Things they might not teach you in library school: Sustainability edition

I’m not aiming to duplicate the wonderful work of Macy on the topic of environmental sustainability in libraries, although that topic will come up. It is quite amusing though that the origin story of Macy’s post that she described in her opening is pretty much identical to the origin story for this post. I’m writing this particular paragraph on Friday, July 30, having admittedly forgotten that my post was due. I had originally intended to write about tribal libraries this month but the interview I had been hoping to conduct has been unable to come to fruition yet. Now, on Fridays my friend Maia and I have lunch together on Zoom she she was nice enough to brainstorm replacement topics with me. She was writing a report on her attendance of the Library Publishing Forum earlier this year and she thought her big takeaway would make a great topic. Her takeaway from the LPF was that sustainability is a pretty big deal in libraries, but we don’t talk about it enough outside of talking about the environmental type of sustainability. Now I’ve been doing some research into some sustainability aspects for an article I’m working on so I thought it would be a great idea to write a post looking at different aspects of sustainability that you may or may not learn about in your library school journey.

Environmental Sustainability

This is the type of sustainability that most of us are familiar with because it’s the term you most often here associated with sustainability. In the context of libraries environmental sustainability can show up in a couple of really prominent ways either through the architecture and spaces, or through sustainability and environmental initiatives. At least where I am most libraries now are being built and/or renovated in an eco-friendly way with many being LEED certified and having been designed with that goal in mind. LEED certification can also be achieved through retrofitting but even without seeking that certification status many libraries are installing eco friendly power sources such as solar panels, and other cost saving measures like passive solar heating architecture. The library where I work just installed solar panels on our 1960s building a few years ago for this reason. Environmental sustainability initiatives in libraries can look like things such as community gardens, apiaries, and encouraging low-waste programming and events and recycling around the library.


Preservation is something you will probably talk about in at least one course in library school. It often comes up in relation to digital libraries, archives, and publishing. It is a sub-type of sustainability because to preserve an item is to make it accessible in a sustainable way to ensure that future users will be able to access the item in its entirety. There are so many different kinds of preservation standards and methods, some of which are more sustainable than others. For example one growing issue is the need for preservation of open access publications. Many open access publications have not been published sustainably and as a result so much content has vanished from the web. It is estimated that nearly 200 open access journals have disappeared from the web since 2000 for example. There are a lot of different ideas floating around for how to solve this problem, but even some of those can run into sustainability issues due to losses of funding. CLOCKSS is seen to be the most sustainable digital preservation method. One big new thing in sustainability and preservation is controlled digital lending as a means of preserving physical books in a way to provide sustainable digital access to them within the bounds of copyright laws.

Sustainable Programming

We can talk about the phrase sustainable programming in two different ways. Obviously sustainable programming can be seen as programming about sustainability, such as programming related to the aforementioned community gardens and apiaries some libraries have. But that’s not how I really want to talk about it. I want to talk about sustainable programming in the context of longevity and accessibility. Often in libraries we fall into the trap of creating new programs that might not always work out as we expected which then fizzle out and never run again. There’s nothing wrong with innovating and trying new things but how do we ensure those new things can go the distance the way some of our more classic, core programming types do? How can we ensure that our Lego clubs or video game clubs (for just a few examples) stick around as long as storytimes and information literacy instruction? The trick is to bake in sustainability from the outset. Ensure that the programs have detailed outlines and plans so that they can be picked up by anyone who is available and that they don’t rely on one person (more on why that matters in the next subsection!). Create templates that can be used for each offering of a given program, if you create a base it’s easier to reiterate and build upon than trying to figure out what has already been done and how. But most important is to figure out on how tight of a budget and with as few resources as possible with which a given program can run.

Service Continuity and Disaster Planning

I told you I’d tell you why it’s important to make sure that your programs aren’t relying solely on one staff member, service continuity is that reason. You could go on vacation, you could leave your job for any number of reasons, or you could find yourself trapped in a mirror dimension fighting off hordes of monsters, and if that happens and no one else knows how to run your program, provide a certain service, or fix a certain system then the library finds itself in a really tight spot and this is not a sustainable situation for any length of time. You need to have plans in place to ensure service continuity and this can show up at multiple levels, the lowest of which is just making sure your programs have a “lesson plan” or program template so someone else can pick them up. Manuals and documentation for services and systems would be the next step up. But, it can, and should, also come in more official ways, usually in the form of a disaster plan which will include a system for staffing backups usually called a succession plan, aka who handles something when the person who usually handles it can’t. This is not a thing that many libraries have in place, which is something COVID-19 has really shone a light on. I first learned about disaster planning because the library I work at is prone to flooding, so we have a flood plan. I’m not sure if we have any others, but we should, and I have to hope that we do.

The featured image is of the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons taken by Corey Seeman, this library has a LEED Platinum certification.

In addition to being a Contributing Writer here at Hack Library School, Lauren (she/her) is currently working towards her MLIS part-time, online, through the University of Alberta, she expects to graduate in Spring 2022She holds an honours BA in English/Religion & Culture and a BEd, both from Wilfrid Laurier University. Her interests are copyright, open education; accessibility; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS. Lauren is the Copyright and Reserves Supervisor at Wilfrid Laurier University, serving on the Library’s Accessibility Committee, and the Student Advisory Council. She also co-hosts a bi-weekly Twitter chat on library issues and trends (#lisprochat) and just finished a stint as a research assistant on the Opening Up Copyright project. Find her: @rendages, @lisprochat |

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s