On Sustainable Libraries

Environmental sustainability has always been a topic that’s very close to my heart. When I was in 6th grade, my social studies class completed a major project on rainforest destruction, and I vividly remember having a revelatory moment after school one day while working on this project, realizing just how fragile our planet is and how unbelievably important it is to protect it, not abuse it. And while I’ve done my very utmost to block all memories of middle school (the horror), this one has stuck with me. Protecting the environment has become a subject that I am extremely passionate about, and one that has influenced everything from the lifestyle choices that I make to the values that I try to live by on a daily basis. While I was excited about entering the field of librarianship when I first applied for the MLS program here, there was always a part of me that regretted not pursuing a career that was more environmentally-minded.  But recently, I discovered groups like the American Library Association’s Sustainability Round Table, and Special Library Association committees like Environment and Resource Management Division, and it hit me that being a librarian and pursuing a career that protects the environment are not mutually exclusive goals. With the relative freedom I had to pick my courses for my final semester here at IU, I decided to complete an independent study to learn more about sustainability initiatives within the library field, and how I could become more involved in these efforts as a new professional.

Sustainability is one of those terms that’s seemingly ubiquitous in modern discourse, but becomes somewhat tricky to define when you look at it closely. Perhaps one of the most foundational definitions comes from the 1987 Brundtland Report by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, which defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Ch. 2, p. 1). While this definition certainly speaks to issues surrounding environmental conservation, it also ties into issues of economic equality and social equity.  In fact, some sustainability activists often refer to the “Three E’s” of sustainability – economy, ecology, and equity – to emphasize that creating a truly sustainable community involves more than simply protecting the environment, but also ensuring economic stability and social justice for all members of that community (Social Responsibilities Round Table, n.d.). While the “ecology” aspect is the specific area that I am most heavily interested in, I’ve learned that it’s important to remember that environmental health is closely connected with economic and social justice issues, especially when making decisions that will affect a community. Environmental decisions often have some kind of economic implication, and it’s important to find solutions that address both environmental and economic concerns, instead of pitting one against the other. Likewise, issues like environmental racism have not received nearly enough attention and need be emphasized much more in sustainability discourse if we are truly committed to building communities that meet the needs of both present and future generations.

Within the context of librarianship, it turns out that sustainability can be incorporated into a library’s mission in several ways. The American Library Association (2015), in its Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries, recognized the “unique role libraries play in wider community conversations about resiliency, climate change, and a sustainable future” (p. 2). As Henk (2014) explains in her work Ecology, Economy, Equity: A Path to a Carbon-Neutral Library, sustainability fits in well with core library values of supporting education and literacy, access to information, and democratic values like equality and intellectual freedom. But how exactly can libraries make their own spaces and surrounding communities more sustainable, and promote economic equality, social equity, and environmental protection? That’s mainly what I’m learning about this semester, and I am so excited by all of the different ways that libraries can get involved. On a general scale, ensuring access to a wide variety of information on sustainability and sustainability-related issues is key. Actions like tailoring collection development strategies to build a stronger collection of sustainability resources and supporting open access journals that provide sustainability research are two ways that libraries can ensure access. But there’s so much more! Libraries across the country have been doing some amazing work, from creating library community gardens that provide educational classes while protecting valuable plant life, to providing cooking courses that teach basic culinary skills while also supporting math and literacy development, to creating open-access repositories for sustainability research, to designing library buildings that are more energy-efficient … the list goes on and on. Creating sustainable libraries and sustainable communities is a monumental task, but there are a seemingly endless number of ways that libraries can begin to take action and help make this goal a reality.

When I went to the annual “Eco Fest” in DC several years ago, I remember seeing a slogan that read “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” I try to remember that saying, especially when the world’s problems seem overwhelming and insurmountable. None of those libraries mentioned above can take on every sustainable action possible, just as no library can make their communities sustainable single-handedly. But each of those libraries has taken a step forward, finding ways to make their spaces and communities a little more sustainable and forging new relationships with their surrounding communities and institutions in support of that goal. All together, those small actions taken by libraries (and the librarians working in them) across the country can make a big impact. After these first couple weeks of my independent study, I’m already so inspired by the work being done by libraries across the country and hopeful that libraries will continue to do more to make our communities more sustainable and resilient. I’m excited to keep learning, and eventually, to contribute what I can as a professional librarian. 

– Sarah Klimek

American Library Association. (2015). “Resolution on the importance of sustainable libraries.” http://www.ala.org/aboutala/sites/ala.org.aboutala/files/content/governance/council/council_documents/2015_annual_council_documents/cd_36_substainable_libraries_resol_final.pdf

Henk, M. (2014). Ecology, economy, equity: The path to a carbon-neutral library. Chicago: ALA Editions. 12-14.

Social Responsibilities Round Table, American Library Association. (n.d.). “Three dynamics of sustainable communities: Economy, ecology, and equity.” http://www.ala.org/srrt/tfoe/lbsc/librariesbuildsustainablecommunitiesthree

U.N. World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Retrieved from http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm

Bloomington Community Gardening

(The Willie Streeter Community Garden in Bloomington)

Spring is upon us! That means more sunshine, warm weather, and allergies. It also means that it is gardening season. If you are lucky enough to have a place to garden, there are a number of valuable resources available through IUB libraries to help turn your thumb green!

How to Garden:

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith

Reclaiming our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way we Eat by Tanya Cobb

The Ten Week Garden by Cary Scher

Guide to Indiana Vegetable Gardening by James A. Fizzell


Organic Gardening Magazine

Rodale’s Organic Gardening


Sprout Robot – If you enter your zip code, this awesome website will analyze your local climate and provide you with a planting calendar for all of your vegetables and herbs! This site is great for beginner gardeners.

Kitchen Gardeners International – This site is a great community for planning and sustaining a garden.

Extension – Extension offers knowledge-based information on various topics by a collection of knowledgeable experts from a network of American universities. You’ll find information on any garden-related topic you’re interested in.

Tiny Farm Blog – The ins and outs of starting your own farm!

Interesting in Bloomington gardening?

The Bloomington City Parks and Recreation department maintains multiple community gardening sites. Bloomington residents can rent out a variety of lot sizes and raise their own garden. For more information about Bloomington community gardening, visit the website.

Happy Gardening!


Save the Planet: Resources for Individual Action

holding the earth in our hands
It’s Springtime! This time of year always makes me start thinking about how beautiful but precarious our environment is (especially when Spring starts as weirdly early as it did this year). And with Earth Day on the 22nd and Arbor Day on the 27th, it’s certainly a time for such reflection. With the resources below, you can learn more about this subject and about what you can do personally to help save our planet.

To find relevant books, try doing a subject search (in IUCAT, go to Advanced Keyword Search and type into the subject field box) for terms like “Sustainable living”, “Environmental protection–citizen participation”, “Environmentalism”, “Environmental responsibility”, “Global warming–prevention”, or “Climate change mitigation”. You’ll find books on the business aspects of sustainability (the Business/SPEA library has a strong sustainability collection in general), larger societal impacts and courses of action, as well as such excellent books of strategy for the individual as:

When browsing for such individual responsibility-type books, try looking for call numbers that start with TD171.7, especially in the Undergraduate Core Collection on the 3rd floor of the Wells Library West Tower, where there is a good cluster.

Find more online resources at the library’s Sustainable Scholars Page, and, as it suggests, check out the IU Office of Sustainability’s website for information on recycling at IU, sustainability events and opportunities, getting your dorm room green-certified, and more. This blog post from IU’s Sustainability Themester can guide you to general reference works on the topic as well.

If you have any questions about how to use any of these resources or want help finding more, you can Ask A Librarian by chat, phone, email, and of course in person!


Expand your library horizons!

The end of the year is nigh…and there are so many campus libraries left to explore! The Kinsey Institute Library may be a sexy draw, but a lesser-known gem is the library at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, located in an old fraternity house at 513 N. Park Avenue–a 10-minute walk from the Wells Library.

Founded in 1973 by 2009 Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom and her husband Vincent Ostrom, the Workshop is a research center dedicated to the study of institutions, which the Workshop defines as the “structures of rules used to govern people and resources.” The faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars who collaborate at the Workshop are an interdisciplinary bunch, ranging from economists and political scientists to scholars of forestry and sustainable development, and they tackle such topics as climate change, health care, self-governance, and collective action.

The Workshop library houses more than 30,000 items, including books, journals, and newsletters on a wide variety of topics. What is known as the “reprint files” section of the library holds thousands of published and unpublished manuscripts, reprint articles, and working papers. Many of these resources relate to the study of common pool resources (e.g., forests, fisheries, and grazing lands).

Three fishermen

Access to the library’s extensive database is currently only available on site at the Workshop. However, the library also hosts the Digital Library of the Commons (DLC), an open access site where scholars can post their work. The DLC includes articles, dissertations, conference papers, an image database, subject bibliographies, and a list of open access journals.

Start fresh next fall–make it a priority to visit the Workshop or another library on campus and explore the vast diversity of resources at your fingertips! You can find the full list of Bloomington libraries by clicking “Libraries & Hours” on the IUB Libraries’ home page.


Sustainability Themester | Big World, Big Library, Big Resources

This photograph was taken by an astronaut in the International Space Station, and shows thunderstorms in Brazil. Image Credit: NASA website for the Earth Observatory (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/)

Many people have seen An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s film on global warming, and societies around the world are recognizing that the planet’s future depends upon actions taken today. To help the IU Bloomington community understand these issues on a deeper level, the University’s Themester is a transdisciplinary approach to the issue of sustainability. To help people find resources on this topic, one of the Reference Librarians (Nels Gunderson) has created a webpage devoted to researching “the practices, concepts, and issues associated with environmental sustainability including waste recycling, the conservation of water and energy resources, alternative forms of transportation, and the wise use of natural resources.” This webpage compiles in one helpful location online databases, books, articles, and websites devoted to sustainability issues.

Continue reading “Sustainability Themester | Big World, Big Library, Big Resources”

Earth Day – Wednesday April 22!


How can we make a difference?


·         Walk/bus/bike/carpool to the library

·         Use recycling containers (now in the Cafeteria, too)

·         Think before you print!

·         Print on both sides of the paper – here’s how

·         Save to a flash drive instead of printing

·         Cut down on bottled water –  use the library water fountains

·         Use fewer paper towels

·         Shut off faucets

·         Read more about it!


And tell us your ideas about what we can be doing! Find out more about being involved in the growing campus sustainability effort.