I am a children’s librarian at the Carroll Gardens branch of Brooklyn Public Library. Most of my job duties consist of planning, promoting and executing high-quality programming for youth ages 0-13. I also do a lot of school outreach, reader’s advisory and reference services. I am constantly expanding my knowledge of children’s literature and learning something new and amazing every day. I am deeply passionate about public service, public space, organizational culture, sustainable community, leadership development and personal growth. I am an avid urban cyclist, storyteller, songwriter, poet, meditator and mother of twin boys.
I am also currently running for the position of coordinator-elect of the SustainRT, so please log into your ALA voting page and vote!
Why am I a Member of the Sustainability Round Table?
Things are looking pretty good for me.
I have hot, running, clean water –on demand.
At one of the many grocery stores within a few miles of my home, I can find any kind of of food I could possibly want, including fresh year-round produce and an endless supply of plastic bags to carry it all home in.
I have a safe place to sleep at night. I have heat in the winter, cooling in the summer, a stove to cook on and a refrigerator to keep my food from spoiling. I have easy access to quality education and health care for myself and my children. Amazing!
And there’s more: roads, bridges, post offices, internet access, a sewage and waste disposal system, police protection, all the media and entertainment I could ever hope for, libraries . . . In other words, I have an infrastructure that supports a comfortable lifestyle in a nation that has a stable government (without which none of the above would be likely).
Am I living in paradise or what?
No, actually, I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country (NYC) and make what some in my community would call a “modest” salary of just under $50k per year. But all my basic needs are met, and then some. This is my definition of “wealth.”
In fact, on a global level, I am the 1%.
That is why I find efforts to digitize more stuff, give every child an iPad, or build a space station on Mars uninteresting. I am more interested in questions like “How can I and others in my community sustain this lifestyle we have, and how can we enable others to obtain and sustain such a lifestyle?”
As a mother and human being sharing a tiny planet with billions of other human beings, all of whom –more or less- have the same basic needs that I do, questions like this concern me on a deep level.
I realize that some –maybe even a majority- of my wealth comes at the expense of others, and I wonder: is my lifestyle possible without denying others their basic needs?
I know I could live with less. I don’t *require* hot running water 24 hours per day; I don’t need to eat strawberries in the middle of winter; and I would be content with only two brands of cereal to choose from. I could (and do!) bring my own bags to the grocery store. I could go without 300 cable channels. I could ride my bike more and drive my car less (or not at all). I could turn the heat down in the winter and wear more sweaters. Even if I did all these things, I would still be extremely wealthy compared to a majority of people on the planet. But much of my wealth would still come at the expense of others, because while the circumstances leading to my wealth (and much of the poverty in the world) are complicated, I believe much of it is due to the (increasing) centralization of resources. So, while living with less is probably a requirement for sustainability, it is not the only answer.
Climate change is forcing us to confront things like increasing geo-political instability, rapidly declining access to clean water, safe and healthy food, health care, quality education, increasing numbers of political and eco-refugees, and a general decline in the quality of our physical infrastructure, further complicating our ability to access centralized resources. It is clear that centralization of resources -energy, food, political power, jobs, and information- is an unsustainable model for survival, let alone wealth.
I am not the first to suggest that de-centralization of resources is a prerequisite to a sustainable future. There are many local communities empowering themselves, taking themselves “off the grid” in ways that enable them to live a sustainable lifestyle that fulfills their basic needs and doesn’t exploit other human beings.
And libraries are a natural platform from which to lead such movements. Libraries are ready-made infrastructures from which people can organize, create tools, and build effective collaborations with neighboring communities to help their community make the difficult transition away from dependence upon centralized resources and on to local ones. In fact, I believe libraries are the linchpin to the sustainability movement.
According to the ALA’s 2015 State of America’s Libraries Report, “Academic, public and school libraries are … no longer just places for books, libraries of all types are viewed as anchors, centers for academic life and research and cherished spaces.”1
In The Guardian, Larra Clark suggests we must “move from a historical idea of libraries as merely physical repositories to seeing them as an opportunity for proactive community engagement.”2
As public property, libraries can also leverage their physical space for a brighter future. One example: library as farm. Brooklyn Public Library has sixty branches in its system. That’s sixty rooftops of farmland, sixty rooftops of food for the community and sixty “classrooms” from which to teach the next generation how to provide for themselves. The added benefit of cooling in the summer and insulating in the winter make rooftop farms a no-brainer. Or . . . those same sixty rooftops might be used for solar power – enough to supply the entire Brooklyn library system and get creative with their physical space.
To sum up, I believe:
- A sustainable future is only possible through local organized community efforts.
- Libraries are the most effective platforms from which to organize and lead such movements.
- My role as a librarian goes well beyond collection development and programming and into the realm of community organizing.
And that is why I am a member of the ALA Sustainability Round Table.
I would love to hear your reactions to this post. I welcome all viewpoints and encourage an open discussion of how we can leverage ourselves and our libraries to meet the very real demand of a sustainable future for our communities.
1 “2015 State of America’s Libraries: A Report from the American Library Association,” Public Library Use: ALA Library Fact Sheet, American Library Association, accessed April 2, 2016.
2 Clark, Larra. “How US Libraries are Becoming Community Problem Solvers,” The Guardian, March 26, 2014.