The Language of Conservation: A Case Study in Library-Zoo Partnerships

Editor’s Note: In case you missed it, this week we’re featuring blog posts on ALA Annual Conference programs. This entry focuses “The Language of Conservation: A Case Study in Library-Zoo Partnerships,” where attendees learned about a groundbreaking collaboration that created poetry installations in zoos and related programming at libraries in five cities.

Libraries may have a physical location, but the possibilities for programming extend far beyond four walls. Partnering with an external organization allows libraries to solicit model programs that provide interesting and innovative ways to disseminate information and educate their community. One such program is “The Language of Conservation”, which connects libraries, poets, and zoos together for a mix of humanities and sciences. Initiated by Poets House (a nonprofit geared toward poetry education), the “Language of Conservation” endeavors to expand understanding of conservation efforts and environmental issues by the general public. Examples of the program were discussed in-depth in a session titled “The Language of Conservation: A Case Study in Library-Zoo Partnerships.”

Seeking to integrate two heavyweight cultural institutions, “Language” develops relationships between zoos and libraries. Initially, a poet is paired with a zoo, and the poet will suggest poems for specific places/exhibits within the zoo. After the poems and their subsequent locations are decided, the poems are incorporated into a display placed in and around the zoo grounds. The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans (a participant in the program) had their design and exhibitry team to come up with the form, placement, and design of the displays. Poem displays are integrated into the zoo landscape in a non-obvious way, making the poems blend into the surroundings.

Local libraries support the program by hosting a variety of in-house, poetry-themed programs, as well as programs done not only in conjunction with the zoo, but actually at the zoo. The library can also support the zoo by providing an avenue for information-gathering after a zoo visit, in relation to both animals and poetry. Cross-promotion for the program encourages nontraditional visitorship to both entities, integrating aspects of each organization into one effort. This amalgamation adds to the depth of the experience for the patron.

Currently zoos and library systems in five cities are participating in the program. Co-programming, like this, develops relationships between two different types of knowledge to the benefit of the surrounding communities. It encourages, as Dr. John Frazier noted, “Thinking Like a City,” in which each institution gains perspective, wisdom, understanding, and awareness of the other. More information about “The Language as Conversation” and other Poets House programs can be found at the Poets House website.