100 Ways to Make Your Library a Little Greener

By Meredith Walker

Librarians need to be on the constant cutting edge in terms of technology, researching, web tools and even architecture and design. But libraries are also a great place to educate the public and your students about the environment, from eco-friendly lifestyle choices to organizations that promote green causes. Here are 100 ways to make your library a little greener.

Maintenance and Green Building

Keep your library clean and eco-friendly with these tips.

  1. Turn down the heat one or two degrees: Care2 writes that “each 1-degree drop for an eight-hour period reduces your fuel bill percent,” saving you money and cutting down on electricity usage.
  2. Use fans: If you can, install ceiling fans to cool down the library without overusing the A/C. If living in a naturally cooler environment such as Montana, opening the windows is another way to save on A/C usage.
  3. Take advantage of windows: Strategically placed windows will provide natural light and may help with heating or cooling costs.
  4. Use eco-friendly light bulbs: Switch to eco-friendly light bulbs that save money and electricity.
  5. Use Energy Star products: Products with the Energy Star have been approved by the U.S. government as energy-saving products.
  6. Switch to safe cleaning products: Use cleaning products that are safe for your library materials, your patrons, and the environment.
  7. Use recycled paper: Put recycled paper in the printers, and use recycled notebooks, poster board, napkins, and more.
  8. Keep up with the U.S. Green Building Council: Join a local chapter, find building guidelines, look for builders, and more.
  9. Recycle ink cartridges: Recycle your library’s ink cartridges instead of just throwing them in the trash.
  10. Re-insulate your library: Re-insulate your roof, windows and any other openings to cut down on excess electricity costs.
  11. Fix leaks: Stop wasting water by fixing any leaks in bathrooms, kitchens and in the basement.
  12. DIY your own green remodeling project: Even if you don’t have the budget for a whole new building, follow these guidelines for small but significant steps you can take to remodel your library so that it’s greener.

Hardware

Learn how to choose the right computers and resources by reading this list.

  1. Purchase eco-friendly computers: When you need new computers, search for eco-friendly versions.
  2. Use laptops: Laptops use less electricity than desktop versions.
  3. Know how to clean your computers: Eco-friendly, safe computer cleaning tips include using biodegradable dust cloths and old t-shirts.
  4. Recycle computers: Safely recycle computers instead of harming the environment when you throw them away.
  5. Buy recycled items: Buy recycled ink cartridges and other supplies.
  6. Consider the Kindle 2: It’s expensive and may upset some reading purists, but the Kindle 2 is an eco-friendly reading tool. Purchase one for the library to spread awareness to readers.
  7. Turn off computers: Save energy and money by turning off computers at night.

Special Events and Projects

Host special events like contests, and go after environmental grants to raise awareness and become a greener library.

  1. Apply for grants: Certain grants awarded by environmental agencies or the government will help your library with funding for green projects and renovations.
  2. Start a paper drive: Ask the public and your students to bring in old newspapers and other papers to recycle: they may even be turned into books one day!
  3. Hold recycling contests: Hold recycling contests between grades, individuals, or against other libraries.
  4. Apply for green awards: Find out if your state or community offers an award for libraries who go green, such as the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas.
  5. Put up a display about reducing your carbon footprint: Put together a presentation or display to discuss each person’s carbon footprint.
  6. Sponsor a field trip: Whether you’re a public library or an academic or school library, sponsor a field trip to an environmental agency or project in your area. For example, Delaware has several eco-friendly tours of state parks and such listed on their state website.
  7. Invite special guest speakers: Educate your patrons by inviting professionals who work for environmental causes to give a presentation.
  8. Make your own paper: Show kids and patrons what it takes to make your own recycled paper.
  9. Start an arts and crafts event: Show patrons the cool items you can make out of recycled items, including recycled books.
  10. Sponsor an essay contest: Sponsor a kids’ essay contest, and ask them to write on any environmental issue they care about.
  11. Write a petition: If your library needs help raising money or supporting an environmental cause, ask your patrons to sign a petition.
  12. Support local artists: Sponsor an artist’s fair at your library every so often as a fundraiser and a way to show off artists’ eco-friendly designs.

Awareness

Spread awareness about your green policies through these projects.

  1. Sell Fair Trade coffee in your snack area: Fair Trade coffee is used in many academic libraries and is made in humane, eco-friendly conditions.
  2. Go all out for Earth Month: It’s not just about Earth Day anymore. Use the whole month of April to showcase your library’s green progress.
  3. Sell eco-friendly snacks and drinks: Sell drinks and snacks that are bottled and packaged in eco-friendly materials.
  4. Use an eco-friendly car as your bookmobile: If your budget allows for a bookmobile, lobby for an eco-friendly vehicle to drop off books.
  5. Abide by the 100-mile rule: Provide food that is from within 100 miles of your community to ensure that you’re supporting local farmers and cutting down on pollutants from shipping food.
  6. Start a blog: Spread awareness about your library’s green activities by blogging about it regularly.
  7. Honor your “greenest” library patrons and professionals: Instead of Employee of the Month, fuss over the employees and patrons who are the most supportive of your green policies each month.
  8. Support the EPA National Library Network: The Environmental Protection Agency is building up its resources on environmental protection, the basic sciences, engineering, and more.
  9. Celebrate reading: Reading is a relatively eco-friendly activity, especially when books are made out of recycled materials and are checked out by more than one person.
  10. Highlight environmentally-conscious writers: Authors who write extensively about nature, land and the environment–like Steinbeck (Stanford) or Wordsworth (Cambridge)–deserve recognition, as do more contemporary writers.
  11. Customize your home page: Customize your library’s home page to underscore all that you’re doing to go green.

Using the Web

Take advantage of all the web tools and sites you can use to cut down on paper.

  1. SecondLife: Hold meetings and organize training workshops online through the virtual world SecondLife instead of requiring employees to drive to retreats.
  2. Move accounts online: Cut down on paper notices and make it easier for patrons to keep up with their accounts by making them accessible online
  3. Create an online catalog: Cut down on paper by moving your catalog onto your website.
  4. Send e-mail updates: Instead of mailing out paper newsletters, create e-mail campaigns to announce special events and keep in touch.
  5. WorldCat: Connect with other libraries around the world to share information electronically.
  6. Move archives online: Put newspaper and magazine archives online to help preserve the originals.
  7. Monkey on Your Back: Send memos and reminders via this online service, rather than wasting paper and sticky notes.
  8. Backpack: Use Backpack to share information, announcements, task lists and files with those who work in your library. It’s all online, cutting down on paper and clutter.
  9. Facebook: Create a Facebook page for your library to keep in touch with patrons, list events and announcements, post pictures, and more.
  10. Basecamp: Basecamp is another online tool that lets you organize your team.

Outdoors

Don’t forget to turn your outdoor environment into a greener, more sustainable spot.

  1. Start an organic garden: Grow a garden to spread awareness on sustainability and provide a healthy eating option for participating library patrons and workers.
  2. Plant flowers: Show pride in your environment by planting in-season, local flowers and shrubs.
  3. Use safe pesticides: Safe and/or natural pesticides will help keep your plants healthy without damaging your health or the environment.
  4. Opt for natural mosquito repellant: Plants like catnip and citronella grass are natural mosquito repellants.
  5. Compost: If you’re allowed, get rid of waste by composting.
  6. Minimize formal landscaping: Cut down on excessive landscaping that rips up the natural environment.
  7. Plant trees: If you do need to eliminate trees from your building project, plant a new one in a better spot.
  8. Host events outdoors: Get people outside and aware of their environment by hosting special events, like reading days, outside.
  9. Be aware of dumping and runoff laws: Make sure your library isn’t leaking any pollutants into a nearby water source, and that you dump trash in zoned areas.
  10. Pick up trash: Keep empty trash cans around your premises so that it’s easy for patrons to properly dispose of garbage.

Networks

Make sure your library is tuned in to the latest environmental news and trends by networking with these organizations and through these platforms. You’ll find materials for educating and engaging your patrons, too.

  1. Care2: Care2 is a social network that organizes people who want to make a difference by living green.
  2. TreeHugger: Learn about the latest trends in green design, food, fashion, building, travel and technology.
  3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife: Learn about environmental contaminants, pollutants that hurt animals and natural ecosystems, and how you can help.
  4. United Nations Environment Programme: This network discusses natural disasters and global conflicts, ecosystem management, pollutants, resource efficiency, climate change, and more.
  5. EnergyStar: Learn about environmentally safe electronics, lighting solutions, heating and cooling resources, and more.
  6. National Audubon Society: Discover how your library can support this wildlife protection agency through special projects, field trips and sponsorships.
  7. Natural Resources Defense Council: This organization tackles everything from global warming and green living to environmental policies and more.
  8. The Nature Conservancy: The Nature Conservancy has lots of information about protecting the environment. Your library can pick from lots of different causes to support, like the Atlantic forest, the fresh water initiative, global warming, and more.
  9. National Geographic Society: The National Geographic Society is an educational organization that has plenty of tools and materials for learning about the environment and discovering how to care for it.
  10. Earth 911: Get your patrons involved on this site, which explains how to recycle different materials and where to find recycling centers in your area.

Must-Read Resources

Librarians conscious about green projects will need to keep up with these blogs and resources.

  1. The Green Library Blog: Read this blog to learn about green library news and to get tips on how you can improve your library.
  2. How to Green a Library Conference: Learn how to make your next library conference or library meeting more eco-friendly.
  3. Reducing Your Carbon Footprint: Get tips on being more energy efficient and conscious of your lifestyle here.
  4. Going Green @ Your Library: This blog has loads of excellent tips for going green in creative ways.
  5. Green cleaners: Use this guide as a reference when picking out or mixing your own cleaning supplies.
  6. Greening Our Libraries: This article rounds up several great guides and tips for making your library a more environmentally friendly place.
  7. Green Design/Sustainable Architecture: Resources: Read up on sustainable architecture to get ideas on how your library can improve.
  8. Top 10 Green Projects: These award-winning green building projects were constructed by schools, town centers, libraries, and more.
  9. Green Consumer Guide: Get tips for staying green at the office and more.
  10. Green Libraries: This campaign is devoted to spreading awareness of libraries who go green around the U.S.

Everyday Tips

Switch to compostable library cards, set up a bike rack and encourage the use of reusable bags to continue your green campaign.

  1. Stop giving out bags: Encourage patrons to bring their own bags and stop using plastic ones.
  2. No more paper receipts: Ask patrons to access their account online to discover when a book is due, or just stamp it the old-fashioned way.
  3. Sell or distribute eco-friendly bags: Encourage patrons to carry their library books in reusable bags, not plastic ones.
  4. Use compostable library cards: The San Francisco Public Library uses compostable corn “EcoCards” for patrons.
  5. Encourage employees to car pool: Help your employees set up a car pool or van pool so that they can cut down on pollutants.
  6. Support local businesses: Try to buy supplies and other items for businesses in your area.
  7. Turn out the lights: Turn out lights when they’re not being used, especially in conference rooms, special collections rooms, and study rooms.
  8. Recycle paper into notebooks: Use these recycled notebooks for memos and scratch paper.
  9. Purchase recycled books: If you can, start purchasing books made out of recycled materials for your library.
  10. Hook up several computers to the same printer: This popular method saves electricity, paper (since you don’t have to continuously stock several different printers), and money.
  11. Use eFax: This online version of a fax service cuts down on wasted paper.
  12. Reward green drivers: Reserve the closest parking spots for those who car pool and drive eco-friendly cars.
  13. Use hand sanitizer: Put out hand sanitizer to cut down on over-washing your hands in the bathroom.
  14. Set up a bike rack: Set up a large bike rack in front of your library to encourage patrons to ride their bikes instead of drive to the library.
  15. Write on both sides of the paper: Use up every inch of scratch paper before throwing it away.
  16. Subscribe to newsletters, magazines and special catalogs online: Many catalogs and newsletters offer an online or eco-friendly option that saves wasted paper and eliminates junk mail.
  17. Set up recycling bins outside: Besides encouraging patrons to recycle indoors, turn your parking lot into a community recycling center, with bins for newspapers, aluminum, glass, and more.
  18. Buy pillows and furniture made of eco-friendly items: Support local furnishers and companies that use eco-friendly, humane methods for manufacturing eco-friendly items.

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