Conference Report: Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene

May 13-14, NYU
By Amy Brunvand

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work. –Wendell Berry

At the recent Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene Colloquium held at New York University (LAAC17 for short), Hurricane Sandy was on the minds of many Librarians. They weren’t just worried about how to protect valuable collections from rising sea levels, they were also developing ideas about how libraries could help people in disaster zones. If the library-of-the-future is a community center, the thinking went, then librarians need to think long and hard about how to serve communities caught in the crisis of global climate change.

The “Anthropocene,” in case you aren’t up on geological technical jargon, refers to a global layer of sediment deposited by human activity, a deep-time marker of what Elizabeth Kolbert calls “The Sixth Extinction” (2014). The idea has become a potent metaphor for a world where human beings are a geological force of deposition and erosion, though let’s be clear, human influence doesn’t put people in the driver’s seat. The reason we need a concept like sustainability is because the terrifying alternative is systems collapse.

So the experience of attending LAAC17 was a little bit like combining a librarians’ conference with a speculative science fiction novel. In fact, the keynote delivered by Roy Scranton cited various works of science fiction in order to consider possible Anthropocene futures. Scranton is the author of “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization” (2015), which I have not yet read, but it’s going straight to the top of my list.

Library collections are also metaphors for the Anthropocene as librarians struggle to both preserve information about a vanishing past and to support generation of new knowledge to cope with an uncertain future. The fragility of the electrical grid is worrisome, and yet a large-scale digital library like  Hathi Trust is packed with information about pre-digital, regionally appropriate ways of doing things. Rick Prelinger, curator of the eponymous Prelinger Library, sparked discussion with his talk on Collecting Strategies for the Anthropocene. “We exist to oppose presentism,” he said, noting that “appraisal decisions often look short-sighted a few years after they are made.” But he added that social action often results from erasures that we hope to repair.

Social action was the theme of Saturday’s field trip to the Interference Archive, an open stacks collection in Brooklyn that holds materials created by people working for social transformation in order to encourage creative engagement with history and current struggles. The website notes, “We consider the use of our collection to be a way of preserving and honoring histories and material culture that is often marginalized in mainstream institutions. All members of our community are welcome and encouraged to shape our collection and programming.” Perhaps other archives could adopt this kind of community-driven mission.

Still, there must be a balance between access and preservation.  Recently librarians like Laurie Allen have been involved in data rescue, rushing to save U.S. government data on climate change before it is “disappeared” by the Trump administration. Nonetheless, public involvement can nudge policy in the right direction and law librarian Sarah Lamdan discussed ways to help people access environmental information from government sources and take advantage of legally required public comment periods.

Resilience and adaptation are two concepts deeply connected to a sense of place, and scholars in the Environmental Humanities are breaking new ground in our understanding of what it means to live in place.  Indeed, many of the presentations on place-based themes crossed the boundary from librarianship to art.  The Next Epoch Seed Library documents weedy urban lots; the trees needed to print Future Library 2114 have only just been planted;  The Library of Approximate Locations examines our relationships to natural resources; and GHG.EARH makes the sound of climate change.

And of course, there are the traditional library responses of programming, collections, displays, and reference help to connect people with essential information.  At coffee breaks and over dinner I heard many participants say how relieved they felt to be among like-minded people. A dominant story of the future of libraries has been about consolidation, deaccessioning and the rise of big, shiny technology (one group of presenters got a big laugh by deriding a list of buzzwords from the Center for the Future of Libraries as a “library conference bingo”).  But at LAAC17 the core question was, what it would mean to if we truly believe that libraries are symptoms of democracy and civilization? Amanda Avery suggested “steampunk” as a word to describe the fusion of high/low tech that defines libraries for the Anthropocene. Robots? How about people. Digital natives?  How about indigenous knowledge. Maker movement? How about re-skilling. Gamification? How about writing your own story. Anonymity? How about community.

Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene: A Colloquium was hosted by projectARCC and Litwin Books, LLC at NYU, May 13-14, 2017.  Many thanks to the planning committee: Casey E. Davis Kaufman, Madeleine Charney and Rory Litwin.  The event was live-streamed, and presentations are available to view online at

Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne – Candidate for PLA President

Me, enjoying Yosemite in 2016.

Working at the City of Palo Alto, where we have an Office of Sustainability (, means that our business activities and programs and entire orientation includes ways to make our libraries more sustainable. In fact, we are a partner with other city departments and the community in all types of efforts, including the Cool Smart Cities project. Three of the five library branches have achieved LEED status (2 silver, 1 platinum) and others have been renovated to highlight ways that the buildings have added “green” factors. I’ve spoken about our building development and planning in conferences and webinars, describing how we continue to build on the education possibilities and community education and our LEED platinum rated building has a collection and education focus on green building practices.

Why do I mention this about my workplace? For me, sustainability has become an internal and external value, part of who we all are as library workers, as green leaders, and as part of our communities. Libraries are the ultimate tool for sustainability – not only can we educate our communities and model sustainable practices, as we incorporate these practices into our daily work, we become ambassadors. I know that this carries itself forward into how I approach problem solving, strategy development, and resource allocation. This is true not only for my daily work, but my participation in PLA. I feel that this is an area that continues to grow and one where PLA can position to be a leader.

More than this, sustainability is about how public libraries can continue to function as the vital community education and workforce resource they are. In most communities, the public library offers a neutral space for pursuing truth and making citizenship in all its forms available. PLA will continue to emphasize the value this brings to communities and, with my background and experience, will ensure that sustainability is just as much a part of the culture as it is where I work every day. I encourage you to do the same – participate in the election and make your priorities known.

Thank you for your work and your dedication to this important issue. I welcome any comments or questions!

The Mitchell Park Library & Community Center, the LEED Platinum and Library Journal Landmark Library opened in 2014.




Susan Conlon – Candidate for Member-at-Large

Dear SustainRT Members,

My name is Susan Conlon and I am candidate for Member-at-Large of SustainRT, and I hope you will consider electing me to this position. It would be my honor to serve to make a contribution to its core objective to “exchange ideas and opportunities regarding sustainability in order to move toward a more equitable, healthy and economically viable society.”

First and foremost professionally I am the Head of Youth Services at the Princeton Public Library in New Jersey and I love my job. It’s a welcoming and shared public space connecting a diverse, international and vibrant small university town with a place for people of all ages to gather, explore, learn, and play.

Combining my passions – being an advocate for social and youth justice, film fanatic and promoter of sustainability for the planet – with the opportunity to work in an organization that values collaboration between departments and thinking outside the box, I founded the Princeton Environmental Film Festival in 2003, and I’ve have been leading it since. It has grown to become one of the library’s signature annual programs and its commitment to advancing environmental literacy.

Creating and renewing the festival each year illustrates why I think I’d be a good addition to SustainRT as a Member-at-Large. I have a proven track record of working with people, engaging and involving the community, and identifying, imagining, and implementing a unique way for libraries to be vital institutional leaders in environmental sustainability.

The content of the festival crosses over and intersects with many platforms, from film, to literature, science, art, poetry and even fashion – our “Trashion Show” featuring youth wearing their creative designs crafted from recycled materials they proudly walked red-carpet style was a huge hit.

You can view the festival website and get a preview of the films in our upcoming event starting March 27 at

Here’s a bit more on my background:

I graduated from Rutgers University where I studied English and Art and returned later when my three children were in school to get my MLS.  

I am crazy about books, dogs, movies, and spending time in cities and the natural world. While libraries are my favorite shared built-spaces, my love for two places in the natural and outside world were shared with me and nurtured by my parents; my city-born and raised father and I discovered trees and a quest to learn about their unique identities; and my mom, whom I suspect was part-porpoise, grew up in a small town on the Jersey shore, where she lured me into the ocean to swim and made me love big waves.

~ Susan

Scott Walter – Candidate for ALA President

Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts about the Sustainability RT and the importance of its work today.

I was a member of ALA Council in 2015 when we passed the “Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries,” and I was happy to support it. At the time, I associated the idea of sustainability in libraries with green building, sustainable business practices, and, maybe, the idea that our move to a greater and greater reliance on digital content and information technology might be contributing to concerns such as use of electricity, e-waste, etc. It is fair to say that my appreciation for the importance of this resolution was not as expansive as it is today, but, also to be fair, we are living in a different world.

To me, the heart of this resolution is the idea that “libraries are uniquely positioned and essential to build the capacity of the communities they serve to be sustainable, resilient, and regenerative,” and the need for libraries to play that role has never been as important as it is today. I think it is telling that the Sustainability Round Table clearly drew on this vision for the role of libraries in communities in its January 2017 statement about our current situation when it focused not just on the environmental impact of the directions signaled by the new Administration, but on the way librarians work with their communities “to build community resilience as we all face an uncertain future together.” 

That future has only become more uncertain in the weeks since that statement was made, and, as I write this, the Trump Administration has just released a proposed budget that decimates our capacity, as a society, to support the arts, libraries, museums, public education, and the basic and applied science critical to a sustainable future. Librarians can, and must, not only model sustainable practices in their work, and provide the information services and educational programs that will help to spread broader awareness of how to pursue a sustainable future for one’s self and our planet, but we must radically expand our vision of the library’s role in building a resilient community, whether that community is a school, a town, a city, or a college. In a world where senior government officials question the scientific consensus around issues such as global warming and climate change, the mandate to expand our educational and advocacy role around sustainability is clear.

Here at home, we have a great example of a library making a commitment to sustainability in Chicago Public Library. In 2012, the Urban Libraries Council recognized the work that CPL had done to “[make] green routine,” in its buildings and its business practices. More recently, CPL has collaborated with Hive Chicago to promote “The Sustainability Hack” an education and outreach program aimed at young adults. What this tells us is that the library has powerful partners in the community who want to help us not only to pursue sustainability in our work, but to be part of broader discussions of how we promote a sustainability mindset among our kids and our communities. As an academic librarian, this points the way to new thinking about the “value of the academic library,” and the ways in which it can contribute to mission-centered commitments to sustainability, such as, in my case, the DePaul Sustainability Network.

There is one final lesson that I took from the sustainability resolution, and that is the importance of energizing the connection between ALA Chapters and Big ALA. The Council of the New York Library Association passed its resolution on sustainability in 2014, and the launch of the NYLA Sustainability Initiative is inspiring. Throughout this election, I have stressed the capacity that ALA has to energize a national, grassroots effort that engages our members at the local, state, and national levels, and the events of the past 7 weeks have only further demonstrated how important that is. Sustainability is one policy area where we have a great example of how that can be done, and we should build on it.

I have made a commitment throughout my campaign to focus our efforts as an Association on the critical challenges before us, and empower our Association and its members to play the leading role they must in defense of our core values, and our rights and responsibilities as information professionals and community members. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to learn more about me and about my candidacy at (, and I would welcome your support.

There is important work for us to do, and, with your vote, we can do it together

Sara Dallas – Candidate for PLA President

 I appreciate the opportunity to work with the roundtable to advance the goals of SustainRT. As director of the Southern Adirondack Library System (NY), I actively support the work of SustainRT and the New York Library Association’s Sustainability Initiative. As an ALA Council Member at Large, I actively support the work done by SustainRT. I gently reminded President-Elect Jim Neal and ALA Executive Director of the importance of keeping the triple bottom line of sustainability in mind as the organization continues to move forward. If elected PLA President, I would continue to support sustainability in public library facilities, operations, policy, technology, programming, and partnerships.
Sustainability resonates with PLA’s Core Organization Values (Visionary Leadership, Member Focus, Integrity and Transparency, Openness, Inclusiveness and Collaboration, and Excellence and Innovation).  Furthermore, the work done by SustainRT dovetails perfectly with the PLA Goals of Advocacy and Awareness and how the public perceives the library:
  • Leadership and Transformation through professional orientation from internal to outward towards the community,
  • Literate Nation in the area of sustainable and resilient public libraries, and
  • Organizational Excellence – to develop tools and resources to education PLA members, the PLA Board and PLA staff on the importance of Sustainability.  (PLA Strategic Plan, June 2014).
I am a member of SustainRT, and my staff are active in library sustainability locally, statewide and nationally.
Sustainable thinking will continue to be important to me whether or not I am elected PLA President. It is our future. I recognize the importance, responsibilities and unique role of public libraries to hold community conversations, model sustainable practices, and provide information to the public on sustainability. As public librarians, we need to look at our buildings, operations, partners, programming, collections and policies in this vital area.  
I would encourage PLA to look at its conference, conference programming, continuing education opportunities and publications to incorporate the work done by the SustainRT as President – Elect, President, and Past President.

Candidate for ALA President – Terri Grief

Thank you for the opportunity to post on the Sustainability Roundtable blog.

Librarians are leaders in knowledge dissemination and have a battle ahead of us with the current administration. The actions that the Trump administration has taken in only 50 days are threatening the very idea of environmental protection. First, the action that they took against the National Park Service to deny climate change was outrageous. That action was followed quickly by removing all mention of climate change from the website. The EPA was instructed to remove all information about climate change from their website.  Then, unbelievably, Scott Pruitt, a man who has sued the EPA 14 times, was appointed as the head of the EPA. The future for our environment is bleak under this administration.

For these reasons, we must be even more dedicated to keeping knowledge available for our citizens. This roundtable must be a source for the rest of the association and, if I am elected as president, I will look to you for guidance and authority.

Your mission is reflected in my campaign platform. You can read more about it at . There are three main strands in my platform: Strengthening Relationships, Empowering Communities, and Uniting Voices. We must strengthen relationships within ALA and with those stakeholders in the outside community. We must join with others to keep information free and available to our students and patrons. Now, more than ever, we have to continue to fight the good fight. This will empower our communities in ways that will benefit not only the present generations, but the generations that follow. We must speak with one loud and strong voice that what libraries do matter to the good of the society. We must be diligent.

It is critical that we work together to keep sustainability at the forefront of our legislators. I come from a coal state where some people see the environmental concerns as an opposition to their income. Sen. Mitch McConnell is an outspoken detractor for the environment and I am appalled by his actions. We can not idly stand by and let this administration discount science and facts for they perceive as economic gain.

Thank you for your work and dedication. I look forward to working with you.

Loida Garcia-Febo – Candidate for ALA President

Sustainable development and libraries

Loida Garcia-Febo

During my entire career I have actively supported initiatives about sustainability and libraries at local, national,  and international levels.

I have supported the Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable libraries since before it was passed by ALA Council in 2015.

I agree with the resolution. Libraries play a very important role in community communications about resiliency and recently presented two talks about libraries, advocacy, and resilience to LIS students from Florida State University and the Texas University.

I wholeheartedly support the resolution and encourage the ALA membership, library schools, and state associations to be proactive in their application of sustainable thinking in the areas of their facilities, operations, policy, technology, programming, partnerships, and library school curricula.

I have supported this resolution as ALA Executive Board member and I am glad ALA will prepare a report of what it already does that speaks to the resolved statements of the resolution and identifies where there is room for improvement. I feel like a task force will help bring the resolution to life across the organization, divisions, and committees.

At a local level, I have supported the efforts of the New York Library Association (NYLA) to create more sustainable libraries and strong communities. During our last NYLA annual conference, I participated of programs and was very glad to see the Roadmap to Sustainability booklet. This is a great tool to clarify sustainable principles and help you figure out sustainable processes for your library and to make your library and community stronger. It is also available as an app which is very exciting!

At an international level, I have supported the efforts of IFLA Environment, Sustainable, and Libraries. I am glad to have supported their partnership with IFLA New Professionals, an IFLA unit I advise, to present a joint program during the IFLA Congress in Cape Town in South Africa.

I am a big believer in moving towards a more equitable, healthy, and economically viable society. We should all be agents of change. Let’s continue working together to bring change!

I am a librarian. I am an activist. I serve as a library advocate every day. The opportunity to meet the needs of the communities we serve, help change lives, benefit our profession, libraries and information professionals is very exciting! I wholeheartedly believe that Together, we can bring change to benefit our profession and the communities we serve. I based my decision to run for ALA President on my experience advocating for libraries in streets and sidewalks of New York City, at NYC City Hall, New York State Senate, the US Congress and at the United Nations, my background growing up as the daughter of a school librarian and a community organizer, and serving communities as an academic, special and school librarian in Puerto Rico, and a public librarian in Queens. My vision for the Association and my focus will be to build on the work of ALA Presidents to strengthen an ALA that will be the leading voice advocating for libraries and library users while maintaining our core values.

ALA will have a place and a voice at the decision makers’ table, particularly for those in our communities with no voice . We will amplify their concerns to Congress, at the state house, in city councils, and school boards. ALA will build coalitions with like-minded partners sharing our values. ALA will train our members to flourish throughout our careers, to serve and empower libraries, patrons, and communities. ALA will advance our concerns through actions conveyed by pillars of ALA’s Strategic Plan: Advocacy, Information Policies, Professional and Leadership Development, and Diversity and Inclusion. Together, we can bring change to impact public policy, benefit the communities we serve and our profession.

I am looking forward to work with you as your President. Thank you for your vote.


Uta Hussong-Christian – Candidate for Coordinator-Elect

I am delighted to introduce myself as a candidate for Coordinator-Elect of SustainRT. The opportunity to connect my lifelong engagement with sustainability with an aspect of my present work in academic libraries is very appealing.

I have been thinking a lot lately about sustainability. In some ways I prefer to use the phrase, living responsibly—being responsible with our individual and collective stewardship and use of earth’s resources and being responsible with our interactions with one another. Living “responsibly” feels like it conveys a message that we each have a role to play, no matter how small or large.

Like many others, sustainable living–responsible living–was part of my childhood. Whether it was working in our organic garden (the only one in our neighborhood) or recycling the few things we could recycle back in the mid 70’s or line-drying all of our clothes (we had a dryer but didn’t use it), my parents were showing my siblings and me that there was a different way to be in the world. I didn’t like being different back then but those early lessons stayed with me and now serve me well as I embrace the search for ways to reduce my negative impact on this earth.

In spite of my efforts, I was recently shown during the Master Recycler class I completed that there is always more to learn and so many more ways to apply that knowledge than I, alone, understand. I welcome the challenge, particularly when it involves working with a group of committed and passionate library professionals who are also challenging themselves to do better. If elected as SustainRT Coordinator-elect, I offer the following to the effort to grow SustainRT as an organization and grow its impact on our profession: my experience (as President of ACRL’s Oregon chapter) with leading member-driven organizations, my experience starting new initiatives (a compostables collection program at Oregon State University’s Valley Library), and my willingness to continue learning to live more responsibly.

Uta Hussong-Christian
Oregon State University Libraries & Press

Uta at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Uta at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Amy Brunvand – Candidate for Coordinator-Elect

Dear SustainRT Members,

I’m running for Coordinator-Elect of SustainRT and I’d like to ask for your vote.   

I am an academic librarian at the University of Utah with a specialty in government information (think environmental policy and citizen engagement).

You may remember my name from the 2016 SustainRT ballot.  I didn’t win last year, but I got enough votes to feel encouraged and losing the election led me to seek another way to engage with sustainability.   I have spent the past year on leave from the campus library working as an embedded librarian out of the University of Utah Sustainability Office.  I recently presented a webinar for SustainRT about this experience: “STARS and Beyond: Adventures of an Embedded Librarian in the Campus Sustainability Office.” (  At the moment I’m immersed in sustainability issues and I would be able to step into the Coordinator-Elect role full of fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm.

My main effort in the Sustainability Office was helping to compile the AASHE STARS Report for the University of Utah (  STARS details campus-wide sustainability efforts, and identifies areas for improvement.  Since the University of Utah is the size of a small city it was a huge undertaking.   From this experience I have a deeper appreciation for the process of shifting organizations from business-as-usual towards sustainable action.  I am more than ever convinced that libraries have an essential information role to play in this transition.  

Sometimes I describe myself as a “guerrilla librarian,” since I try to take library values out into the wider community.  Since 2001 I have written a monthly environmental news column for Catalyst Magazine, ( a local non-profit publication in Salt Lake City with a focus on “resources for creative living”.  Catalyst readers don’t realize this, but my environmental news is based on an information literacy model to teach citizen engagement using policy as an entry point to activism and systemic change.   

The links below show some of my own interests and activities that relate to sustainability.  My personal focus has been on collection development to support sustainability and on libraries fostering citizen engagement.  Other SustainRT members have other passions, and as Coordinator I would work to integrate our diverse voices and interests into a larger vision of libraries helping to create a more equitable, healthy, and economically viable society.

Selected Sustainability Articles

Amy Brunvand. Greening Higher Education.  Catalyst Magazine, (Dec. 31, 2016)

Re-Localizing the Academic Library: Comments on an essay by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich. ALA SustainRT Blog. (7/20/2016)

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

Amy Brunvand. “Green Jell-O for the Genius Loci or How to Save the Earth with Poetry,” (p. 91-100) in Mark Todd. Western Weird. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2015.

Amy Brunvand; Jessica Breiman; Emily Bulluough; Joshua B.  Lenart & Alison Regan. (2014) Building an Academic Library Collection to Support Sustainability. Focus on Educating for Sustainability: a Toolkit for Academic Librarians. Maria A. Jankowska, ed.: Library Juice Press.

About Me

Amy Brunvand [Librarian] Faculty Profile.

Amy Brunvand [Catalyst Magazine writer].

Amy Brunvand. [Poet] 15 Bytes: Utah’s Art Magazine.

Amy Brunvand, Goodreads (like all librarians, I judge other people by what they have on their bookshelves)

Meet Amy Brunvand, Candidate for Coordinator Elect of SustainRT! (4/5/2016) SustainRT Blog.  

Amy Brunvand holds a cookie shaped like the logo of Utah Diné Bikéyah,  a Native American-led grassroots organization working to protect Bears Ears National Monument.


AASHE STARS for Librarians (Webinar)

View a recording of this program on the
ALA SustainRT YouTube Channel

On March 9th, 12:15 – 12:45 PM EST Amy Brunvand will present, “STARS and Beyond:  Adventures of an embedded Librarian in the Campus Sustainability Office.” To register for the webinar, click here.

About the webinar: During the past year Amy Brunvand, an academic librarian at the University of Utah, has been on leave from the library in order to work out of the campus Sustainability Office.   Her main project was helping to compile a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) report ,a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance that is used for ranking by Sierra Magazine and Princeton Green Schools among others.   Along the way she gained insights into what drives campus sustainability and how academic libraries and librarians can get involved in and offer support to sustainability efforts across the whole campus organization.   [30 mins]

Bio: Amy Brunvand is an academic librarian and government information specialist at the University of Utah where she has spent the past year on leave working out of the campus Sustainability Office.  Besides librarianship, she writes a monthly environmental news column for Catalyst magazine (  She also writes poetry, and her poems have recently appeared in Dark Mountain, Kudzu House Quarterly, saltfront, and the anthology “Nuclear Impact: Broken Atoms in our Hands.”

Librarian Amy Brunvand waits for the bus in an air pollution filter mask that was distributed as part of a University of Utah student project to call attention to air quality problems.