Climate Change and Libraries

As the decade begins, one of the many things to worry about stands out – the warming of our planet and how little time we have to mitigate further heating that will be catastrophic. It often feels heavy and pointless to do anything since the problem is huge and needs so much to change for it to be stopped. Anything I could do as an individual like eating less meat or taking fewer flights would make no noticeable difference. What can I possibly do, short of quitting my job and joining every protest across the globe?

This kind of despair is not unusual, but neither is it helpful; there are things people can do that do not require them to join every protest or be Greta Thunberg. What can be helpful and create change is collective action in many forms. As places of civic engagement, lifelong learning, and community, libraries are well posed to facilitate helpful action in their communities.

There are numerous programs libraries can lead, like book clubs, discussions, information booths at farmers market like the Santa Monica Public Library, and participation in Climate Preparedness Week. So many libraries have come up with great ideas, often in partnership with local organizations. One public library in Wisconsin worked with their regional Sierra Club and Citizens Climate Lobby to host a panel of local people, from farmers to city planners, to talk about how they and their work are being impacted by climate change. Such a story-driven approach humanizes data and brings a global issue down to a local scale, something that makes it more immediate, relevant, and easier to understand.

Public libraries can also make sure community members are informed about what their local and even national politicians think about and vote on climate related policy. This could look like hosting a panel of local politicians, or having a webpage and/or poster outlining candidates’ stances before elections. Much of the changes needed require countrywide change and one cannot combat climate change without voting for candidates who are willing to vote in our planet’s favor.

Even though people do not tend to change their minds based on data alone, collection development is one way of engaging in the climate conversation. Books explaining why and how climate change is real, why people don’t believe in it, basics of climate science, or what can be done to keep the planet from warming are great additions to many different libraries. Academic libraries can also make sure the databases and datasets about climate change are easy to find and navigate. Even though these resources are more likely to be useful to those on the fence or who already understand the science behind climate change but want a deeper understanding, having such resources allows patrons the chance to learn about climate change on their on their own terms. It also communicates that the library is not going to be silent or “neutral” about such an important issues.

Another aspect of collections libraries can consider is non-book items. Tool libraries and libraries of things have been gaining popularity, allowing communities to lend and borrow things they use once a year or less, rather than someone buying something brand new only to have it take up space the rest of the year. In communities where such libraries do not already exist, public libraries can create small collections of items like baking pans or musical instruments to demonstrate how people do not need to buy everything they may need new and perhaps inspire other organizations or community members to create a bigger, more comprehensive library of things. After all, as Naomi Klein has written, addressing climate change requires everyone and every government to rethink our patterns of consumption and how we participate in community.

There are so many ways of addressing climate change, from individual to collective action. How do you cope with climate anxiety? Does your library engage in climate issues? If so, how? What other libraries are doing great work to address climate change?


Hanna Roseen is a second year residential MLIS student at the University of Washington with an interest in public, academic, and school librarianship, and archives. You can check out her latest project, a sexuality education bookstagram, here.


Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

Categories: sustainability

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