Information for Our Survival: LIS and Climate Change

Here at Hack Library School, we consistently highlight the ways in which the LIS field innovates. We declare over and over again: libraries are not simply warehouses of books, and archives are not dusty basements of forgotten files. As we know, the skills that we learn as information professionals have such varied applications as racial justice, preservation of tribal histories, and providing information services to marijuana users. One topic that we have touched on here and there on this site is the role of LIS folks in matters of environmental sustainability. I would like to keep the urgent discussion going, and encourage others to engage with this topic more frequently in the future, if I can.

As I mentioned in my last article, I attended this year’s American Library Association (ALA) annual conference back in June. One of the sessions that I visited was a speech by noted environmentalist Bill McKibben. For those who are unaware, Bill McKibben is a founder of the website and environmental organizing platform, a reference to the fact that the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million, a limit that we have far exceeded. In his presentation, McKibben showed a slideshow of photographs of 350-affiliated activists worldwide, representing every country except North Korea. It was heartening for me to be reminded of how widespread and resilient environmental activism is. However, in spite of the successes that the organization and the wider environmental movement have had, as well as the sheer diversity of people involved, McKibben related that the effort to salvage a livable planet for ourselves and our posterity is losing.

McKibben admitted that, when he first began writing and researching climate change in the 1980s, he could not have imagined the rampant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism that have fueled the sentiment of climate denial over the last few decades. Here in the United States, 45* has repeatedly referred to climate change as a Chinese hoax, reinitiated construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, and pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate agreement. Among his cabinet are Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who has deleted any and all information on climate change from the EPA website, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the CEO of the Exxon Company. Around the world, prominent environmentalists risk jailing and murder. Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist who was assassinated by employees of the Honduran energy company DESA last year, comes to mind.

These are grim times indeed, but I for one would like to highlight what we can do, not just what we cannot do or what our obstacles are. As hackneyed as this sounds, this is the only planet we have. Those of us who consider climate change a threat and want to do something about it are in the majority. Furthermore, scientists and politicians are not the only people who have influence in this area. We as information professionals have important contributions to make. I believe that we can make those contributions using the same creativity we use to address the other community issues that we address so expertly.

In addition to the work we do in our own communities and places of employment, it is vital for us to extend our organizing efforts beyond our own backyard. For example, the group that brought Bill McKibben to this year’s ALA conference is known as the Sustainability Roundtable (SustainRT) of the ALA. They are the newest roundtable in the ALA, and I would highly recommend joining them. They are looking for people who are interested in leading webinars, writing blog posts, holding discussions, and doing activism around sustainability in LIS. What actions are you taking to promote environmental justice?
*Following Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors, one of the ways that I resist the current presidential administration is by not referring to its head by name.

Cover photo: An image of a tree growing out of a book, found on this website. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Ayoola White is a history and archives management dual degree candidate at Simmons College.

10 replies

  1. Certainly libraries can provide information on global warming, global cooling, and any other climate-related issue — so long as all points of view on the subject are fairly represented, not just the leanings of the librarian providing access to the information and deciding what information will be included in the collection and presented to library patrons. This was a point which was constantly made by my library school professors 35 years ago, and it still applies today, to librarians of all persuasions.


  2. Note that in addition to the Sustainability Round Table, the Bill McKibben program was sponsored by the Social Responsibilities Round, the Asian Pacific Librarians Association, and the American Indian Library Association.


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