Explore More museum ticket loans partner with EPL, Illinois libraries to improve youth cultural literacy


Joanne Haner/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Public Library is among the Illinois libraries that lend out free and discounted tickets to select local museums under the Explore More program.

Ilana Arougheti, Assistant City Editor

On weekends and summer mornings at the Evanston Public Library, patrons line up at the children’s desk for something both far smaller and infinitely larger than a stack of books: a museum pass. 

With a little research and a quick signup, Evanston families can turn a library inquiry into a glimpse of a T-rex, a 5-foot-tall jade pagoda or a Lincoln bust covered entirely in pennies.

Through Illinois’ Explore More program, EPL and other Illinois libraries can loan out free or subsidized tickets for a growing list of Illinois museums, varying slightly by city. The program is a partnership — libraries can reach out to museums to request passes, and museums can reach out to libraries to offer passes, as was the case for those on EPL’s list. 

Loaning out tickets opens new doors for families that wouldn’t otherwise be able to fit museum trips into their budgets, EPL library assistant Linda Balla said.

Museums across Illinois can opt to offer free or reduced admission to Explore More passholders. For museums that are already free, the pass can connect participants with special gift shop deals. 

Debbie Fandrei, museum supervisor of the Raupp Museum, said when she showed the program to her colleagues at the Illinois Association of Museums, people were mostly curious about how successfully the program could be marketed. She remains optimistic that a dual effort will help both groups recover from loss of traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Once people realize what’s out there, they’ll feel inspired to take advantage of it,” Fandrei said.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is the most popular lending site for EPL, followed closely by the Brookfield Zoo and Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg. Balla said some patrons are frustrated that larger museums like the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, which tend to partner with the Chicago Public Library system directly, aren’t more widely available with Explore More. 

But Patrick Cain, the Museum of the Grand Prairie’s the museum’s public programs and visitor services coordinator, said keeping the pass oriented to smaller museums presents an opportunity to give residents a taste of unique events and artifacts closer to home. 

We want to show (visitors) that small communities have a big impact,” Cain said. “I’m a big believer that all history is local.”

Beyond drawing in more Illinois residents, many curators and directors opted in to create greater resource accessibility. Twania Brewster, the Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Guest Operations at the Chicago Children’s Museum, said the museum works hard to connect with community organizations to ensure children around the city and its suburbs are able to “create a foundation of cultural appreciation.” 

“It’s really important that we try to remove as many barriers as possible to museum visitations for young children,” she said.

Fandrei said while subsidized ticket prices are a great start toward cultural literacy accessibility for youth, there are still many barriers to consider, such as location and travel cost. 

The Raupp Museum has been working with Buffalo Grove park districts to emphasize free museum entry as a part of the county’s community services, she said, and recently launched a bilingual exhibit in partnership with the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago. Similarly, the Chicago Children’s Museum has expanded into pop-up locations in Little Village, Aurora and Lawndale, the latter two of which are outdoors, and continues to create virtual programming. 

“The idea of doing public history is that the public can come see you,” Fandrei said. (Ours) is a history worth sharing. The more people that can be a part of it, the better. I don’t want cost to be a barrier.”

For a full list of museum tickets and discounts available for loan, Evanston residents with a valid EPL library card can use their card number and PIN to log into the Explore More website.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter:  @ilana_arougheti

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