History of SustainRT

Would you like to know more about the history of SustainRT?  Here are some useful sources of information:

SustainRT History URL: http://www.ala.org/rt/sustainrt/sustainrt-history

Abstract: The ALA Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) morphed out of ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table’s Task Force on the Environment (TFOE) during “Libraries for Sustainability,” a four-part series of free webinars offered in 2012. New leaders emerged from our virtual “grass roots” to form an interim steering committee. The next step was gathering 100 signatures for the petition to create SustainRT. More than 100 were gathered. At Midwinter 2013, SRRT leadership gave us their blessing as such, and approval of the Round Table at ALA Council was swift.

Libraries for Sustainability: a Four Part Webinar Series.  Facilitators: Madeleine Charney, Bonnie J. Smith, Beth Filar-Williams.   URL: https://greeningyourlibrary.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/libraries-for-sustainability-a-four-part-webinar-series/


“A Call to Action” – Part 1 of Webinar Series “Libraries for Sustainability” February 28, 2012.

“Exploring Sustainability Practices in Libraries” – Part 2 of Webinar Series “Libraries for Sustainability” April 24, 2012.

“Engagement in Professional Library Organizations” – Part 3 of Webinar Series “Libraries for Sustainability” June 12, 2012.

“Exploring More Sustainability Practices in Libraries” – Part 4 of Webinar Series “Libraries for Sustainability” August 28, 2012.

[Journal Article]
Williams, Beth Filar, Madeleine Charney, and Bonnie Smith. “Growing our vision together: forming a sustainability community within the American Library Association.” Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 11, no. 2 (2015). URL: http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1044&context=librarian_pubs

Abstract: In 2014, after two years of focused research and promotion, the American Library Association (ALA) approved a new group, the Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT). This article describes how library advocates built SustainRT over the years and gained momentum with a pivotal webinar series. Clear signs of SustainRT’s early success are a testimony to the critical need for a sustainability-related Community of Practice (CoP). The article shows how the steps taken to achieve this national group’s standing can serve as a model for fostering dialogue and collaboration (often through virtual means) that allows for wide participation.

Charney, Madeleine and Smith, Bonnie and Filar Williams, Beth (2016) Growing our Vision Together: A Sustainability Community within the American Library Association. Poster presented at: IFLA WLIC 2016 – Columbus, OH – Connections. Collaboration. Community in Session 101 – Poster Sessions.  URL: http://library.ifla.org/1539/

Abstract: This poster reports on the formation of the American Library Association (ALA) Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) in 2013, the result of an urgent call to action for a unified effort to address the new millennium’s environmental, economic and social sustainability challenges within the library profession in the United States and Canada. This poster identifies the technologies, processes, roles and other factors that led to the founding of SustainRT, as well as providing a vision for the future based on its participatory and inclusive structure.


  • SustainRT Annual Report 2016-2017
  • ALA Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries (2015)
  • ALA Task force on Sustainability (2015).
    The formation of the ALA Task Force on Sustainability is a direct outgrowth of the 2015 resolution introduced by SustainRT and co-chaired by SustainRT’s Immediate Past Coordinator, Rene Tanner and Chair of the Governance Committee, Rebekkah Smith Aldrich.  The Task Force is charged to develop a white paper that describes areas of focus and recommendations for the ALA Executive Board to increase the adoption and implementation of
    sustainable practices by the Association, the profession, libraries and the
    communities they serve. Timeline: Interim report to the ALA Executive Board, 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting, Denver; Final report to the ALA Executive Board, 2018 ALA Annual Conference, New Orleans

American Libraries Blog Series on Sustainability in Libraries

Beginning in April 2017, “American Libraries” magazine has been publishing an excellent series of online articles on the theme Sustainability in Libraries.

Take a look at the thought provoking articles that have been published so far in this series: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/tag/sustainability-in-libraries/



Sowing Seeds of Innovation in Opelika

I absolutely cannot grow anything.  My list of casualties include hostas (I blame the deer), red shamrock (it froze outside, but in a beautiful planter), rosemary (never even had a green shoot), tulips (I dug the bulbs up accidentally), African violets (who knows what I did wrong), and a cactus (over-watering). When I said I wanted to start a seed library, my coworkers were justifiably skeptical.

The idea was planted like most are: a patron had asked if our library, Lewis Cooper, Jr. Memorial Library in Opelika, Alabama, had a seed library and in the same week I had seen a flier for the local community garden, O Grows Community Garden. Initially, my only goals were to provide a risk-free way for our community to participate and a new avenue for adult programming. I did some digging to find the person behind the community garden and found Dr. Sean Forbes. Dr. Forbes was gracious enough to meet with me and Laurie Hackney, our Reference Librarian. He told us about his exciting work with Opelika Grows through Auburn University. He had already partnered with several area elementary schools and Opelika Middle School to get kids outside and in the dirt. There was an existing seed library through Auburn University and Dr. Forbes scheduled a meeting to get all the key players together.

Through that meeting, I was fortunate to meet Patricia Hartman, a Librarian at Auburn University. We talked about the Auburn University Seed Library and discussed how I could get started in Opelika. Ideally, I would have seeds saved from locally grown plants with a focus on heirloom edible and flowering plants and native plants. That is what we are continuing to work towards, but we started with a seed donation from Seed Savers Exchange. For the cost of shipping, we were able to get a large quantity of seeds to kick start the seed library in Opelika.

My goals for the seed library are still simple: provide a low-cost way for people to try growing something, provide a mechanism to sustain the rich vegetation heritage of our local plants, provide a resource for the community to get involved with the agricultural community that surrounds us, and open up a new avenue for adult programming.

As part of my 2017 program planning, I reached out to Pat Giordano, a member of the Lee County Master Gardeners whom I met through the initial meeting with Dr. Forbes and Ms. Hartman. Because my gardening knowledge is slim, I invited her to come to Cooper Library and help me evaluate our item selection on gardening. She was delighted to help and I was delighted to learn that we had almost everything on her essential reading list. We also discussed a program series to introduce people to gardening and once we get closer to preparation and planting time, we will begin to offer a range of introductory-level gardening classes in partnership with the Master Gardeners.

Other types of outreach and partnerships in our first year included:

  • Visiting area nurseries to let them know who we are, what we are doing, and to let them know we want to increase the amount of people interested in planting and growing who will eventually need to use their services. We absolutely are not trying to steal business from anyone and we want to make sure any fears to that end are eased.
  • Having a table at the weekly farmers market to educate the community about our existence and to increase participation on our mailing list.
  • Attending area agricultural events. My favorite was the Waverly Tomato Showdown. They have live music, an all you can eat BLT bar, and a contest for the best tomatoes. We were able to save seeds from the award winning tomatoes that are proven to grow in our area. It was also a fantastic way to get the word out about our seed library and educate the community about seed saving.
  • Using the resources available through Auburn University Extension Services (http://www.aces.edu/main/) to offer things like planting calendars and other info about gardening. It is also a way for our library to help the community know about their services.

Our seed library is in an old, small, four-drawer card catalog cabinet. We have the seeds sorted into three of the drawers: flowering plants, herbs, and fruits/vegetables. The fourth drawer contains empty envelopes and instructions for leaving donations. At this time, none of our seeds are in the digital catalog, but I plan on adding them before Spring of this year. Our set up is not fancy, and we were able to use existing materials and equipment to keep the investment to a minimum. So far, I’ve spent $5 to make this happen. We have had a lot of interest from the community and I anticipate 2017 is going to be a great year!

If you are interested in starting a seed library, I would recommend:

  • See if anyone else in your area is already doing it and try to work out a partnership. My connection with Patricia Hartman at Auburn University has been invaluable and given me access to educational resources I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.  
  • Don’t worry about making it perfect! It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good and to serve your community.
  • If you are like me and have a black thumb, find someone to be your guru. Your local Master Gardeners will be an excellent resource and I’m sure they want to help you get more people involved with gardening.
  • Look around your library for places you can grow things. We have two planters out front that are currently empty, but we will be planting easy herbs in them come Spring.
  • If it is slow to start, don’t worry! New things take time to catch hold.

Submitted by Rosanna McGinnis

Rosanna McGinnis received her MLIS in 2010 from the University of Alabama. Her professional career started with the United States Marine Corps Libraries as the Acquisitions Librarian in Okinawa, Japan. She then transferred to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California as the Library Director. In January 2016 she made the jump to public libraries as the Director for the Lewis Cooper, Jr. Memorial Library in Opelika, Alabama. She is hopeful that 2017 will be the year she manages to successfully grow something. You can follow her on Twitter @RosannaMcGinnis or email her at rmcginnis at opelika-al.gov.

Re-Localizing the Academic Library: Comments on an essay by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich’s recent essay,  “Local Supports Local Sustainability,” (Library Journal, July 11, 2016 http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/07/lj-in-print/local-supports-local-sustainability/ ) offers an idea that I believe is essential not only for the future of libraries, but more generally for a systemic transition to sustainable, resilient communities.  Aldrich writes,

“As we strategize about our unique value position for the future, nothing is more unique than our “local.” Each town, campus, and school that has a library has a culture and physical environment of its own that needs to be nurtured, preserved, and celebrated.”

It strikes me, though, that library re-localization is not going to happen without a fight. In academic libraries, at least, the responsibility for “local” is almost entirely confined to Special Collections, and discussion about the Future of Libraries is dominated by a kind of technological futurism that is distinctly anti-local.

Academic librarians, accustomed to thinking of libraries mainly as repositories of global scholarship and research, have been slow to grasp the importance of re-localization.  The hot trends are all towards better access to conventionally published academic books and journals,  e.g. bundled journal subscriptions, approval plans, eBook collections, patron-driven purchasing, and digitization. As H. Thomas Hickerson sums it up,  “Most of our collections funding is devoted to licensing electronic publications, and most of those publications are academic journals.  And most of what we buy is being bought by everyone.”  

This de-valuing of unique local knowledge stems from an academic culture that generally treats scholars and scholarship as placeless. But in his classic “Becoming Native to this Place,” Wes Jackson argues that this placelessness does a disservice to students.

To a large extent, this book is a challenge to the universities to stop and think what they are doing with the young men and women they are supposed to be preparing for the future. The universities now offer only one serious major; upward mobility. Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a “homecoming” major.

The problem, of course, is not that globalized, online information is bad (In Orion Magazines “Thirty-Year Plan” at least one author mentions global access to information as essential for sustainability).  The problem is that a steady diet of  globalized information without  local and hyper-local information is dangerously incomplete. The Internet is great at spreading globalized information, but Robert Michael Pyle calls the current moment in history a “Dark Age of place-centered knowledge,” and Bill McKibben describes the local information gap in “The Age of Missing Information,” where he addresses the question:  In a globalized world, how do we learn about the places where we actually live?  

The LibQual+ Survey used by many academic libraries measures three dimensions: Affect of Service, Information Control and Library as Place. However, in the survey, questions about “place” are limited to physical facilities, lighting, cleanliness and such. It seems to me that the LibQual+  understanding of place is far too reductive. What if Academic Librarians stopped thinking of libraries as  information access points in glorified study halls and started from a premise that  the academic library is integral to the place-based identity of the whole campus?  What would it take for academic libraries to truly foster resilient community within the constantly shifting flow of scholars and students?  In any case, I believe that if we academic librarians understood the true relation between library and place, we would be using an evaluation metric that incuded local information as part of the equation.

Aldrich leaves us with this challenge:

Libraries need to be part of the localism movement in bigger and more obvious ways.

Yes we do.  Let’s get to work.


Hickerson, H. Thomas. “Rebalancing the Investment in Collections.” Research Library Issues: A Bimonthly Report from ARL, CNI, and SPARC, no. 277 (December 2011): 1–8. http://publications.arl.org/rli277/

Jackson, Wes. Becoming Native to this Place. University Press of Kentucky, 1993, p.3.

Lyons, Charles. “The library: A distinct local voice?.” First Monday 12, no. 3 (2007).

McKibben, Bill. The age of missing information.  Random House, 1992.

Pyle, Robert Michael. “No child left inside: nature study as a radical act” in Place-based education in the global age.   Gruenewald, David A. and Smith, Gegory A. eds. New York, Londaon: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, p.155-172.  

Thirty Year Plan: An Orion Reader.  Orion Magazine. 2012.

Submitted by Amy Brunvard

Amy Brunvand