ALA Council Overwhelmingly Passes Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries!

On Sunday, June 28th, 2015 at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in San Francisco (CA) the governing body of ALA, Council, overwhelmingly passed the Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries*.

Based on a similar resolution passed by the New York Library Association, members of the ALA Sustainable Roundtable (SustainRT) took the resolution to a new level to present nationally at the June 4th ALA Virtual Membership Meeting. This was the first resolution successfully passed in this venue with over 300 members voting yes to move the resolution before Council at the 2015 Annual Conference.

The passage of the resolution is an important moment in ALA history. It is the declaration of a professional association to make a concerted effort in practice and policy to consider the implications and messages of the choices we make – both nationally and locally.

I can’t wait to see what happens next!

*Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries

Whereas our communities are faced with economic, environmental and societal changes that are of great concern to our quality of life;

Whereas libraries are uniquely positioned and essential to build the capacity of the communities they serve to become sustainable, resilient and regenerative;

Whereas library leaders, and those who inspire future library leaders, have a mandate to ensure future access to economical library services;

Whereas libraries that demonstrate good stewardship of the resources entrusted to them can build community support that leads to sustainable funding;

Whereas the people who work in our libraries and those who access services in our facilities deserve a healthy environment in which to do so;

Whereas the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has determined that: “Human influence on the climate system is clear… Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems”1;

Whereas the American Library Association has acknowledged in its 2015 Strategic Plan that “Libraries are widely recognized as key players in economic development, in building strong and vibrant communities, and in sustaining a strong democracy” and launched the ALA Center for Civic Life (CCL) in 2010 in conjunction with the Kettering Foundation to promote community engagement and foster public deliberation through libraries; and

Whereas libraries that demonstrate leadership in making sustainable decisions that positively address climate change, respect and use natural resources, and create healthy indoor and outdoor environments will stabilize and reduce their long-term energy costs, help build more sustainable communities, and thereby increase community support for the library; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the American Library Association (ALA) on behalf of its members:

  1. recognizes the important and unique role libraries play in wider community conversations about resiliency, climate change, and a sustainable future and begins a new era of thinking sustainably in order to consider the economic, environmental and socially equitable viability of choices made on behalf of the association;
  2. enthusiastically encourages activities by itself, its membership, library schools and state associations to be proactive in their application of sustainable thinking in the areas of their facilities, operations, policy, technology, programming, partnerships and library school curricula; and
  3. directs the ALA Executive Director to pursue sustainable choices when planning conferences and meetings and to actively promote best practices of sustainability through ALA publications, research and educational opportunities to reach our shared goal of vital, visible and viable libraries for the future.


2012 Awaits…

Welcome 2012!

Here’s to hoping this year is productive, relevant and sustainable!

I’m starting off the new year with a new look to and will endeavor to post more this year, something Beth Filar Williams noted I had slacked off on in 2011! While I justified my lack of postings to Beth (& myself) by thinking I was having more meaningful connections on the Sustainable Libraries Facebook page, really it was just easier! I’m investing some energy to streamline my ability to post on the fly (read: from my smartphone) so that I don’t allow my mind to go soft. There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in libraries around the world and lots for us to learn from outside of “libraryland.”

I think 2012 is going to be a lot of fun! With presentations coming up at the Public Library Association (PLA) conference in March and at the American Library Association (ALA) conference in June I am looking forward to meeting so many of you that believe as I do, that libraries are here to stay and that we can help ensure our future by investing in sustainable buildings, operations and best of all – Sustainable Thinking.

Bring it on 2012!


I haven’t posted in awhile, not by choice. In January I got a new boss. Shortly after that 30% of my coworkers were laid off. Shortly after that I made it my mission to fight the heck out of the New York State Governor’s proposed 10% cut to library aid.

Library Systems in NYS have been kicked around for the past 15 years, it’s been a lot worse since the economic downturn. It’s hard to believe that the NYS budget has doubled since 1998 but library aid went down by 25%. We’ve been cut five times in just the last two years.

I’m a fan of common sense. I’m a fan of people who take personal responsibility for themselves. It is not common sense to cut libraries during economic hard times because libraries are where people who take responsibility for themselves and their families go to make it through.

Using the library’s computers and Internet connection is a lifeline for job seekers. Prepping kids for school when your family can’t afford to send them to pre-school increases a child’s earning potential twenty years later. Having the opportunity to relax with a book or a movie after working in a place that is under constant threat of lay offs should not be reserved for those that can purchase said movie from Amazon.

The same reason I started is why I believe in public libraries – we all have to work together to make a difference. It may sound hokey or naive but I really do believe that.

I believe in the library directors, staff, trustees and Friends Groups that I work with in the Mid-Hudson Library System because I see them change lives of people in their community for the better. Whether it be by providing great customer service, caring reference assistance, good collections, positive community events that bring neighbors together, helpful programs for people of all ages to do everything from get people’s taxes filed correctly to de-stressing with a yoga class. was started as an extension of my day job where I help libraries find sustainable funding. I strongly believe that a very smart part of a truly sustainable funding strategy is a sustainable building, a focus on reduced operating costs through smart choices in facility construction, operations and programs.

Last year I found myself groaning every time someone whipped out the phrase “now more than ever” but I’m usin’ it this morning – libraries need to focus on sustainability – on all fronts – NOW MORE THAN EVER.

Our funding is decreasing, politicians are scrutinizing, users are relying on us. We have to make smart choices that sustain us for the long haul locally and globally.

A fact I used on Library Advocacy Day on Tuesday in our State’s capitol was that while state funding is decreasing at a record rate, local funding is holding firm. Local tax payers are voting to tax themselves for library services in their communities – statewide 97% of library budget votes passed in 2010. Local people get it, now we just have to help legislators hear from their constituents that they are supposed to represent up in Albany.

One thing I’ve learned is that legislators value “going green” right now. Regardless of political affiliation legislators have voted for more money to go to the energy research and development authority, green job creation and sustainable construction money than just about anything else.

We’ve got to get in on that.

Tie sustainable funding and “going green” together, trust me, it will pay off for you in one way or another.

A look back at 2010…

‘Tis the season for “Best of” lists, “Year in Review” articles and the like… I can’t resist a look back at what was a pretty exciting year.

In January I launched, thinking I’d have a holding pen for all the ideas racing around in my head and hoping these random thoughts would be useful to libraries around the country. In March I was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker which really changed things!

The M&S nod opened the door for me to participate in two Design Institutes through Library Journal. The first in Atlanta, GA and the second in Greenville, SC. I moderated panels on sustainable design and rural libraries. What was exciting about both panels was that it became clear I wasn’t crazy. Despite all the resistance I’ve received in NY, in other parts of the country “green is a given” for library designers. This experience really solidified for me that I’m on the right path.

I did “Greening Your Library” workshops from one end of New York State (Long Island) to the other (Potsdam) and a few in between. The reception was great at each stop along the way. It was so much fun to meet people who were as interested as I am in the topic and I learned a lot along the way (bird strikes anyone?)

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to talk to others about what I think is a pretty exciting idea, the combination of libraries and sustainable design. Sustainability has been defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” If we want our libraries to be sustainable it has to happen on all fronts – funding, community outreach, technology, operations and facilities.

2010 will be hard to top but I’m open to trying in 2011.

Thank you to all the readers of SustainableLibraries, those of you who trekked out to a workshop and my fans on Facebook!

-Rebekkah Smith Aldrich
Sustainable Libraries

p.s. Here are my TOP TEN favorite SL posts from 2010:
Sustainable Spectrum
40 Tips for the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day
5 Ways to Make Computing Greener in your Library
When a Bulb Breaks (CFLs)
Upgrade to LEDs or the Easter Bunny Gets It!
Green Roofs…Revisited
MHLS Green Team Series
Louise & the Eco Machine
Greening & Historic Preservation
Living Building Challenge

Living Building Challenge

A local organization, the Omega Institute, just accomplished what many people have said was impossible – they are one of the first two projects to be certified by the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

The LBC goes way beyond LEED, “it defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions. This certification program covers all building at all scales and is a unified tool for transformative design, allowing us to envision a future that is Socially Just, Culturally Rich and Ecologically Restorative.”

A LBC building must be net-zero energy, net-zero water, non-toxic, provide for habitat restoration on adjacent sites, and urban agriculture is mandated.

One of the most important features of LBC is that it measures the actual performance of buildings. Basically this means that a year after a building was built, measurements are taken to ensure that it is, in fact, net zero in terms of energy and water, etc. This is a big distinction from existing requirements like LEED and CA’s Title 24 which measure performance models and do not hold projects accountable to live up to those models.

LBC has seven performance categories, or ‘Petals’: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives:

  • Limits to Growth
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Habitat Exchange
  • Car Free Living
  • Net Zero Water
  • Ecological Water Flow
  • Net Zero Energy
  • Civilized Environment
  • Healthy Air
  • Biophilia
  • Red List
  • Embodied Carbon Footprint
  • Responsible Industry
  • Appropriate Sourcing
  • Conservation + Reuse
  • Human Scale + Humane Places
  • Democracy + Social Justice
  • Rights to Nature
  • Beauty + Spirit
  • Inspiration + Education

The project cannot contain any of the following Red List materials or chemicals:

  • Asbestos
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Formaldehyde (added)
  • Halogenated Flame Retardants
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Lead (added)
  • Mercury
  • Petrochemical Fertilizers and Pesticides
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol

When I visited Omega this summer they mentioned the Red List and how they had to consult an eight page list of banned materials when buying carpeting for their classroom space. I asked if this was burdensome, “not at all, it’s what is best for the people who use our space.”

Bravo to Omega for taking this leap and being a leader. Showing others what could be is a powerful thing.

Building Orientation

Last week we conducted a building orientation for all staff members. This idea came out of the MHLS Green Team. During one of our meetings our facilities guy was commenting on how a few staffers were consistently leaving on the lights at night which was wasting electricity. The conversation that followed revealed that some of us didn’t know where the light switches were for certain lights and others were not sure it was our job to turn them off (thinking there were still others in the building).

We designed an hour long program, limited it to 6 staff people at a time and did a couple of sessions to make sure everyone had a chance to participate. We stated it was mandatory (but that we knew they would come along even if it wasn’t!)

Before the sessions we implemented some signage we had agreed on and labeled all light switches.

We met around a table to begin and
1) Reviewed the “Building Basics”

  • building operating hours
  • alarm
  • opening and closing procedures
  • lighting basics

2) “Safety First” alerted staff to

  • emergency procedures
  • fire safety
  • some basic personal precautions to take to protect themselves when leaving the building after hours

3) MHLS “Goes Green” Challenge Results

  • shared the results of the Challenge in which they all took part (more than 120 ideas were shared!)
  • let everyone know some of the things that were already being done that had been suggested
  • what energy efficiency items have been included in our facility plan (new windows and solar panels)
  • reviewed the building recycling opportunities and guidelines
  • shared tips from Staff gathered through the Challenge:
    • “Top Ten Tips” for Conserving Energy – some ideas were very specific to our building but here are ones that work anywhere:
      • turn off computers and monitors at the end of every day
      • use the Power Options setting on PCs to help machines save energy while idle
      • unplug equipment used infrequently (pencil sharpeners, laminator)
      • use the stairs rather than the elevator
    • Paper: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Then we toured through the building, starting at the door everyone enters and leaves through. On each floor we pointed out:

  • how doors lock, when they should be locked
  • fire extinguishers
  • circuit breaker boxes
  • light switches
  • where lights could be shut off when no one is in the area
  • safety tips (like closing blinds on the first floor at the end of the day)

It went amazingly smoothly. Everyone “played along” and were helpful, coming up with more ideas along the way – motion detectors for the bathroom lights to help make sure lights are off when no one is in there, glow in the dark tape on key light switches, tips for using a fire extinguisher… it was great.

Have I mentioned yet how glad I am we did the MHLS Green Team? 😉


Here in the northeast it’s time to start thinking about winterizing buildings. Here are my top 10 winterizing tips:

  1. Check doors and windows for air leaks.
  2. Have the furnace (or boiler) serviced so that it is operating a maximum efficiency.
  3. Check to make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
  4. Ceiling fans should be set to push air down (clockwise).
  5. Put the storm windows back in if you’ve removed them
  6. Check the state of the insulation in the basement and attic. Replace any that looks worn out or add insulation where there is none.
  7. Insulate your pipes.
  8. Use metal-backed tape to seal up gaps in ductwork.
  9. Insulate outlets on the exterior wall.
  10. Check out the minimum interior temperature for working space in your state and program your thermostat.

Pyramid of Conservation

Ever read something that makes you go “YES! That’s what I’ve been trying to say!”? Well that happened to me recently when I was perusing an article by Lloyd Alter on when I saw him describe what I’ve been calling the “Sustainability Spectrum“:

Billions of dollars are being, if not wasted, at least not effectively used as the salesmen come around trying to sell windows and solar panels. Everyone wants the sexy stuff and governments are subsidizing it with tax credits, but as we said earlier, the people handing out tax credits should insist that you don’t get money for fancy photovoltaics unless you do the cheap low hanging fruit first.

To support his point, Mr. Alter provides links to:

Employee Health & Productivity

A study out of Michigan State University earlier this year provides some solid data on the link between green buildings and increased employee health and productivity.

Effects of Green Buildings on Employee Health and Productivity” by Amanjeet Singh, MS, Matt Syal, PhD, Sue
C. Grady, PhD, MPH, and Sinem Korkmaz, PhD was published in the peer reviewed journal, the American Journal of Public Health in July 2010. They focused on the effects of indoor environmental quality (IEQ). IEQ is broader than IAQ (indoor air quality) in that it encompasses  all aspects of the indoor setting including air quality, ventilation, thermal comfort, visual comfort (lighting and views), ergonomics and noise.

“… we found that improved IEQ contributed to reductions in perceived absenteeism and work hours affected by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression, and stress and to selfreported improvements in productivity. These preliminary findings indicate that green buildings may positively affect public health.”