Thursday, November 21, 2013

Secrets and Surprises at Chicago's Famed Shedd Aquarium

There is a secret life thriving behind the scenes of Chicago's famed Shedd Aquarium.

Though they often go unseen, the aquarium's library and archive play crucial roles in supporting Shedd's aquatic creatures. The library recently reopened in a new location after being closed for nearly 9 months.

Here are some surprising facts I learned by going "behind the scenes" of the Shedd Aquarium with Manager of Information Services and Archive, Alisun DeKock:

1. Hops grown in Shedd's sustainable gardens were turned into a limited-run beer called 'Penguin Hops' by Chicago's Revolution Brewing. During its initial run, one dollar was donated to Shedd Aquarium for every beer sold, which equated to a $2,500.00 donation.

2.  The library boasts 30+ VHS tapes in its collection, which DeKock points to with pride. On a serious note, the library boasts more than 6,000 books and 80 active periodical subscriptions. DeKock described the newly acquired database access as "A real boon to the researchers at the aquarium." Researchers, aquarists, tour guides, and trainers use the library resources.

3. John G. Shedd is rumored to have said, "Live your life clean and upright. So live that you not having to fear from publicity." Much easier advice to follow in a pre-Facebook world. The archive housed at the aquarium features extensive materials on John G. Shedd's personal and professional life. The archive also has documents from the early planning stages of the aquarium, which highlights letters exchanged between Shedd and founders of other aquariums and zoos.

Epigrams, Maxims and Miscellaneous by John G. Shedd--quotes and quips that
show Shedd's personal philosophies and thoughts can be found in the archive. 

4. Much like Chicago's Field Museum and Adler Planetarium, the fortune amassed for creation of the aquarium came from Chicago's once-booming catalogue industry. 

5. The aquarium integrates iPads into exhibits to display information about different species. This is less expensive than the old custom-built information kiosks (remember those?) and iPads are easier to replace and their content is easier to modify. And guess who writes the informative content for the iPad displays? Shedd's own librarian, Alisun DeKock.

6. There is an incredible Great Lakes exhibit featuring lots of touchscreens and interactive exhibits, including a sturgeon-petting station. They also have a sea lamprey and other invasive species on display.

7. Alisun's pick for favorite creature at the Shedd Aquarium? The Seadragon. 

The name fits.
8. My picks for favorite creatures at the Shedd Aquarium? Caiman Lizard, Seahorses, Bubbler Jellies. 

9. January is an offseason for visitors to the Chicago area, so plan your Shedd Aquarium trip for the new year and avoid the crowds!

The Water Library had a great experience visiting the Shedd Aquarium. A special THANKS to Alisun DeKock for showing us all the secrets and surprises.