Sustainability Challenges for Libraries

Updated: Mar 2

Guest Bloggers: Louise Mosnik and Loretta Strharsky


Poudre River Library District, Fort Collins

Photo: Harry Strharsky


We know libraries. We check out books be they audio or print copies, movies, magazines and newspapers; we download books, magazines, videos. We bring our children to the play area, have them find books they want to read and get them a library card. Libraries offer meeting spaces, community forums, assistance for businesses and non-profits. We use libraries for help with grant writing, genealogy and even auto repair manuals. And this is just a few of libraries’ offerings.


But behind the scenes of book shelves and play areas, there are libraries making contributions to sustainability. Here’s one library’s advances on library waste reduction, staff education, and district policies and procedures.


The Poudre River Library District in Fort Collins, Colorado has been a partner in the City of Fort Collins’ ClimateWise program for the past eleven years. This program “offers simple solutions to help Fort Collins Businesses reduce their impact, save money and gain recognition for their achievements in energy and water conservation, waste reduction, alternative transportation and social responsibility.” The Library District took four years, but has achieved a platinum record, the highest level, and maintained it for seven years in a row.


To implement sustainability goals, Poudre Libraries established a Green Team to help develop policies and procedures. In addition, the District established a budget line item for sustainability. The Green Team’s work can only be described as impressive. As well as their regular library duties at each site, a staff person is identified as A Green Team member. Their tasks are to encourage staff individuals to be recycle-wise, to participate in training staff on reducing, repurposing, reusing, and recycling as it is exemplified at the library, to be aware of ongoing challenges for sustainability and share that information via signage, emails and at staff meetings.


This all sounds pretty amorphous, without any concrete results. But let’s look more closely at the Poudre River Public Library District, a medium-sized district comprised of three libraries, one administrative office and one collections development site. With over 200,000 people in the service area serving more than 2,800 people a day and checking out nearly 8,000 collection items daily, it is no wonder there is a lot that can be recycled and reused.


Here are the relevant statistics for 2019:


Recycled locally, instate, unless noted:


· 100 pounds: Food and materials composted from library events.

· 345 tons: Single stream recycling like cans, cardboard, newspapers and magazines

· 171 pounds: Computers recycled

· 1600 gallons: Various soft plastic film, including plastic bags, bubble wrap, shrink wrap

· 9800 gallons: Shredded paper

· 200 pounds: Shiny backing from labels and adhesive products (shipped out of state)

· 30,973 pounds: Withdrawn and damaged hard cover books, damaged media discs and cases

· 19,878 pounds: Withdrawn books and media for the Friends of Library

· Miscellaneous items such as batteries and ink cartridges


Creative re-use:


· Advanced reader copies of books and magazines for NOCO Book Fest and various non- profit agencies.

· Book jackets for arts and craft tables

· Boxes, wrapping paper tubes, plastic water bottles for library programs

· Music CDs and withdrawn magazines given to the Food Bank for patrons


Fort Collins, CO, Library

Photo: Harry Strharsky


Further sustainability work:


· One of the libraries is a LEED-certified site and the district is working on replacing current lighting to LED lighting at the other locations as needed.

· Prior to 2016, the District was paid by various agencies for withdrawn books. But post-2016, with the reduction of recycling options, the District is paying for books to be recycled. The

District sees this as an important and, hopefully, viable way to implement good and responsible practices.


As one member of the Green Team states: “We try hard.” Indeed they do.


Can your local community library meet the sustainability challenge?

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