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Catalysts for Change: Museums and Library Partnerships in the 21st Century

Elizabeth Babcock is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to libraries and museums around the United States.

Elizabeth Babcock is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to libraries and museums around the United States.

Elizabeth Babcock

I’ve always been drawn to museums and libraries, perhaps because they embody principles I cherish—equitable access to educational opportunities, cultivation of curiosity about the world, a commitment to care for our planet, and respect for cultural diversity. My own path has reinforced the importance of these values to me. I’ve explored a wide range of careers as an anthropologist, community organizer, user experience researcher, teacher, and most recently, museum educator.

At the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where I lead our public engagement, exhibits, and education teams, I put these values into action each day. My team and I share the scientific and educational resources of this natural history museum, planetarium, and aquarium so the public can connect with the natural world and advocate for the biodiversity and sustainability of life on our planet.

I am honored to be recognized as a Champion of Change, representing one of the many innovative projects stemming from library-museum collaboration. The San Francisco Public Library, the California Academy of Sciences, KQED, and the Bay Area Video Coalition have created a digital learning lab and a regional youth program network to equip young people with the 21st century skills they need to make community contributions. We have been supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the involvement of many other organizations and foundations.

Our learning network has a STEAM focus (science, technology, engineering, art and math), leveraging the unique technology, science, and art resources of the Bay Area. It aims to provide teens with the access and skills they need to use emerging technologies, and to transform them from media consumers to media producers.  We also hope to encourage interest in STEAM areas through multidisciplinary experiences and leadership opportunities.

As I write this, hundreds of Bay Area youth are taking part in workshops on new media tools and are creating and displaying transmedia as part of the Bay Area Youth Media Network Festival at the San Francisco Public Library. Partners include a range of youth media organizations, artists, and filmmakers. Last October, hundreds of San Francisco families and students participated in a pop-up festival on design and new media, during which they tried first-hand 3D printing, digital storytelling, and remixing digital video. A youth advisory board guides the work of this collaborative, injecting a critical youth voice into the design of the teen space at the San Francisco Public Library.

I am proud to be part of the exceptional team that is working diligently to expand STEM and new media opportunities to the diverse youth of the Bay Area. I am equally heartened by the surge of collaboration, which the Academy helps to lead, among informal learning organizations. One such collaboration links museums, aquariums, and educational researchers in a professional community focused on the Next Generation Science Standards. Several STEM-focused after school networks link program providers across the region to expand science learning in out-of-school time. Local school districts include informal learning organizations, like the Academy, as program partners in their STEM strategies. 

These are just a few of the collaborative efforts that are springing up in our region, building on a foundation of innovation and entrepreneurship led by our libraries, museums, and other informal learning partners. Museums, libraries, and their partners are truly catalysts of change in our communities.

Elizabeth Babcock is the Chief Public Engagement Officer and Roberts Dean of Education at the California Academy of Sciences.