Planting the Seed: The Greening Libraries Report

Libraries are the original recyclers, and the reuse of books is a fundamental part of what libraries do. But libraries are doing much more to help support environmental sustainability. A recent research project funded by the Australian Library and Information Association and conducted by CSU academics Jane Garner, Kasey Garrison, Sabine Wardle, Karen Bell & Sarah Redshaw has led to the publication of the Greening Libraries Report*. The report explores how libraries in Australia and beyond support sustainability in their communities, and identifies six library case studies with exemplary green practices. It finishes with a list of recommendations for how other libraries can use these practices in their contexts.

Greening Libraries was framed by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the six SDGs shown below are of particular relevance to this project. 

United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals that framed the study

Since the research team covers areas of regional NSW, Sydney, and Melbourne, we designed this project with the idea that we would be visiting these libraries and seeing for ourselves as users how they implement sustainability practices. That was pre-lockdown 2021 and by the time the project started, libraries were not open to physical visits, so we had to rely heavily on publicly available information on websites and social media. Covid-19 restrictions limited our research but also showed how important it is for libraries to showcase their greening projects and efforts in the online world.  Our research identified the following six libraries and further explored their notable green practices further.

Library ServiceLocationTypeNotable Green Practices
Woollahra LibrariesNSWUrban PublicCommunity green collaborations with the Environment Team
Noosa Library ServicesQLDRegional PublicShared community seed library
The Grove LibraryWAUrban PublicBuilt using Environmentally Sustainable Design
Longwood Public LibraryUSA (NY)PublicCertified as a “Sustainable Library
Charles Sturt University LibraryNSWRegional AcademicLiFE Index to set targets and evaluate performance
National Library of AustraliaACTNationalFocus on the Environmental Policy implemented by the Environmental Management Coordinator

Four of the libraries featured in the report were public libraries with varying green practices. Woollahra Libraries is an urban public library in the eastern suburbs of Sydney on the lands of the Gadigal and Birrabirragal peoples. They engage with the Council’s Environment Team, advertising green and sustainable school holiday programs, storytimes and reading lists related to sustainability resources in the Our Environment E-Newsletter. They also attend Environment events at local parks and gardens with their Library Spark van, bringing collection items and their 3D printer to the public.

Noosa Library Services is a regional public library on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast on the lands of the Kabi Kabi people. Their shared community seed library is a partnership with the State Library Queensland and the Queensland Government where library members can “borrow” seeds to plant and grow produce. They are then encouraged to complete the cycle by harvesting seeds from their plants to return to the library for others to borrow.

The Grove Library is another urban public library on the First Nations land of the Whadjuk Nyoongar people in Western Australia. The library’s Vision statement highlights its commitment to sustainability: “Confident, connected communities leading the way in learning and sustainable living.” The building itself was one of the first public buildings in Australia to be erected using Environmentally Sustainable Design, including recycling 80% of its demolished materials.

Longwood Public Library was our only international example in the case studies and is a single branch library on Long Island, New York, USA. This library recently achieved a “Sustainable Library” certification through the Sustainable Libraries Initiative, a group encouraging libraries “to become more environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically feasible.” Longwood demonstrated their commitment to sustainability through their environmental policy which ensures they are constantly evaluating and decreasing their environmental impacts with green cleaning practices, for example, and that the whole community is trained to be more sustainable.

Charles Sturt University includes our sole academic library in the case study group. It is located on six campuses across regional NSW on the First Nations lands of the Wiradjuri, Ngunnawal, Ngambri, Gundungarra, and Biripai. The libraries operate within the University’s sustainability initiative “CSU Green” and use the LiFE Index to set targets and measure performance about sustainability focusing on four priority areas: 1)Leadership and Governance; 2)Partnership and Engagement; 3)Learning, Teaching, and Research; and 4)Facilities and Operations. This LiFE index is embedded in practices and included within key performance indicators for the library and performance review meetings for individual library staff. 

Our last library is the National Library of Australia on the First Nations lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri in Australia’s national capital, Canberra. The NLA has a variety of environmental and sustainability programs run by their Environmental Management Coordinator. They have a comprehensive recycling program and were recognized as the biggest recycler in the ACT in 2015.

As you can see from these six case studies, libraries engage in a wide range of sustainability practices, big and small. Look for the sequel to this post soon discussing some of the recommendations from the Greening Libraries Report.

Image credit: State Library of NSW Public Library Services

*The Greening Libraries Project was funded by the Australian Library and Information Association’s sustainability section ALIA Green and is one of many collaborations with LRG members from CSU’s School of Information and Communication Studies and School of Social Work and Arts.

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