The amount of water that rushed into Brooklyn Public Library’s Coney Island branch during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 is hard to imagine, but photos taken soon after the storm show its power — books strewn across floors that had yet to completely drain, chairs and tables toppled. Six branches in that system lost more than 75,000 books, magazines, and DVDs, and repairs cost around $10 million. Coney Island Library finally reopened about a year later, but it’s still in the same location, still vulnerable to future storms.
Sandy is a powerful example of why sustainability planning must be linked to libraries of all kinds, and in all parts of the country where a variety of climate issues may have an impact. Immediately following Sandy, New York City government discussed options and began plans to protect the city from storms and rising sea levels. But now, nearly seven years later, talk has faded to the background, little work has been done, and cultural institutions like Coney Island Library remain susceptible to harm. But there are ways those institutions can empower local communities that rely on them to help push for change.
Because also since Sandy, there’s been a growing call for open access to government data, and cities like New York have created websites where the public can view and download datasets. (Some cities have even arranged to have their libraries host that data, but that’s a subject for another blog post.) Though data should always be approached critically, with ample consideration to what’s missing and how and why they were collected, there are opportunities for communities to use this kind of information to communicate ideas and motivate action. And libraries can help show them how.
For some, hearing about the impacts of climate change may not be as powerful as seeing it visualized. Data visualizations like the one shown above, which uses NYC datasets to show some of the cultural heritage institutions that may face challenges as sea levels are predicted to rise, can help tell sustainability stories in new ways. Showing people how to create those visualizations provides an opportunity for empowerment. When your community learns to use available data to illustrate libraries at risk as the climate changes, for instance, they may feel more of an ownership stake, and may be more likely to advocate for change. And if you can show them how they can contact their local representatives to share their work, that’s a chance for the data they’ve visualized to illustrate a need for legislation and other actions that can help ensure their communities are sustainable.
If data literacy is one pathway to protecting our communities from these potential events, creating programs that strengthen the public’s understanding and use of public data is important now more than ever. By offering examples or training for librarians on how to they can build public data visualization programs for their communities, SunstainRT can help empower those communities. It’s a small action that can help make a big difference.
SustainRT would like to congratulate Jessica Krieter, winner of this year’s SustainRT Travel Award!
Jessica Krieter grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and attended Elmhurst College for a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. While studying at Elmhurst, she began working as a Kids Technology Assistant at the Elmhurst Public Library (Elmhurst, IL) and quickly found a passion for children’s library services. She now also works as a Youth Programs Specialist at Arlington Heights Memorial Library (Arlington Heights, IL), and serves as a trustee on the board of the Franklin Park Public Library District (Franklin Park, IL).
The winner of the SustainRT Travel Award receives $500 to offset the cost of attending the ALA conference in June 2019. Jessica’s winning blog post is below.
Librarians as the Original Sustainability Advocates
Libraries are, in a certain way, the original advocates for sustainability. We purchase a few items for many to share, increasing accessibility and reducing resource use and waste. Libraries are a formalized expression of this enduring practice.
We also hold a distinct position in society that necessitates our responsiveness to the issues facing our populations. As a place where information, learning, resources, and community intersect, libraries hold the responsibility to provide accessible education on sustainability. To serve our patrons’ specific needs, though, we must insist on our individual communities guiding our efforts: what resources will best serve our patrons? Are there local groups and businesses that could be valuable partners? How can we, as a library, adopt more sustainable practices? Answering these questions calls for a library-wide, explicit, and intentional commitment to sustainability.
Discussion on sustainability tends to be associated only with the largest, most visible efforts for it. Libraries are seldom part of the conversation, and that is a costly disservice to our patrons. Because we are deeply rooted places of learning and engagement, we are uniquely positioned to bolster the future impact of sustainability in our communities.
Libraries are already pioneers of the “access over ownership” concept, and it is increasingly evident in our collections: more libraries are checking out “things,” including games, electronics, kitchen appliances, bakeware, and tools. Consider the difference in waste produced by one of these items, purchased by a library for hundreds to share, compared to the waste that would be produced if interested patrons each purchased that item. We already employ our systems to facilitate cooperative sharing of resources, and we can expand our efforts by developing these collections further.
Libraries must also consider our role as education centers. Sustainability is a broad and sometimes ambiguous term, making it difficult or daunting for many to understand. That’s where we step in, with sustainability-focused programming, resources, and staff. As a Youth Programs Specialist, I always consider the effect we can bring forth in future generations, and the topic of sustainability becomes especially significant in this light. If we are committed to serving our youth, we are committed to helping them understand their world – the past, present, and future of it. Sustainability plays a key role in the issues their generation will face. Developing programs on sustainability is a necessary component in offering relevant learning experiences, and we can also apply the same mindset to our offerings for patrons of any age. One of our most important capacities for sustainability is providing easily reachable information and education, for all members of our community.
Regardless of location or size, the key factor in successful sustainability efforts is our dedication to our patrons. By constructing our sustainability efforts according to our patrons’ needs, we are making sustainable living accessible and advocating for the sustainability measures important to our populations. We are positioned to become a powerful factor in the sustainability movement, and we can strengthen our communities in the process.
As I finish my last semester of graduate school with Simmons University’s LIS program, I can say, without a doubt, that my internship with the American Library Association’s Sustainability Round Table was one of the most rewarding experiences of the entire program. How it all came about was a bit of luck: I was in conversation with a member of SustainRT to intern specifically with her. However, we couldn’t quite make that work, so I reached out to the round table’s board and asked, “Hey, do you know of any internship opportunities regarding sustainability?” As a matter of fact, they did—involving the entire round table! The structure of the internship was fantastic. Committee chairs were asked if they could use the help of an intern on any projects. I was then presented with these projects and selected the ones that best matched my interests and abilities.
All told, I ended up working with the Book Award (soon to be called the Book List), Membership, Online Education, and Outreach Committees. My time with each supported my growth as a librarian, collaborator, researcher, and presenter. With the Online Education folks, I was given the opportunity to moderate webinar question and answer periods, something that is much harder than you’d think when scrolling through fast moving chat boxes! It was certainly a lesson in quick thinking, patience, and concisely communicating a lot of information. I was also given the chance to present a webinar on the link between mindfulness and sustainability. This project grew unexpectedly out of a conversation between myself and the chair of the committee on our very first meeting. That kind of spontaneity was one thing I loved about working with all of the folks in SustainRT. There was never a sense that I was the intern who would just do the tasks laid out for me; rather, there was a collaborative, organic feel to projects which allowed them to transform as new ideas arose.
With the Membership Committee, I supported the design and launch of the SustainRT Mentorship Program. (We’re looking for mentors and mentees, so apply here!) The program matches sustainability-engaged librarians with LIS students or new librarians (within their first three years of professional work) to offer support and guidance. As part of the design of this program, I was in touch with librarians all over the country. This led to a fantastic conversation with Sharrese Castillo, the mentorship coordinator from the Hawaii Library Association, and Julene Jones, the past chair of the Library Leadership And Management Association mentorship program. As a student who has little time to attend conferences and meetings, there is limited opportunity for networking with other librarians, but SustainRT illuminated the national picture of what it means to be a sustainability-engaged librarian.
As part of the Book Award Committee, I designed the list of Sustainability-Themed Children’s Books for 2019. (Note: this committee is deciding on its charge and may change its name to the “Book List Committee” soon!) Committee members had spent time reviewing and choosing books, and, after much editing, seeking feedback, and yet more editing, we met our goal by publishing the list in time for Earth Day. This process was a great way to observe the “inner workings” of consensus-building—it takes time, patience, a willingness to negotiate, and trust in your fellow committee members. After witnessing all of this, I have a much deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, what collaboration really looks like.
That collaborative spirit is also a big part of the Outreach Committee. There is a deep sense of the collective with these folks, with lots of care given to everyone’s opinion and voice. This blog post is part of my work with them, in fact, and, as a little plug, the Outreach folks are always on the lookout for new blog post authors. If you have something to share about your sustainability-related work (or really anything sustainability related), get in touch with them!
I was a member of SustainRT before my internship. (Membership is free for students, and only $10 after that!) Now I feel like part of the SustainRT community. It wasn’t just the projects that meant so much to me—it was the care and interest that each member showed me. The folks in SustainRT are dedicated, knowledgeable, and generous. My time with the constellation of committees I interned with brought me a greater understanding of committee work and librarianship, sure, but it also gave me a much deeper understanding of what sustainability means and looks like. I now feel empowered to do more than push recycling programs or run discussions on climate change (although those are important, too!), and supporting others to understand this connection between mindfulness and sustainability has become a goal for me. The importance of community and recognizing the intersectionality of sustainability with the myriad power structures in place, and how these affect our fellow humans is another giant leap in my understanding of what it means to be sustainable. The lists of gifts I’ve received from this internship could go on and on. My view of what’s possible in the library world is forever changed, and, though I have no idea where it might take me, I feel thankful to everyone who supported me through it. To fellow LIS students passionate about sustainability and in search of a fantastic internship experience: reach out to SustainRT, or other groups whose mission makes your heart sing! You never know where that inquiry may lead you.
There is no substitute for an in-person gathering of library professionals. It can be one of the most rewarding, informative, and inspiring activities of one’s career. ALA conferences harness the collective power of librarians. But, as members of the ALA’s Sustainability Round Table, or individuals concerned about the environmental crisis, how do we reconcile the profound benefits of conference travel with the fact that air travel is the quickest way to inflate your personal carbon footprint? One round-trip flight to the ALA conference this year (from Denver to Washington, DC) can undo a year’s worth of emission reductions from all of these actions combined: taking the bus to work, adding insulation to your home, recycling, composting, adjusting the thermostat at night, unplugging appliances to avoid phantom load, using LED lighting, and making dietary changes.
However, there is something you can do to counterbalance the impact. You can participate in a carbon-offset program, which is an initiative that purposely reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) from the atmosphere. By financially supporting these projects, donors are able to mitigate their GHG emissions by receiving offset “credits.” Not only do these projects benefit the environment, they often improve the lives of the people involved. Examples include: clean cookstoves, low GHG emitting water purification systems, landfill gas capture systems, etc.
Though they do not fully address systemic problems inherent in our modern society’s unsustainable lifestyle, carbon offsets, (as well as renewable energy credits and carbon credits) can be effective strategies to voluntarily reduce your individual contribution to climate change.
Before selecting a carbon offset provider, you may wish to do some research. Important considerations are if the project is third party verified or uses the “Gold Standard,” which guarantees that the project meets strict criteria related to sustainability. See a list and ratings of some of the best carbon offset providers at www.offsetconsumer.org/providers. Most carbon offset organizations have travel calculators on their website, which lets you know how much it would cost to offset your flight (usually no more than the price of lunch at an affordable restaurant).
But do these programs actually work? Where in the world are they located? How does one encourage or implement them at the organization or institution level? These questions will be explored at an ALA 2019 conference program, hosted by the Sustainability Round Table.
SUSTAINRT Carbon Offsets for Sustainable Travel: Why, Where, How
Sunday, June 23 • 8:30 am – 10:00 am
Jennifer Blaha (speaker) Conservation International
Blake Lawrence (speaker) Cool Effect
David Selden (speaker) Native American Rights Fund / National Indian Law Library
Lisa Rosen (speaker) Gold Standard
Uta Hussong-Christian (moderator) Oregon State University Libraries & Press
The program will include a representative from carbon offset provider Cool Effect. Cool Effect uses a rigorous verification process to ensure that projects are legitimately reducing carbon pollution. Each of their carbon offset projects meet the toughest requirements of the world’s major carbon standards (including the United Nations).
Even if you can’t attend this program, maybe you’ll consider offsets for any air travel you do, the flight of a friend, or your general household footprint? As members of the Sustainability Round Table, here are some examples of our own offset choices:
In my personal life, I have always tried to reduce my climate carbon footprint the best I could and offset the rest. The project our family has funded over the past few years is the Uganda cook stove project offered by Cool Effect. This project is third party verified, inexpensive and offers many social benefits in addition to protecting our climate. The most important benefits to the Ugandan families are creation of jobs, lowering the cost of fuel for cooking, improving air quality and health and lowering deforestation caused by wood harvesting. In addition, this project has special appeal to me, as I’ve spent several happy years of my childhood in Uganda, playing with the local children. This is a way to give back to the community in a country where I was respected and felt like I belonged.
Though I cannot attend the ALA conference this year, I have decided to support a colleague’s participation by offsetting her travel with a $11 donation to Cool Effect’s Native American Methane Capture project. The mountains of Colorado have been shifting. When they shift, gases from deep inside the core of the earth are released. The Southern Ute Tribe has learned how to capture this leaking gas and redirect it into existing pipelines for energy use by homes, businesses and schools across the reservation. This project captures methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more damaging to Earth than CO₂. Unlike fracking, this project turns an obvious environmental problem into a productive solution. Plus, my donation is tax-deductible, and less than 10% of it goes toward administrative costs.
Here at SustainRT, we fantasize about a day when conference registration forms automatically add a section for opting in to carbon offset programs. Or, perhaps, a day when carbon offsets are included in the price of a conference ticket. Until then, conscientious and progressive networkers, such as yourself, can decide now to integrate a carbon offset program into your travel expenses. It’s a small price to pay for mitigating climate change, supporting sustainability and the people that benefit from these important projects. Hope you’ll be able to attend the program.
The American Library Association’s Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) Booklist Committee has compiled a “top 10” list of recommended books published in 2018 for children about the environment, playing in nature, gardening, and so much more. 2019_SustainRT_booklist
On behalf of the SustainRT Board, it is our pleasure to congratulate the winners of the SustainRT elections. Beginning after the 2019 ALA Annual Conference, Arlene Hopkins will join the Board as a Member-at-Large, Casey Conlin will join the Board as Coordinator-elect, and Matthew Bollerman will join the Board as SustainRT’s first dedicated ALA Councilor.
We wish to express our appreciation to these individuals for their commitment to this group, and what it represents, by taking on part of the work of keeping SustainRT moving forward.
The Sustainability Round Table will offer a $500 travel award to reimburse* a SustainRT member who attends the ALA conference in June 2019. Applicants should submit a blog post (500 word limit) or a video (2 minutes or less in duration) about the connection between sustainability and libraries. Submissions may be creative and should explore the applicant’s unique vision.
The requirements for the award winner are that they must:
Be a current SustainRT member. (Current SustainRT board members and Outreach Committee members are not eligible.)
Agree to write a short (250-500 words) blog post (link to our blog) about their experience attending ALA and/or how they think that the Sustainability Round Table can encourage and support library workers who wish to promote sustainability in their libraries and communities.
Entries are due by April 26, 2019. The winners will be notified in May and announced at the member meeting at ALA Annual. The winning submission will also be posted on the SustainRT Blog and other SustainRT social media. All entries will be considered for publication.
Libraries and librarians in communities, schools, colleges, universities, offices, hospitals, and anywhere else you might find them, stand poised to help the people they serve move toward a more sustainable future. Our work in SustainRT pulls these librarians together so that we can figure out how.
For the past 4 years, I’ve been working with the Sustainability Initiative of the New York Library Association to define what sustainability looks like in libraries, and to create the Sustainable Library Certification Program, a set of tools to help librarians make their organizations and their communities not only sustainable, but resilient places where people can thrive. Our work uses the triple bottom line (socially equitable, economically feasible, and environmentally sound) to measure and increase the sustainability of library services and programs, and to help libraries and librarians take the role of leading sustainable practices in their communities. The Sustainable Library Certification is the product of many people in the NYLA Sustainability Initiative pulling together to contribute their skills to create something bigger than they could make on their own, and I’m proud to say we now have libraries completing the program.
As Coordinator for SustainRT, I want to bring the people in our group together to tap into the extraordinary capabilities of focused librarians to create resources and opportunities for libraries to help the people and organizations they serve create a sustainable future.
I am very interested in being the SustainRT Councilor. I was an inaugural member of this Roundtable as Secretary. It was exciting to be part of something new and I believe we set some excellent groundwork for the activities that have been evolving. Sustainability is an issue that I have championed for years. Back in New York, I co-chaired the Sustainability Initiative Committee of the New York Library Association (https://www.nyla.org/sustainability/). It was a joy to watch colleagues from around the state build their capacity and embrace their role to help their communities by using the Triple Bottom Line.
I would welcome the opportunity to serve my profession as a councilor again. My first councilor experience came as the President of the Public Library Section of the New York Library Association. I enjoyed serving in this capability, particularly working to improve our association and acting as a voice for those you represent. After serving in this capacity, I was elected as President of the New York Library Association and headed their Council. During my tenure, I led the team to find a new Executive Director. This was not certainly not something I thought would happen on my watch, but it was a great process and our ED is still on the job and going strong.
My day job is being the Chief Executive Officer of the Hauppauge Public Library, a suburban library in Suffolk County, New York. We are currently enrolled in the Sustainable Library Certification Program offered by the New York Library Association.
If elected, I hope to help the roundtable have a full voice at Council and to do all in my power to increase membership and make sure our issues are heard throughout the organization especially in light of the Final Report of the ALA Special Task Force on Sustainability.
The primary concerns of sustainability – environmental, economic and social justice and equality are not just a preference but an absolute necessity for the survival of our communities, whether it’s local, nationally and/or globally. We need to find a way to effectively communicate this to all the stakeholders in our communities, starting with our library community (e.g. staff, Boards, whole systems, etc.) so that we can take a leadership role in helping to make our entire citizenry lead sustainable lives. In my personal life I have been actively involved in supporting remedying environmental and social concerns. I am an active member of the NYLA Sustainability Initiative (now a Round Table) as well as spearheading and co-chairing a local initiative modeled on NYLA’s. My motivation for the Member at Large is to become more involved at the national level. The concerns mentioned above are expanding and the urgency growing by the day. In any of these initiatives, forming partnerships is key. And after attending the Drawdown Project at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where Paul Hawkins, the editor and one of the prime movers of the Drawdown initiative, was the keynote speaker, I was truly inspired and convinced that this is a national and global effort. This is an effort to form those partnerships at broader level.
Serving on the SustainRT board as a Member-at-Large will enable me to bring 30+ years of experience as an educator, architect and library planner to comprehensive sustainability and resilience in library planning, programs, collections and facilities. Friends and I have created a Facebook page “Cultivating Urban Resilience – Next Gen Libraries.”
The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018 was held in San Francisco from September 12 – 15, 2018. GCAS was an international summit to convene meetings to discuss, explore, share and collaboration with different states, regions, cities, companies, stakeholders on climate action. In addition, affiliated events were also held all week throughout the Bay Area.
Sustainability Round Table members Ray Pun and Heather Christenson attended an affiliate event called Climate Heritage Mobilization (CHM) held at the California Historical Society. This one day conference was organized by the “California Office of Historic Preservation in conjunction with national and international partners. The event’s purpose is to mobilize the cultural heritage and historic preservation sectors for climate action in support of the Paris Agreement.” In this blog post, they will reflect on their experiences attending the CHM.
The Climate Heritage Mobilization gathered over 100 committed people from a wide variety of disciplines to take on the weighty topic of identifying the intersection of cultural heritage and climate change. We were challenged to consider — what are the needs of climate action? What are each of us good at? I was pleased to attend the meeting as member of SustainRT and represent the library perspective.
Andrew Potts, Co-Chair of the ICOMOS Climate Change & Heritage Working Group, began the meeting with a comment on the value of having a “cultural heritage meeting at a climate conference, rather than climate meeting at a cultural heritage conference.” A key theme in the many presentations and panels throughout the day was that, ultimately, the solution to climate change will be a social and cultural one as much as a scientific one. Many of the presenters provided very specific cultural perspectives, and in aggregate these perspectives formed an encouraging kaleidoscope of possibilities and examples. A takeaway here is that no one size fits all, the local community knows best and needs to be involved, and at this critical moment, all solutions should be on the table.
One remarkable panel showcasing “Heritage as a Vector for Climate Action, Justice, and Research” featured speakers that included Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel, a Sr. Climate Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Alison Tickell of Julie’s Bicycle, and Saúl Vicente Vásquez who coordinates community efforts with the FAO in Oaxaca Mexico. Queen Quet challenged the group to consider wide cultural inclusion to work effectively together, pointing out that even our social, talkative, lunch at a restaurant represented a cultural norm not shared by all. Dr. Ekwurzel described artifacts being revealed by the retreat of Arctic ice, and how “archaeology can’t happen fast enough – how can you even prioritize?” Mr Vasquez described how culture can be a key component of food security and how ”food sovereignty” based on local wisdom rather than an industrial model was achieved by his community. Alison Tickell described how her organization funds strategic integration of climate change as a theme in the arts, in order to normalize climate change and integrate it into mainstream culture.
Another standout presentation was from Oscar Guevara, Climate Change Adaptation Specialist for WWF-Colombia. He urged us to focus on articulating value relative to climate change, his example being that the rainforest he oversees was initially valued and set aside as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its extreme biodiversity, but times changed and now when he speaks about the rainforest’s value, he focuses on how much carbon it captures. He described how “conservation” is no longer a viable term and we need to now think instead in terms of facilitating transformation and enhancing resilience. Another point he made that resonated with me was “ [current] legal frameworks are not designed for adaptive management –they are designed for a fixed situation.”
Localization and community involvement in solutions was a common theme, and speakers described how direct experiences with the effects of climate change have resulted in increased political and social action. For example, Daniel Zarrilli, Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs for the City of New York, described how in 2012 Hurricane Sandy was a turning point for the city in addressing climate change. “What actually changed was…reality! It is now not in the future,” he said emphatically.
I was impressed with the diversity and scope of subject matter presented at this meeting, and with the intelligence and enthusiasm of all the speakers. At the group lunch, connections were made as conversations turned to people’s children and to commiseration over the feelings generated by the daunting topic.
If nothing else, awareness of the number and variety of actions being taken, and many people involved across disciplines is heartening. I would encourage my colleagues to seek out cross-disciplinary meetings such as this one, if possible, and forge connections outside of the library sphere. Our wisdom as stewards of our collections, and long view of preservation, format migration, and availability of resources over time should be shared more widely. Libraries are also at the center of community, and we as librarians also have wisdom to share regarding frameworks of community support and engagement.
CHM was a great opportunity to explore and learn from politicians, policymakers, conservators, academics, architects, librarians, activists, preservationists, and scientists were working collectively on to address how climate change affects cultural heritage. I attended this conference on behalf of IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions) to identify opportunities for future partnerships on how libraries can support and preserve cultural heritage collaboratively. Many speakers addressed what is Climate Heritage Mobilization and why does it matter from their perspective?
One presentation that stood out to me was Executive Director Andrea Carmen’s talk on indigenous perspective relating to climate heritage. Carmen is from the Yaqui Nation and International Indian Treaty Council; she presented on the indigenous knowledge of resilience, and the ongoing teaching and learning process that should include indigenous people when addressing climate changes that deeply affect their communities. She shared different examples of how Native Americans have protested and raised concerns of climate change and how to include their rights into international treaties and recognitions.
In addition, there were presentations from mayors around the world including Assisi in Italy and Chefchaouen in Morocco to share how urban planning process in addressing climate change and in support of cultural heritage. During this day-long event, I met with many advocates including museum professionals from International Council of Museums (ICM) who were interested in collaborating with libraries and archives in supporting conservation and preservation approaches to cultural artifacts including books, manuscripts and archival documents. I thoroughly enjoyed the many different talks because this really gave me a multiperspective on of what other professionals are doing. For example what architects are doing or what policymakers are interested in to address climate heritage.
What can and should libraries do? There are definitely ways for our group (Sustainability RT) can consider from liasioning with different organizations and associations to creating more outreach and awareness of climate heritage too. You can also find the discussions on social media, particularly Twitter under #climateheritage for more information about this affiliate event. You can also follow #GCAS2018 to explore other past events too.
Interested in these discussions? Check out these upcoming events and see how you can get involved as well: