Green Libraries

It’s not easy being green. For many of our patrons, environmental action is basically out of the question; solar panels are expensive, electric and hybrid vehicles are costly both up front and in the long term, and even reusable grocery bags cost a couple of bucks. For a patron whose dollar won’t stretch to cover Internet access or books for school, environmental consciousness is, understandably, on the back burner.

But isn’t environmental consciousness in line with the true mission of public libraries? We’ve always picked up the slack between what is demanded and what is needed. When our patrons need books, we provide them. When they need Internet access, we do that too. Now, our patrons need to save the Earth. As ever, we need to be present with strategies that will help them do so in a way that does not disrupt their lives, but, in fact, makes them better. That means that we’ve got to become active and purposeful in our pursuit of green librarianship.

The next question is that of how we will manage this feat. As public libraries, we ourselves are often short on funds. Making big changes is often a matter of winning a grant, but absent that, what could we do?

It turns out that there are lots of options for zero investment environmentalism. Though these steps may seem small, remember that there are almost 119,500 libraries in the U.S. If each of those libraries saved just a single kilowatt hour of energy every year, we would collectively save the equivalent of about 62 tons of coal or about 1,208 cubic feet of natural gas! (based on EIA estimates.) That’s a real difference!

So if solar panels aren’t in the stars and geothermal isn’t in your future, don’t despair. Being green can be easy if we work together and take a few easy steps.

  • Goodbye, receipts! (And bags)

If you print receipts, then you know the headache that an ocean of thermal paper can bring. Every time that device spits out a receipt, it uses a few watts of power and several inches of a tree that was sawn, processed, pulped and transported using mainly gasoline. And after all that, most patrons just throw them out! Instead of handing out receipts by default, wait until patrons ask for them, or see if your software will allow patrons to choose to receive an email receipt instead. The same goes for plastic bags: on rainy days they may be in demand, but the rest of the time, it’s possible that only a few people will want them. The other option is to sell reusable, eco-friendly bags. If you add your library’s logo, you’ll get the perks of free advertising, too!

  • Use laptops instead

Full-sized computers are energy hogs. So are their monitors, keyboards, speakers, and other peripherals. Downsizing to laptops can save energy and money. Depending on your population, you may want to switch out just a few desktops and keep those nice big monitors around for patrons with visual impairments. But even switching a couple computers out for laptops can count for a lot! If you’re curious as to exactly how much of a difference the switch can make, try using Microsoft’s free Joulemeter program to determine your machines’ exact power usage. CNET estimated that desktops used about 75 watts an hour, while notebooks used 25.

  • Turn it all off at night

Scanners, copiers, printers, the works. Computer screens can be vampire devices, along with cell phone chargers, cable boxes, gaming consoles, and any device with an electronic display or a “standby” setting. If you don’t already, shut off and unplug everything in the library that features a blinking light. There are a few exceptions, of course – those “Exit” signs should probably stay on. If your library has an IT department, make sure and check with them, too, to see if they need computers or other equipment to remain on overnight during certain days of the week.

  • Incentivize carpooling for library staff

Getting the whole staff into the green groove can be crucial to success – after all, these are the people who will be carefully turning off every printer and power strip every night! If only a few staff members are on board with your library’s new environmental direction, the whole system won’t work in the long run. Getting everyone excited is the key. Green initiatives can be made fun, and carpooling is a gimme: easy to incentivize, hugely impactful on the environment, and possessed of a social aspect that many people may find appealing all by itself. Incentives will depend on your situation, but the sky is the limit. Whether you designate special carpool parking spots that are closer to the library’s staff entrance or maintain a carpool leaderboard whose champions earn baked goods or other incentives, there are a lot of ways to make sharing a ride attractive.

  • Become a recycling headquarters

Did you know that printer cartridges are recyclable? How about single-use batteries? The reason that most people don’t simply throw these into a recycling bin is that the process for breaking them down and making them into new things is a little more complicated than pulping paper. Though there are loads of recycling initiatives out there for non-traditional recyclables, there are not many physical locations where people can drop off their old stuff. As a central community location, your library could make a big difference here. Mailing programs, such as Cartridges for Kids, lend themselves well to the process of becoming a collection point. (Cartridges for Kids also includes free shipping!)  Many office supply and electronics stores also have recycling programs, so there’s the option of letting patrons fill boxes with old electronics and bringing them to Staples once a month. But some libraries have had the most luck with pickup services, especially Call2Recycle. The Winnipeg and Austin Libraries had great luck with this 501(c)4 nonprofit in 2015, when they each won a $1000 grant for turning in old batteries and cell phones!

  • Raise awareness at every turn

From programming to signage, make sure that everyone who comes into the library knows that you’re passionate about this subject. Put out information on energy saving, climate change, and home-based strategies for environmentalism. Invite speakers to discuss climate change. Every time you implement a new green policy, announce it proudly with large signs all over the library. The more awareness you can raise, the more real the issue will be to your patrons, your trustees, and other community organizations. If Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point” applies to environmental reform, then every program you run helps to inch society just a little closer to that critical juncture.

Have you implemented eco-friendly policies in your library? Have you encountered challenges, rewards, or a bit of both? Tell us all about it in the comments!

-Submitted by Anna Call

Meet Margaret Woodruff, Candidate for Member-at-Large (One Year Term) of SustainRT!

Wendell Berry says that “husbandry is … the art of keeping tied all the strands in the living network that sustains us.”

One of the very best things about living in Vermont is the living thing. From spring’s first green gracing the fields to the touch of frost on the trees, our landscape informs our lives.  I am fortunate to enfold this love of landscape into my work and seek to do this in as many ways as possible.  For me, maintaining “the strands in the living network” involves a focus on local, community-based and resilient programs and practices.

Since I became the director here 5 years ago, we’ve added compost bins to our kitchen, a Transition Town garden to our town green and many programs on creating and maintaining sustainability in our community. In addition to the pantry garden we plan, tend and harvest each year, these programs include presentations on Slow Money, sustainable landscaping, net zero home energy, and local eating as well as the establishment of a local seed library.  The newest and most ambitious project for which the library is a partner is a storm water education and mediation program called “Ahead of the Storm,” demonstrating the use of rain barrels and development of a rain garden.  All of these efforts spring from the library staff and library board’s belief in and support of sustainability.

Therefore, it was with great delight and anticipation that I attended “Sustainable Thinking,” the Master Series Talk by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich at ALA Midwinter 2016.  Her mission to make libraries the heart of sustainable, resilient communities resonated with me personally and with everything we try to do here at the Charlotte Library.  The presentation, combined with the chance to meet up with SustainRT members, provoked my interest in applying to be a Member-at-Large for this roundtable.  I hope to carry the energy and enthusiasm we’ve built in our small Vermont library to the wider ALA community and work to make sustainability a natural and continuing focus of libraries everywhere, to act to bring those strands together.

-Margaret Woodruff, Director, Charlotte Library, Charlotte VT

Meet Tara Lingg, Candidate for Member-at-Large (One Year Term) of SustainRT!

Tara LinngK-cups and bottled water will be the death of me!

If you don’t use it, then you don’t need to recycle it. I am a bit of a cynic regarding recycling as a solution to the huge volume of trash that we (as a society) produce on a daily basis, because of the waste of valuable resources. I believe that small personal changes add to big changes in society. I try to live in a sustainable manner by reducing my own personal footprint, and by extension in my work life.

I have always been interested in sustainability issues; I’ve composted, recycled, reused, and reduced, long before these terms hit the mainstream lexicon. In one of my previous lives (don’t we all have a few!) I was on my way towards a graduate Certification in Waste Management from Stony Brook University. I have seen landfills, sewage treatment plants, and recycling plants up close.

Another “life” got in the way, and I moved on to a job as an electrical estimator, where I learned about building construction and LEEDS certification. During the 90s, when libraries were experiencing a renovation and building boom, I became the “library expert” for my company and got to visit libraries all over Long Island, and worked on a number of library building projects.

This led to my current career as a children’s librarian, where I am in a position to inform and educate our patrons on everything and anything. I want to be able to provide information that is socially equitable, economically feasible, and environmentally sound. Even though libraries are known for good stewardship of resources, I am shocked by the waste of resources that happens on a daily basis, whether it is the half empty bottles of water or piles of empty K cups, that get thrown out; and in the children’s department, lots and lots of cheap plastic crap that is basically landfill material. If these little day to day things that we do as libraries do not engender a sustainable, resilient, and regenerative environment, then even a Gold LEED Building Certification will be of no value to a community.

I am a full-time children’s librarian at Half Hollow Hills Community Library and I also work part time at Mastics Moriches Shirley Community Library. Most of my programs are run using primarily recycled or reused materials, and I am always looking for new ways to incorporate greener practices into our daily work.

After Super Storm Sandy, I saw first hand the power of a resilient library community, MMS was a haven for the people that lost so much due to the storm,(

After the storm I was so proud to be part of American libraries (so many do amazing work!) and I am running for the member at large position to work to inform and educate our staff on the ways provide library services in a sustainable manner to our patrons.

Meet Jodi Shaw, Candidate for Coordinator Elect of SustainRT!

Jodi ShawBiography: Jodi Shaw

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.

Meet Mary Beth Lock, Candidate for Member-at-Large (Two Year Term) of SustainRT!


My name is Mary Beth Lock and I am running for Member-at-Large for SustainRT. I’d like to introduce myself so you can be better informed as you decide who will be your representatives on the round table.  I’ve been a proponent of sustainability initiatives since before I received my Environmental Science degree in 1991. Through my passion for recycling, (and a great deal of grit and determination) I initiated a paper recycling program in the Wayne State University Library system in 1990.  In addition, I’ve worked in the public sector as a recycling education coordinator.  As my career has advanced, and my influence in libraries has increased, my efforts lately have moved to sustainable purchases in the library and minimizing waste production.   I have chosen to work in libraries because I recognize that the very foundation of sharing limited resources for all the public is sustainability in practice. A library’s goals align with my own.

As your Member-at-Large I hope to enrich SustainRT’s influence in ALA. I will encourage our ability to be a clearinghouse of information to the libraries we serve. Creative librarians are developing answers entrenched problems every day.  I hope that by sharing good ideas widely, our impact to the profession will increase, and our environment will be the better for it. I hope that we can join together to bring about a more sustainable future.

Thanks for your interest!

Meet Debby Emerson, Candidate for Member-at-Large (Two Year Term) of SustainRT!

Debby EmersonGreetings! My name is Debby Emerson and I am a candidate for a two-year term as Member-at-Large for SustainRT.

I was inspired to pursue this because of my involvement with the New York Library Association (NYLA) and its Sustainability Initiative. I’ve been an ALA member for many years, but other than attending annual conferences, I haven’t really been very engaged. I look at this as an opportunity to get involved, share information, and learn from other members of SustainRT.

In 2014, NYLA Council passed a Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries, recognizing the need to promote the role libraries can play in larger community conversations about resiliency, climate change and a sustainable future for the communities we serve. In the Fall of 2015, a select group of New York’s library leaders came together as Co-Creators to shape strategies to ensure our libraries remain vital, are able to rebound from disruption, and provide on-going value to the communities they serve. The Sustainability Initiative’s purpose statement is:

To create leadership and provide tools to mobilize libraries to think and act sustainably,

In a way that builds awareness and consensus while inspiring action by members of the library community to won their role as sustainability leaders in their communities,

So that communities thrive, bounce back from disruption and are infused with new and better life for everyone.

The group has divided into several working teams: Agents of Change, Benchmarking, Environmental Scan, Making the Case, and Roadmaps. I am part of the Benchmarking team and one of our tasks has been to come up with a list of existing benchmarks by which libraries can assess their sustainability. We specifically looked for existing standards rather than trying to “re-invent the wheel”. The teams have bi-monthly conference calls that keep all the Co-Creators informed about each other’s activities and progress on the initiative as a whole.

The NYLA Sustainability initiative has approached sustainability from the perspective of the Triple Bottom Line: In order for something (a product, policy, institution or community) to be truly sustainable it must meet three criteria: It must be socially equitable, economically feasible, and environmentally sound.

I am the current president of NYLA and I’m very excited to watch the Sustainability Initiative take shape. Each year the president picks a theme for the year and the annual NYLA Conference typically revolves around that theme.  I have selected “Strong. Strategic. Sustainable.” as my theme, with the idea that libraries are strong, strategic and sustainable, and we should also see our state professional association as strong, strategic and sustainable.

If elected, I look forward to this opportunity to serve ALA and to learn more about sustainability initiatives from a broader perspective. I will be happy to share information about our efforts in New York State, and grateful to learn from my colleagues in other parts of the country. I can assure you that I will be a contributing member of the group and will enthusiastically tackle whatever comes my way. I’m  happy to answer questions about the NYLA Sustainability Initiative and I invite people to contact me at

Meet Naomi Clewett, Candidate for Treasurer of SustainRT!

Greetings SustainRT members!

My name is Naomi Clewett and I am a candidate for SustainRT Treasurer. Over the past few years I have enjoyed participating in the SustainRT community virtually through the listserv. I’ve appreciated the great resources that have been shared, and have benefited from members’ helpful responses to my queries about establishing a monarch waystation at my library and seeking a healthier receipt paper option. (On that note, Appvion has product called “Alpha Free” that uses Vitamin C instead of BPA or BPS. The print is lighter than conventional thermal receipt paper, but if your community will tolerate that you might want to check it out.)

As a member of the nominating committee for this election cycle I was aware that no one had sought the role of Treasurer close to the deadline, so I put myself forward. I was pleased to discover that we have a great candidate in Lindsay Marlow.  I will be voting for Lindsay and urge you to as well!

Meet Amy Brunvand, Candidate for Coordinator Elect of SustainRT!

The amplification of our lives by technology grants us a power over the natural world which we can no longer afford to use.  In everything we do we must be mindful of the lives of others, cautions, constrained, meticulous. We may no longer live as if there were no tomorrow.   –George Monbiot

Amy BrunvandHi, my name is Amy Brunvand and I’m running for Coordinator Elect of SustainRT.

I’m an academic librarian at the University of Utah where I’m a government information specialist and the librarian liaison for programs in Environmental & Sustainability Studies and Environmental Humanities.  Like Art Dog, I lead a secret double life — Librarian by day, writer (and sometimes tango dancer) by night.

How did you become interested in libraries and sustainability?

Back in 1992 I read Bill McKibben’s The Age of Missing Information and wrote a largely un-read op-ed for Colorado Libraries magazine about preserving hyper-local information in the interest of what, at the time, was not yet called sustainability. I was also inspired by Wendell Berry’s ideas about the importance of place and the do-it-yourself ethos of “Whole Earth Review” (before it became obsessed with computer technology). To me, the essential link between libraries and sustainability is community engagement, and I recently co-authored an article about using government information to inform sustainability. Since 2001 I have written a monthly environmental news column for Catalyst magazine. My goal is to connect the dots between local issues, public policy and citizen groups. Through this writing I realized that the library is an ideal place to nurture ecologically literate, engaged citizenship, so a few years ago I jumped at an opportunity to change my liaison work from math/computer science to environment/sustainability studies.

What motivated you to run for Coordinator Elect of SustainRT?

Frankly, alternatives to sustainability are pretty scary. I feel a sense of urgency about the state of the world and I’d like an excuse to spend more time working on sustainability issues. There is a lot of synergy between the Big Ideas of Sustainability and the Core Values of Librarianship, and we librarians are in a great position to facilitate the transition to more sustainable and resilient future. Opportunities to promote sustainability exist in all areas of librarianship, not just green buildings. For instance, I’ve noticed that articles about whether eBooks or print books are more sustainable nearly always point out that borrowing library books is the most sustainable choice. Richard Louv suggests that libraries could be “naturebraries” that serve as hubs of bioregional knowledge. Another crucial role for libraries is enabling patrons to make a difference since change usually comes from the grassroots up; as Wendell Berry says, “The “leaders” will have to be led.”

How do you see the role of SustainRT?

SustainRT is the Jiminy Cricket of ALA, a little voice that keeps insisting sustainability is important. We are off to a great start and I’d like to keep the energy high. I hope we will develop our sense of community, maybe working with the Outreach Chair to host an online reading group, or a question-of-the-month discussion. Besides webinars and conference programs, SustainRT should be an incubator for practical ideas.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Sustainability can be fun!  Here’s an example of a student project I love: MovingU aims to reduce air pollution by encouraging alternative transportation choices.  As part of the project students gathered personal stories about air quality (I’m flattered that they picked a story I wrote). The library helped with information, tech support, promotion and archiving but students are the ones driving this project.


Amy Brunvand (1992) “Resource Sharing and the Importance of Place.” Colorado Libraries, 18 (2), pp. 22-24.

Amy Brunvand & Ambra Gagliardi(2015) “Sustainability, Relocalization, Citizen Activism and Government Information.”  Dttp: Documents to the People, 43(2), pp..10-13.

Richard Louv (2008) Last child in the woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

George Monbiot (2014) Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life.

Bill McKibben (1992) The Age of Missing Information.

ALA Elections!

ALA elections are open through April 22nd, and SustainRT has the following candidates:

Coordinator Elect:

  • Jodi Shaw – Children’s Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library
  • Amy Brunvand – Librarian, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Member-at-Large (One Year Term):

  • Amanda Sue Avery – Outreach & Assessment Librarian, Marywood University
  • Rebekkah Smith Aldrich – Coordinator for Library Sustainability, Mid-Hudson Library System
  • Kylie Tamar Bailin – Director of Outreach and Access Services, Lafayette College
  • Laura Barnes – Sustainability Information Curator, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center
  • Tara Lingg – Librarian, Half Hollow Hills Community Library
  • Janice Williams – Adult Services Librarian, Coquitlam Public Library
  • Margaret Dagny Palmer Woodruff – Director, Charlotte Library

Member-at-Large (Two Year Term):

  • Deborah Emerson – Executive Director, Central NY Library Resources Council
  • Mary Beth Lock – Director of Access Services, Wake Forest University


  • Lindsay L. Marlow – Science Librarian, University of South Dakota
  • Naomi Renee Clewett – Circulation Supervisor, Village Branch Library,  Lexington Public Library


  • Kate Hutchens, Reader and Reference Services Librarian, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library)

Check the blog during the next few weeks to see posts from our candidates and learn more about them!