On Hope, Civilization, and Walking Blind

If like me, you are hovering in the dark spaces between Kubler Ross’s bargaining, depression and acceptance, there is some comfort to be had in the words of Elizabeth West, in Abandon All Hope!. West boldly implores us to “abandon all hope that we can make things ‘right’ and give up the fear of what happens next.” I think I have the former part down; it’s the latter I am having trouble with.

There is not one single bolt, nut, knob or straw comprising the foundation of my day-to-day existence that does not depend upon the (collective) assumption that the future will resemble –for the most part– the present.

Many of us in the industrialized world take for granted that we will continue to enjoy all the current “conveniences” civilization offers us. Things like education, health care, prescription drugs, supermarkets, paved roads, phones, cars, buses, email, houses, etc. We assume a continuous, shared belief and agreement in such concepts as law, justice and order, amongst others. At the very least, we assume the basics: food, water, air. Each other. And we march onward, as if.

This assumption is in direct conflict with a dark undercurrent of fear that doggedly gnaws at me daily; I know very well the future does not look like the present.

But because I don’t know what the future will look like, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to prepare, how to get ready, how to survive. I don’t even know if survival is possible. And this not knowing– this is makes me most afraid.

If only we knew what it was to be. Will it be the guillotine or will it be prolonged suffering in a torture chamber of disease and unspeakable violence? Will we starve? Will there be animals? Will there be water? Will there be radiation sickness? Will we be alone? Will we have tribes? Will our children die in front of us? Will we die in front of our children?

All I know is all roads lead to a hard geography, a reality of scope and dimension we cannot fathom. We are truly the walking blind.

Lack of hope is an ugly thing. Surely denial would be better, “a form of fearing and avoiding the truth [that] keeps us from cracking up, giving up. It stands between us and the unbearable.” But once the curtain has been pulled back, once a sightline to the “little man behind the curtain, pulling strings” has been established, returning to the false safety of denial is impossible. It is no stretch to say that the current state of xenophobia racking our world, one in which those seeking refuge from domiciles which do not enjoy the same benefits of civilization that we do are denied entry into ours, whether by walls or by ideology, is an obvious effort to maintain the false safety of denial.

The knowledge that immigration policy means nothing in a world that depends upon civilization for the word “policy” to have meaning, the knowledge that no matter what we do, we will not achieve “long-term security and comfort… economic or racial justice or equality, [we] will not stop the ice sheets from melting or the radioactive Fukushima-spiked water flowing into the sea” is a hard one.

If you feel this way, know that I am with you. Know that like you, I go on pretending. I get up in the morning. I go to work. I put money into my retirement account. I fix up my house. I send and receive emails. I march against injustice. I go to conferences. I write. I worry. And slowly, with the help of a few others, whose bravery and kindness I cannot even begin to convey in words, I grieve. I turn, and I gaze full into the unknown face of the future – I feel, quite palpably, the knowledge that human extinction is a very real and probable outcome. And I hope, as I grieve, I can let go of a “desired end” and “the fear which accompanies any threat to it.”

By releasing all “attempts to control something which is no longer in our hands” I hope to feel the “liberating boldness, permission to live without attachment to outcomes.”

In other words: acceptance.

I am not quite there yet. I am guessing few of us are. In the meantime, we still have each other.

If you are interested in possibly joining me (and others) in an unrecorded, virtual discussion about the existential threats we face, get in touch. My email is jodishaw at mac dot com

And don’t forget you can respond publicly to this post in the comments field.


Jodi Shaw is a librarian and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the Coordinator of the ALA Sustainability Round Table. 

Libraries, Development and the United Nations 2030 Agenda

Video: ALA Sustainability Round Table and UN 2030 (7:31, 2017)

Libraries, Development and the United Nations 2030 Agenda (IFLA)

IFLA 2015Libraries have been recognized as key institutions for achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Access to Information: Target 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.” (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development)

Culture, Information & Communication Technology:
Half of the world’s population lacks access to information online. In our knowledge society, libraries provide access and opportunity for all.” (Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development)

Development and Access to Information

Universal Literacy: We envision…a world with universal literacy.” (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development)

Toolkit: Libraries, Development and the United Nations 2030 Agenda (Revised version – August 2017)

IFLA Statement on Libraries and Development (August 2013)













Cup-by-Cup Redux

The old ALA Task Force on the Environment (TFOE) promoted “Cup-by-Cup” event at the 2008 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. Monika Antonelli, Elaine Harger, Al Kagan, and I (others may have been present) lamented that far too many empty hot and cold beverage cups and plastic water bottles were scattered all over the floors, shelves, and tables at the 2007 Annual Meeting. Someone got the brilliant idea that TFOE should actively support an informal event making a statement that would draw attention to the task force’s mission and encourage ALA Members a means to reduce their carbon footprints while attending an ALA Conference, and “Cup-by-Cup” was launched.

It is time not only to bring “Cup-by-Cup” back to ALA Meetings (including division and chapter meetings), but make it a permanent fixture at these events, and perhaps contemplate ways to expand the concept. In essence, this campaign provides one (or more) ways showing ALA Members how to make simple lifestyle changes that provide more sustainable conferences, protect the health of Earth, and provide examples for solving an upcoming climate crisis.

Here is what you can do:

  1. Bring a reusable cup, mug, and/or water bottle to the Midwinter Meeting;
  2. Fill it with a favorite beverage(s) at the ALA event (You CANNOT bring a full water bottle on to an airplane);
  3. Raise your cups, mugs, and bottles with pride that you are taking small steps in combating a variety of environmental issues, including climate change while overtly promoting the concept of sustainability, that helps our planet;
  4. Drink happily, repeat throughout the entire event and support the efforts of SustainRT in making a more sustainable ALA event; and
  5. Do and promote this at other library association meetings you attend, including other ALA Chapter and Division National and Regional Meetings.

International Paper estimated that in 2005 Americans used more than 14 BILLION disposable paper cups just for hot beverages. TFOE estimated in 2008 if only 50 Starbucks quaffers brought their own mugs, more than 150,000 paper cups (equaling 1.7 million pounds of paper and 3.7 million pounds of solid waste in production of these cups) would be spared.

Going One More Step

Americans throw out enough plastic dinner-ware to circle the equator 300 times! Instead of throwing those knives, spoons, and forks into the garbage consider bringing or carrying your own. Here is what To-Go Ware has to say about RePEatT Utensils: “How about a bamboo utensil set to round out the perfect toolkit for life on the go? A handy carabineer on the back lets you clip and carry a fork, knife, spoon and chopsticks wherever they may roam. Perfect for a busy lifestyle and our precious planet.” Their line of bamboo flatware & chopsticks provide utensils that are heat and stain resistant, won’t impart or absorb flavors, are lightweight and strong (durability is one of the keys to green products), and they are hand-finished with top grade natural and food-safe wood oil. For more information, visit their website, www.to-goware.com. To-Go Ware is a company with a rock-solid commitment to social responsibilities (environment, labor, human rights, justice, and more), which are impressive and described in great detail in their mission statement. To-Go Ware is approved by Green America and shown on The Oprah Winfrey Show and is Big Tree Carbon Committed.

Other Bamboo & Eco-Friendly Dinnerware and Other Products

  • Bamboo Studio – we are using the strength, beauty, renewability, and versatility of bamboo to offer an ever widening array of products.
  • BambooWare – “Our reusable BambooWare product line is a revolutionary dishware that is eco-friendly, biodegradable, beautiful and durable.”
  • Paperless Kitchen was founded to help individuals, households, businesses and organizations adopt greener lifestyles and philosophies by offering alternatives to disposable kitchen products.”
  • Smarty Had a Party – “Serve it up with attitude! Then send it back – to be renewed.”

Submitted by Frederick Stoss

Disclaimer: SustainRT has not vetted the products or companies mentioned in this post.

Sustainability in Action

Even the smallest actions make a huge difference in fostering a culture that embraces sustainability. The High Plains Library District (HPLD), serving most of Weld County CO, understands how libraries can be leaders in sustainability by setting a good example for other business to embrace ideas and opportunities that help reduce consumption of resources and move our community to be more equitable, healthy and economically viable.

The High Plains Library District minimizes its impact on the environment by making efforts to reduce consumption of resources, use resources more wisely, and provide the community with information and opportunities to do the same. Here’s how the HPLD is leading by example:

Solar Panels

Solar Panels have been installed on the roofs of 2 libraries in the District, Centennial Park and Farr Libraries. The solar panels will provide almost 20% of each building’s electrical consumption yet did not require the HPLD to invest any capital in the project. Instead, a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) was utilized which is possible with Xcel Energy’s rebate program for renewable energy and a 20-year contract with SolarCity, a leading solar power and energy efficiency service provider with operations centers in Denver and Parker. SolarCity installs, owns, and maintains the panels while HPLD buys the electricity for the same or lower cost than traditional power plant generated electricity.

View each library’s energy consumption and solar production:

Electric Vehicle Charging Station

The Farr Regional Library (1939 61st Ave. in Greeley) features an Eaton Level 1/Level 2 charging station that is enabled with a Chargepoint interface. The Riverside Library and Cultural Center (3700 Golden Street in Evans) features a Level II charger.  Chargepoint will allow users to charge their credit cards ($1 per hour) for payment, and provide technical support for end users. Set up an account at www.chargepoint.com for easy access to the EV charging stations.

Green Buildings

Our facilities are environmentally responsible and resource efficient in design, construction, operation, maintenance, and renovation. A multi-branch project to reduce energy consumption and improve occupant comfort resulted in a reduction of more than 1.2 million pounds of CO2 emissions which is the equivalent of removing 115 cars from our roads or powering 50 homes for a year.

Green Team

Employees with an interest in environmental sustainability are encouraged to be part of the HPLD’s Green Team. The Green Team meets regularly to discuss and implement ideas that support the District’s Sustainability Statement. Because the Green Team is internally driven, we are able to realize green initiatives that matter to our employees.

Sometimes it’s the small things that have a big impact on our environment. We understand that even small initiatives can make a big difference, so we also provide the public with a way to recycle household batteries and unwanted books. Our libraries also feature bicycle repair stations to encourage using an alternative mode of transportation to our locations.

Contributor Eric Ewing is the Director of Human Resources & Facilities at High Plains Library District.

Green Library Resources

Raising patrons’ awareness of green issues goes further than setting an example. Sometimes patrons come to us specifically seeking information about green living, but many patrons who come across a life-changing piece of information in a library foyer or at a service desk might not have previously been looking to have their minds changed. Luckily, there are many resources available out there for libraries who want to get environmental issues into their patrons’ hands and heads. The printable brochures and fact sheets on these sites may use paper and power now, but by raising awareness, they’ll save ten times what they expend in the future!

If everyone on Earth lived like you, how many Earths would humanity need to sustain itself? This is where to find out! Less famously, the Footprint Network has some great brochures available to print and pass out to patrons. But if you need a good way to bring home the impact of individual choices on the environment, especially for an Earth Day or awareness program, this is a great way to do that.

Among the most polished purveyors of printable material on the web, 350.org has some beautiful and well-engineered fact sheets that will catch your patrons’ eyes and lead to enlightening discussions. The rest of the site is useful, too, and includes several ways to volunteer with the activist organization.

Light pollution constitutes a double-whammy: not only do bright lights burn fuel, but light pollution destroys the darkness that is so vital to the life and daily cycles of wild animals. The printables on DarkSky.org both raise awareness and offer strategies for saving the skies, and by extension, burning fewer fossil fuels.

As any children’s librarian will tell you, don’t mess with the moms! This clean air group offers an extensive library of printable fact sheets and online resources. Specific topics range from indoor air quality and asthma in the Latino community to ocean acidification. Be aware that many of the graphics on this site are large and take a long time to load!

Dr. Pop is a website committed to online education. In 2010, several UCLA scholars created and contributed some lovely fact sheets and a very snazzy printable brochure dedicated to constructing a greener economy. While much of the information they produced is specific to Los Angeles, the brochure could be used as is by almost any library.

As you might expect, the USDE’s website is a goldmine of online information. But what about printables? Though there are no brochures, the department’s Energy Saver Guide is available for free here in both English and Spanish. Download, print and catalog to use less paper, or loan it as a Kindle-ready ebook! Either way, it’s a handy guide and one of the most useful resources of its kind on the Web.

-Submitted by Anna Call

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

How can you help your library customers breathe easier?

Equitable access to resources is an issue that affects the sustainability of our communities.  Access to vital resources, such as clean air and water, should be a basic right, but as recent events have demonstrated, is not always guaranteed.  In low-income and affluent communities alike, air quality can have an enormous impact on our health and quality of life. Perhaps you’ve noticed the effects of pollution and poor air quality in your community, and have wondered how your library can help.  But, have you thought about the quality of the air in your customers’ homes? For some library users, air quality in the home is a real concern, while others may not have ever thought deeply about the issue, but have experienced the effects of breathing toxins in daily while in their homes. And, if they have thought about the problem, some library customers may not know how they can accurately measure the air quality in their homes, or may lack the funds to hire a service or to purchase the equipment to do so.  To give individuals a way to address this problem, researchers from the CREATE Lab at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute developed a portable in-home sensor, the Speck monitor, that can determine indoor air quality by measuring the particles released in homes from household cleaners, pesticides, building materials, and more. The Speck monitor is now produced by Airviz Inc. (a spinoff of the CREATE Lab), and is manufactured under a license from Carnegie Mellon University.  In recogniztion of the fact that many of those who suffer most from the effects of poor indoor air-quality have low incomes, Airviz Inc. has developed a program to help bring the Speck technology to those who can’t afford to purchase their own.  To do so, Airviz Inc. is partnering with 100 public libraries to offer three devices to each, provided that the libraries will agree to circulate the Speck monitors in their communities.  To find out more about the Speck monitors, click here.  To find out more about the National Speck Library Program, and to fill out an application, click here.

Have you heard of another great program related to equity and sustainability? Add a comment below to share this information with the SustainRT community!

Posted by Christina J. J. Gangwisch

Ebsco Information Services Offers Solar Grant

If your library is looking for a way to reduce the cost of utilities, and become more sustainable, check out the new Go Solar grant from Ebsco Information Services!  Ebsco’s Go Solar grant program will fund up to $150,000 for one or more libraries to install solar panels.  Interested libraries are invited to submit questions to Ebsco about the program up until February 29th.  Grant applications are due by April 29th.  The winner(s) will be announced on June 24th, 2016 at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando.  

Ebsco is committed to Corporate Social Responsibility, and gives 5% of its pre-tax revenue to charity.  Ebsco was inspired to initiate the Go Solar program as a result of its own use of solar panels, the first of which were installed in at the Ipswich, Massachusetts campus in 2007. To help minimize its impact on the environment, and build a more sustainable community, Ebsco also provides employees with electric vehicle charging stations free of charge, replaced its fleet of gasoline-powered company cars with hybrids, uses 100% recycled paper products, and has a certified Green Cafeteria.  For more information about Ebsco’s green initiatives, click here