How Can Libraries Help Tackle The Earth Crisis?
In the aftermath of November's COP26 conference, industries across the globe are realising the importance of incorporating the sustainable practices into their everyday functionality. The library sector is no exception.
In today’s society, libraries play an integral role in tackling the on-going climate crisis, as hubs for encouraging societal change and fighting the spread of misinformation about pressing environmental issues.
Libraries are, in essence, central recycling centres for books. The reduce-reuse-recycle maxim is the perfect model for sustainability and embedded into the library system. Being accessible to all, books, equipment, and other resources are utilised by those who need them most – also helping to tackle other pressing issues including, mental health, digital inclusion and homelessness.
There is, however, still more that libraries can do to actively tackle the on-going earth crisis. Fortunately, the majority of incentives are simple to implement and easy to maintain.
Here are some ideas:
1- Encourage sustainable practices
Libraries and their staff are leaders in society and should therefore try to lead by example to encourage sustainable practices. Something as minor as turning lights off in low occupancy areas during the summer months can impact a library’s annual energy usage. Or go further and introduce more natural light into popular library areas or create outdoor seating spaces where artificial light is not required.
Increased plastic usage is also a rising concern and contributes to environmental issues, including overflowing landfills and increased carbon emissions during disposal. Installing drinking fountains throughout library buildings will encourage users to refill water bottles, introduce plastic recycling points, and if you have a cafe, why not go plastic-free?
2 – EDUCATE THE PUBLIC
People are actively looking to libraries to provide accurate and well-sourced information on current affairs. According to Pew Research, eight-in-ten adults (78%) feel that public libraries help them find trustworthy and reliable information, and 76% say libraries help them learn new things. Also, 56% believe libraries help them get information that aids with decisions they have to make.
Libraries have an infinite supply of resources available to help educate users on the climate crisis, including up-to-date case studies and texts written by industry experts. These are invaluable assets given the increase in the spread of misinformation by media sources.
In some cases, utilising and showing off these assets may mean having a jig-around around or implementing some other initiatives, such as:
A public reading space dedicated to climate science texts
A child-friendly nature area to educate the next generation on the importance of the sea, animals, clean air, and healthy living
Utilising tech to help patrons find what they need quickly and easily
3 – SPREAD THE WORD
As well as providing information libraries are also ideal spaces for sharing and collaborating with other community members. Encouraging this collaboration in the way of sustainability efforts will allow people to discover more about important environmental issues from educated sources.
A good way to start a conversation is by organising reading events, coffee mornings and debates regarding different economic issues. Also don’t forget to go on-line and utilise social media platforms, websites and YouTube accounts to share your learning’s, start a conversation and shout about upcoming initiatives to tackle climate change.
4 – INVEST IN COMMUNITY PROJECTS
Larger scale initiatives can also be introduced to directly tackle the climate crisis’s unfortunate effects. Boulder Public Library, for example, runs a ‘Seed to Table’ project where library users are invited to take up to five free packets of vegetable, herb or flower seeds home with them after their visit. A small but impactful way of tackling the fresh food shortages caused by environmental instability. Conservation is another essential part of minimizing an institution’s negative impact on the environment, with many libraries transforming their outdoor spaces into individual ecosystems. Texas’ Austin Central Library took it upon itself to build a rooftop garden with a butterfly habitat, where visitors are able to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the lepidopterarium and become inspired to take part in other conservation projects.
As public spaces, as well as champions for access to information and lifelong learning, libraries are well placed within their communities to be hubs for climate empowerment.