologist who studied antelope in Idaho’s Pahsimeroi Valley.
The Craters of the Moon exhibit, which is now on display at the monument, includes photography by local photographer Roger Boe, as well as poetry about the scenic lava flows.
For a future traveling exhibit, Tapanila anticipates making 3-D casts of some of the Pleistocene mammal fossils in the museum’s collection, especially of the Bison latifrons, which is the museum’s symbol.
In addition to the traveling exhibits, Tapanila said the museum has started a radio program on KISU to broaden its influence. He co-hosts the show with Zoo Idaho Director Peter Pruett. The show features nature in Idaho, and audio files of past episodes are available at kisu.edu.