The arts and artifacts of Siberians, Aleuts and Eskimos from the Ice Age into the 20th century will be on view next fall at the National Museum of Natural History in a major exhibition organized by the Soviet Union, Canada and the United States.

"It is as nice a collaboration as we could possibly hope for," said Smithsonian Secretary Robert McC. Adams last Thursday in announcing the exhibition, "Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of the Peoples of the Northern Pacific Region." "The coming of the exhibit represents the fondest dreams of the people ... who have worked for many years on this," he said.

"Crossroads" will open Sept. 22, 1988, and travel, beginning in mid-1989, to Seattle, New York, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Anchorage and Ottawa, and on to Moscow, Leningrad and other Soviet cities.

The exhibition was the third important collaboration between Washington museums and foreign governments to be announced recently. On Oct. 1, the National Gallery and the government of Greece announced a January exhibition of ancient Greek art called "The Human Figure in Early Greek Art." And last Monday, the National Gallery and the Japanese government made public plans to exhibit "Japan: The Shaping of Daimyo Culture 1200-1800" here next October.

"Crossroads" will have on display more than 500 archeological and ethnographic items, including paintings, costumes, photographs and archival film footage. Many artifacts, such as blankets, hunting hats and robes, focus on efforts to survive in the harsh environment, which reaches from Siberia through Alaska and into southern British Columbia. The Soviet Union has donated half the items, most of which have never been exhibited before.

Work on the exhibition began six years ago, when Smithsonian anthropologists and their counterparts at the Soviet Institute of Ethnography began discussing the project at a conference sponsored by the International Research and Exchanges Board. Plans were firmed up in 1983 in negotiations involving the Smithsonian, the Soviet Academy of Sciences and IREX.

Organizers from each country involved said they were pleased that the exhibit had weathered tense political relations between the superpowers. "This exhibit is also a crossroads of political frontiers," said Aleksandr Potemkin, Soviet cultural affairs attache' here. "It reminds us that the U.S. and Canada and the Soviet Union are neighbors, and, as good neighbors, need to know more about each other."

In the Cards

It used to be that a library card was one of the coolest things a kid could have -- a kind of credit card for the prepubescent. The act of taking out a book was ceremonial: You cruised into the library too loudly for the tsk'ing librarian, perused the stacks for the latest "Babar," then proudly brought your load to the desk. After handing over the card, you got a long look with a single raised eyebrow from the librarian, who inferred that these books were destined to be forgotten under your bed until long past the due date. You flashed a countenance of responsibility, the face of someone totally concerned with getting these tomes back in two weeks. The books got stamped, and you were on your way to far-off lands via the printed word.

Today it's the video rental card that's the ticket, and the ceremony you're more likely to see (as I did in a video store last week) involves a couple of gum-cracking girls trying to decide between "Rambo" and "Top Gun."

But lest parents despair for their soon-to-be mush-minded children, know that on the Mall this Wednesday the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science will launch a campaign to put a library card into the hands of every child in the United States. Five hundred children from the area will be treated to displays, storytelling, music, theater and pizza. And books, of course.

Two Poets

At a reading last week, poets Carolyn Forche and Claribel Alegria showed what friendship can mean for their work. The pair met in the early '70s when the award-winning Forche went to Spain during a "dry period of creativity for me" to translate Alegria's poems into the English volume "Flowers From the Volcano." Alegria became -- and still is -- an exile from El Salvador after she spoke out against human rights abuses there. She left under threats from right-wing death squads.

While in Spain, Forche learned of that tense political climate from Alegria. After finishing up, she traveled to El Salvador and produced another award-winning -- and controversial -- collection, "The Country Between Us," about violence in Central America.

The duo have remained close. Forche was in D.C. to help promote Alegria's new work, "Luisa in Realityland," now available here. "Claribel has been an important part of my work," Forche says. "A mentor, a friend -- like my Latin American mother." Says Alegria: "She is brave and it makes me brave, too."

A Show of Her Own

The underground art group Guerrilla Girls, which loves to point out sexual inequities in the art world, has produced a list of this year's shows in galleries across the country and a corresponding tally of how many were by women. The typical number: zero.

One other women's performing arts group is not sitting still for this kind of thing. The Oh So Politically Correct Players are appearing regularly around town, aiming for laughs with their left-of-center political satire, songs and skits. "We're trying to hit issues hard but funny," says founder Karen Friedman.