Exploratory Study Findings: Poetry & Science in Natural History Museums and Libraries
In 2014 Poets House received a planning grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for Discovering the Natural World through Poetry at Libraries & Natural History Museums. Activities included discussions among the project team about how to support learning in a hybrid program; a two-day set of pilot public event experiments at the Oakland Museum of California and the Oakland Public Library; and a one-day workshop for poets, scientists, museum and library leaders, and researchers to explore the potential of poetry and science to promote deeper public connection to the natural world and broadened thinking within libraries, museums, and literary institutions about interdisciplinary collaborations. This effort revealed a high level of interest in interdisciplinary poetry and natural history science coprogramming. Programming leaders at libraries and natural history museums are open to experimenting with new models of public engagement. Library and natural history museum staff, poets and natural history scientists were unfamiliar with collaborative programming that crosses institutional and disciplinary boundaries. The study identified desire for knowledge about coprogramming despite discernible discomfort with moving outside disciplinary norms. There appeared to be a tacit set of cultural differences that limited what institutions and professionals offered, though professionals and their audiences demonstrated that the convergence discovered between the two was highly desirable. To support a full-scale implementation project, the evaluators recommend a two-phase, facilitated approach to develop new tools and test new professional training techniques. We anticipate this approach would support professional practice with poetry and science coprogramming and scaffold new possibilities for collaboration between humanities and natural sciences.