Inside the halls of the Indiana State Museum, visitors can learn about the physics of extreme sports and skateboarding.

They can see the skeletons of mammoths and other Ice Age creatures, find out about Abraham Lincoln’s life in Indiana and discover how the upheaval of the earth shaped the land we live on.

The facility is a trove of scientific, historical and cultural treasures. But exploring the exhibits comes at a cost. A family of two adults and two children would pay $56 for admission to the museum.

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A new program at area libraries wants to mitigate that price.

The Johnson County and Greenwood libraries have both partnered with the Indiana State Museum to offer free family passes to its patrons. Just like you’d check out your favorite book or movie, people can reserve the pass for a week at a time.

The passes provide free admission and discounted parking.

“It expands a learning opportunity for families when the cost might otherwise prevent them from participating,” said Ann Alexander, interim director of the Johnson County Public Library. “Just like our books or entertainment materials, it’s another venue for family enjoyment.”

Because she home-schools her children, Michelle Miller is always looking for educational opportunities in the community to use as field trips.

So when she passed a bulletin board at the White River Township library branch and noticed a flyer about the museum program, she was intrigued.

Miller used the library’s family pass to take her children Jesse, 17; Rachel, 14; and Sarah, 7½, to the museum in late August.

“It gets expensive going to museums sometimes, so it’s nice to get a free pass, to see the things they had there,” she said. “This was the way for us to take a field trip without a lot of the expense.”

The Indiana State Museum launched its library partnership in 2014 in an attempt to further its reach with people throughout the state. Even with its prominent building in downtown Indianapolis, many people weren’t aware of the museum or what it featured, said Katy Harvey, director of foundation relations and grants administration for the museum.

“We’re always looking for way to increase access to resources in the museum. What better way to work with community centers, and libraries are such vital parts of their communities,” she said.

The Greenwood Public Library was chosen as one of the nine pilot partnerships for the state museum program in April 2014. For more than a year, the program has been one of of the most popular the library offers, said Valerie Moore, reference librarian for Greenwood.

“It seemed like the passes were always checked out, and we had a long hold list,” she said. “We didn’t have to promote it very much.”

The program makes sense for both sides, Moore said.

“We’re all about sharing knowledge and culture, and the museum is a great resource downtown,” she said. “Museums and libraries are so closely connected, it just fits.”

When the Indiana State Museum decided to expand the project to five additional library systems this year, officials approached libraries in all of the doughnut counties around Indianapolis offering the passes.

“We’re telling the stories of Indiana, and we want communities to have access to it. Working with libraries has provided that access,” Harvey said.

For the Johnson County Public Library, the decision to take part in the program was obvious, Alexander said.

One pass is available at each of the library’s four branches — Franklin, Clark-Pleasant, Trafalgar and White River Township. Any adult patron can check them out for one week, and the passes are good for admission for up to four people.

Using the pass allows people to get a flat parking rate of $3 at the museum’s garage and can be used for a 10 percent discount off memberships.

The parking is particularly advantageous, allowing people to visit additional attractions downtown without worrying about escalating parking costs, Alexander said.

They are allowed to check out the pass twice each year, ensuring that the same people aren’t always using them. People can also put their names on a hold list to reserve a spot once the pass becomes available, said Jennifer Baltz, marketing and communications manager for the library system.

Johnson County started offering the museum opportunity at the beginning of August, and the passes have been circulated 15 times already. All four are currently checked out, and eight families are on the “hold” list.

“They have been out ever since then, and people have been putting holds on them, too. They haven’t spent any time in the library,” Baltz said. “They’re getting good use.”

The Indiana State Museum is the only cultural institution that has started a partnership like this with local libraries. But a program called ACCESS Pass also exists at other museums to help families enjoy their attractions without overwhelming costs.

Started by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the program allows families who qualify for low-income government assistance to purchase admission for $1 per person.

ACCESS Pass has extended to such organizations as Conner Prairie Interactive Historical Park, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Eiteljorg Museum, Indiana Historical Center and NCAA Hall of Champions.

Local libraries have been letting local families know about those opportunities, as well.

Depending on the success of the existing Indiana State Museum program, library organizers hope that the pass checkout idea spreads to these institutions in the future.

“What we’d like to do is approach some of the other institutions and see if we can expand it beyond this one museum,” Alexander said.

At a glance

Indiana State Museum

Library pass program

What: A pass for up to four people in a family that provides free general admission to the museum. Flat parking rates and discounted membership also are available with the pass.

Participating libraries: Greenwood Public Library and all four branches of Johnson County Public Library.


  • One pass may be checked out per library card at a time.
  • Passes can be checked out for seven days. Overdue fees apply.
  • Any tickets you get with the pass must be used the day you receive them.
  • Special exhibits and the IMAX theater are not included with the pass.

Information: and

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.