Liaison Perspectives on Sustainability

Blog Post by Kristen Mastel

The concept of sustainability is gaining ground within the library community, as we have seen with the adoption of “sustainability” as a core value of librarianship this past year. While this is a great start to bring this to the forefront of our profession, we need to ask what are we working towards, not just simply working on regarding sustainability in our libraries, community, and beyond.

As the liaison to the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, I have seen how they have crafted a strategic plan with a mission of both people and planet prospering together. This aligns with the concept of the triple bottom line “where organizations must be economically prosperous, promote environmental quality, and be champions of social justice in order to be sustainable,” according to John Elkington. How could libraries work together towards this goal?

As an outreach and instruction librarian, I will highlight some of the efforts we have undertaken at my institution, as I work on programmatic outreach planning rather than merely a collection of activities related to sustainability.

Since the beginning, libraries have implicitly had sustainability as a core value – if we look at one of our main services is to circulate books and materials to the public. In addition to providing books at pop-up libraries at our campus and community farmers’ markets, we also table and provide activities, such as button making with discarded magazines, at various sustainability programs and events. These efforts not only increase awareness of the Libraries resources and services but serve as an environmental model of reuse and repurpose.

A core area where our university is trying to foster change is around social justice issues related to food systems. The library is a key partner with faculty focused around food access and food desert research as we provide in-depth research assistance through research sprints. In addition, the Libraries are a central player in reducing student costs by finding open educational resources and library-licensed materials for course readings. Another core outreach effort is to review the STARS report, which gives great insight into courses that discuss sustainability and support resources for outreach.

At a micro-level, we acknowledge that our student workers are often forced to make difficult choices with their finances, such as either purchasing a textbook or healthy eating. However, we recognize we can do more by addressing living wage issues as well. We want to empower our students and staff to support their own health by growing their own food. We have six circulating gardening kits and provide seeds at the campus garden plot lottery. These coordinated efforts ensure that the library is viewed as a central player in the community around sustainability. Therefore, the library can be a safe space where complex discussions around climate change can happen, as the campus works to balance corporate financial support and sustainability and tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in order to ensure that people and the planet can prosper together.

Use Data to Empower Your Community

Travel Award Runner up submission post!

Use Data to Empower Your Community by Mary Bakija

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.

Mary Bakija is an MLIS student at Pratt Institute, where she also serves as the President of the school’s ALA student chapter. This fall, she will begin a fellowship at the Frick Art Reference Library working with the web archiving team for the New York Art Resources Consortium.

SustainRT Travel Award Winner 2019

SustainRT Travel Award Winner 2019

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.

My Semester with SustainRT: Serendipity, Hard Work, & a New Perspective

Post by Dani Scott, ALA SustainRT Intern 2019

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.