Building More than Green Libraries, Building Strong Communities; NYLA Sustainability Initiative

The Sustainability Initiative is a movement to get libraries to make decisions that are, economically feasible, environmentally sound, and in line with their community’s core values, to ensure libraries remain vital, visible, and viable.

Sustainability is more than green buildings and energy savings. It’s the capacity to thrive. It’s stable funding, environmental stewardship, and being community-driven. We want libraries to partner with and revitalize their communities, and help them bounce back from any disruptions they might face, like severe weather, natural disasters, economic recession, power outages, or terrorism. We want libraries to help their communities to keep going and grow.

Because sustainable libraries are community-driven, each library’s efforts at sustainability will look different. In Seattle, the library recognized that they serve a diverse population, so they offer storytimes in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Somali. In Kingston, New York, the library adopted the City of Kingston’s Climate Smart Communities and Green Jobs Pledge, which led to a more comfortable library for patrons and staff, reduced energy consumption, and lower energy costs. In Red Hook, New York, the library talked to people in their community and identified a lack of leadership and volunteer opportunities for teens and twenty-somethings, along with transportation challenges which limited who could get to the library for the programs and services they offered. In response, the library partnered with the high school, the Recreation Department, the deputy mayor, and nearby Bard College to bring a mobile makerspace to the high school and the town’s day camp. As part of the Sustainability Initiative, we’ll be working to shine a light on sustainable practice in libraries, so we can all learn from our peers.

We have a lot of great people who’ve signed up for the Initiative. To  make this happen, they will be creating benchmarks, roadmaps, talking points, resources, and training. The Benchmarks group is working to define what sustainability looks like in a library and how we can measure it, and to create incentives to get libraries to meet these standards. The Roadmap team is putting together the resources to get libraries started and keep them moving towards sustainability. The Agents of Change group is dedicated to recruiting leaders in sustainable thinking and empowering them with tools and training, so that sustainable thinking in libraries continues to grow. The Making the Case group will help sustainable leaders to talk to their communities, boards, staff, and others about the importance of sustainable libraries. There’s also an Environmental  Scan group that’s researching and feeding all these groups with the information and resources they need.

We’re committed to keeping libraries effective and important to the people they serve. If you’re interested in becoming part of the initiative or learning more about the project, contact Sustainabilty Initiative co chairs Rebekkah Smith Aldrich or Matt Bollerman.






The Sustainability Spotlight is a weekly series that highlights community-driven, environmentally sound, and economically responsible programs and projects in libraries and other organizations. You can find more projects in the Sustainability Spotlight Archive or visit NYLA's Sustainability Initiative to learn more about how you can get started with sustainability in your library.