National Geographic Society: Museum at Explorers Hall

Another cool thing to do at the headquarters of National Geographic is to visit the Museum at Explorers Hall, which offers free admission to a variety of rotating exhibits throughout the year.

Currently showing is Maps: Tools for Adventure, produced by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in collaboration with National Geographic. It’s a super cool interactive exhibit for explorers of all ages, but of course, kids will especially love it.

The exhibit features a variety of hands-on games and displays all about maps and the people who use them. There are special presentations about mapping basics, how maps are made and how they have been used by different folks throughout the years, like this one about pilot Amelia Earhart:

Other adventurous explorers featured in the exhibit include a wildlife biologist, Hawaiian wayfinder, shipwreck explorer, Egyptian archaeologist and several NASA scientists. Kids have to hit a GPS button to begin each video presentation. And as they move through the different presentations, children and adults learn about the latest mapping technologies and see how the use of maps has evolved from the days of Lewis & Clark to modern time:

There’s a fun companion website to the exhibit, as well as a geographic education awareness website called My Wonderful World that parents, teachers and kids can use to learn even more. The actual Maps exhibit at Explorers Hall runs through the end of July. (It moves on to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in November.)

Two other exhibits at the National Geographic headquarters — photo presentations on Uganda and Chad — will be on display through September. Be sure to navigate yourself to Explorers Hall sometime soon. All you need is a good map:

National Geographic Society: Library Resources

On the first floor of one of the main buildings that make up National Geographic’s Headquarters is an impressive library whose primary purpose is to provide National Geographic staff with the resources and information they need to do their jobs. For example, the team that creates the annual Geography Bee questions uses this library frequently.

What many folks may not know, however, is that members of the public are welcome to make an appointment to visit the library with their own specific research needs. This service could be particularly useful for travel writers looking to access National Geographic’s extensive archives. Or a traveler gearing up for a big trip might enjoy an hour or two of digging through the library’s special guidebooks room. Take a look at this place, packed wall-to-wall with every guidebook imaginable:

There are complete collections of Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Thomas Cook, Insight, Eyewitness, Time Out, Bradt, Odyssey, Fodors, Moon and Rick Steves guides. And I’m sure there are more…this is just what I was able to notice in my few moments thumbing through the colorful shelves:

The NGS Library Collections contain over 50,000 books, 200 journal titles and six million documents, manuscripts and personal papers in the archives. In addition to stacks of books about every corner of the globe, there are sections that cover topics like geology, agricultural economics, sea voyages, costumes, recreation, aeronautics and raising animals.

The staff librarians are very friendly. I spoke to at least five of them in my short visit, and all were very willing to help and answer my questions. Of course, I had to ask them to tell me about some of the most challenging research requests they have ever received — One librarian shared a story about an obscure request she got from some folks at National Geographic Television who were trying to verify the existence of a transgender religious sect in Kashmir. Just a typical day on the job for a NGS librarian!

If you’d like to take advantage of National Geographic’s library resources, there are two things you can do before even making a visit. Be sure to access their online databases to do preliminary research about a topic or location of interest:

Let’s say you are planning a trip to India. You can first search the Publications Index to see which National Geographic magazines, newsletters, books, etc. have made mention of the country. Next, you can search the Library Catalog, to see which resources (published by NGS and others) are actually on the shelves at the library.

As another of the staff librarians explained to me, folks should be able to find many of these resources in their own public libraries, but possibly not as comprehensive or conveniently gathered as the all-in-one collection located at the NGS stacks. Definitely check out the online resources and consider making an appointment to visit if you have a specific travel-related topic to research.

National Geographic: Beyond the Bee

During my visit to DC to see the Bee, I also had the opportunity to spend some time exploring other parts of National Geographic’s headquarters. The complex is composed of several buildings, the tallest of which (pictured here) stands on the corner of 17th and M.

The buildings enclose a courtyard with a reflecting pool and lush gardens, currently home to four bronze bear sculptures by Dan Ostermiller, a member of the Society of Animal Artists. This one is called Indigo’s Dream.

A peaceful pool runs horizontal between two of the main buildings that make up the National Geographic complex. Besides housing many of the main operations of the Society, these buildings are home to a museum, library and rotating exhibit space that the public can visit.

I’ve got two posts coming up later today about cool things to do if you visit the headquarters of the National Geographic Society. Stay tuned.

National Geographic Bee: Quiz of Champions

Of course some of our Gadling readers were quick to correctly answer today’s winning geography bee question. But do you want to see if you really have what it takes to be a geography genius?

I’ve assembled a quiz, which includes all the official National Geographic questions Caitlin Snaring had to answer correctly to win the Bee earlier today.

Some of the questions were accompanied by visual aids, but smart Gadling readers should be able to make educated guesses without those. This selection of questions illustrates the broad range of topics and issues that the study of geography encompasses.

Have fun, and feel free to post your guesses or gripes in the comments below! (I’ll post answers in the comments sometime later this week.)

1) Which country, with a significant population of Italian descent, is home to one of the world’s most famous opera houses, the Teatro Colon? (Choose from one of these three: Argentina, Brazil, Chile)

2) The huipil is the traditional blouse for a Maya woman. The blouse, which can identify the community to which a woman belongs, is worn in what country that is home to Volcan Tajumulco, the highest peak in Central America? (Visual aid with this question.)

3) The people shown here belong to the Yedina tribe, who inhabit the islands and marshy shores of a shrinking African lake. This lake is located near the junction of Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and what other country? (Visual aid with this question.)

4) Tamanduas break open insect nests with their claws and use their long sticky tongues to eat insects. These animals live in parts of South America and also on a nearby island that borders the Gulf of Paria. Name this island.

5) A transportation and communications center in the eastern Mediterranean was created in 1950 from an old city and its more modern suburb. Give the number and name of this city, targeted by Iraqi missiles during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. (Participants had to identify city and location on map.)

6) The rare brown-bearded saki and white-faced saki monkeys can be found in what South American country that is separated from Suriname by the Courantyne River?

7) Karaim, an endangered member of the Turkic language family, remains spoken by fewer than one hundred people in the southernmost Baltic state. Name this country.

8) Forks such as this were used in the practice of cannibalism in an island country whose largest island is Viti Levu. Name this country.

9) From this list of five items, name the item that does not belong, and say why: Port-of-Spain, Castries, Paramaribo, Roseau, Santo Domingo

And these were the first four questions of the championship round, in which Caitlin and second place winner, Suneil Iyer competed:

1) What is the Arabic term for a valley in the hot desert areas of northern Africa and the Middle East that carries a stream occasionally?

2) In late March 2007, Protestant and Catholic political leaders from Northern Ireland agreed to form a power-sharing government that took effect in early May 2007. The leaders met in what city that lies at the mouth of the Lagan River?

3) The second-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa is also the richest Portuguese-speaking country in Africa. Name this country.

4) Lampedusa, an island whose geographical location has made it a target for illegal immigrants seeking to enter the European Union from Africa, is administered by which country?

National Geographic Bee: We Have a Winner!

Caitlin Snaring, an 8th-grader from Redmond, Washington, answered this question correctly, just a short while ago, to become only the second woman ever to win the National Geographic Bee:

A city that is divided by a river of the same name was the imperial capital of Vietman for more than a century. Name this city, which is still an important cultural center.

Do you know it? Take some guesses and I’ll be back in a bit with more questions and news from today’s final round.