Sustainability and Library Programming

By Laura L. Barnes

Two things on my radar this week were the ILA Annual Conference (a hearty thank you to the ILA staff and conference planning committee for another terrific event) and an article in American Libraries about library programming related to climate change and sustainability. Thus, this post about library programming and sustainability.

The American Libraries article looks at how libraries are designing programs to address issues related to climate change in their communities. Some of the highlights include:

  • Santa Monica Public Library’s (SMPL) Green Prize for Sustainable Literature, which they offer in partnership with the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. The prize recognizes authors, illustrators, and publishers whose books “make significant contributions to, support the ideas of, and broaden public awareness of sustainability.” SMPL also does a great deal of additional sustainability programming, as well as public education about the environmental features of their building.
  • The Greenwich (Conn.) Library (GPL) and La Crosse (Wisc.) Public Library (LCPL) partnered with local universities to identify speakers to discuss how climate change impacts their respective communities. GPL brought in speakers from Columbia University and Yale University. LCPL partnered with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to host screenings of two TedX talks, followed by a public discussion of the issues.
  • The Massachusetts Library System’s partnership with Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW) on a four-program series held during Climate Preparedness Week. The series opened with an academic overview and narrowed to specific actions that people can take to be more sustainable.

The article also discusses how the libraries handled disruptions from audience members who disagreed with the speakers. An incident at the first presentation in the Massachusetts Library System series led to a new policy that speakers must finish their remarks before audience members, restricted to three minutes each, are allowed to comment.

If your library is interested scheduling programs with an environmental focus, this year’s iREAD theme, “Dig Deeper: Read, Investigate, Discover!”, which I dug into at the annual conference, gives you a perfect hook for all ages. Use the theme to dig deeper into community climate resiliency by inviting speakers to discuss current environmental issues and solutions.

The Prairie Research Institute, of which my organization is a part, has scientists who can speak about these issues. Researchers from the Illinois State Water Survey study climate, weather, and their impact on Illinois communities and can present on topics ranging from weather, drought, and flooding, to making communities more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

Researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) study Illinois’ biological resources. They can speak about specific plants and animals, as well as topics like biodiversity and invasive species. INHS also hosts the Traveling Science Center (TSC), a 320 foot mobile classroom that features informative, engaging exhibits on biodiversity and natural resources. Visitors learn about the types of habitats and species diversity of their region, as well as ways to protect against threats to that diversity. Visit their web site to schedule a visit to your library.

The Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) protects, preserves, and interprets Illinois’ archaeological heritage. ISAS can provide speakers on Illinois’ cultural resources, as well as topics like environmental archaeology and how archaeologists use technology to identify sites and preserve the past.

The Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) researchers conduct basic and applied research in geology, compile geological maps, and gather and manage the state’s geological data. Their researchers can speak on topics ranging from earthquake possibilities in Illinois to fossils and dinosaurs.

Finally, my organization, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), integrates applied research, technical assistance, and information services to advance efforts in the areas of pollution prevention, water and energy conservation, beneficial reuse, carbon capture and utilization, and pollutant research. Our researchers can discuss topics ranging from everyday sustainability in the home, to making your office greener, to the environmental and human health impacts of emerging contaminants like microplastics and PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals” that have been in the news recently.

For more programming ideas, visit the Green Libraries LibGuide’s Programming page.

When planning your programs, remember to model good environmental practices by using reusable tableware, rethinking your giveaway items, and encouraging people to bring reusable water bottles. For more on greener purchasing, take a look at my last blog post.


Four Steps to Greener Purchasing

By Laura L. Barnes

In my last post, I wrote about ways to make your building more efficient and save money. This time, I want to focus on other purchasing decisions you make when you buy supplies for your library. Rethinking your purchasing can reduce your costs, help to create markets for products made with recycled material, and reduce the use of toxics in your building.

  1. Include environmental factors as well as traditional price and performance considerations part of the normal purchasing process. Planning ahead can reduce your waste disposal costs and use of hazardous chemicals, improve employee health and safety, and reduce material and energy consumption. Develop a green purchasing plan. CalRecycle has a list of examples and NASPO’s Green Purchasing Guide has detailed instructions for developing a green purchasing program.
  2. Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process. Review purchase specifications and contracts to see if they contain environmental performance standards or requirements. For example, if you use a cleaning service, request that they switch to less hazardous cleaning supplies. The Green Libraries LibGuide has a list of green product guides and certification bodies. Purchase appropriately sized lots to minimize waste. Purchase in bulk where feasible, but small quantities for shelf life/dated materials.
  3. Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout a product’s life cycle and compare relative environmental impacts of different products. Think about the environmental impact of the product’s production, use, and disposal. Buy recycled office consumable products (paper, pens, etc.) and Energy Star certified office equipment. Consider buying reusable utensils, plates, and cups for meetings. Rethink your promotional items.
  4. Base purchasing decisions on accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance. Don’t fall for greenwashing. Make sure that environmental claims about products are specific. Look for specific amounts (recycled content, a certain percentage less packaging). Terms like “eco-friendly” and “environmentally friendly” don’t mean anything unless they also provide more specific information. Degradable products don’t save landfill space. It does matter if you’re composting, but not if you’re throwing them away after one use. Look for green labels like EPA’s Safer Choice, EnergyStar, EPEAT (for electronics), and WaterSense. Use product guides to help you make decisions.

Work with your current suppliers to locate more environmentally friendly products. Test the products over a few months to assess efficiency, quality, and user friendliness. Document what does and doesn’t work, so you can continue to improve. Finally, encourage your patrons to start thinking about what they buy. Create displays about the environmental impact of consumer culture. The Green Libraries LibGuide includes a list of books about the environmental impact of consumer behavior. Screen The Story of Stuff and lead a discussion afterwards. You can not only make an impact on what your library purchases but also how your community thinks about consumption.