The Library’s Role in Sustainability

Special Interest Group discusses green libraries

August 22, 2016

(Left to right): Joakim Lennartsson, Mauritza Jadefrid, Harri Sahavirta (SIG chair), Hong Xu, and Saima Qutab.
(Left to right): Joakim Lennartsson, Mauritza Jadefrid, Harri Sahavirta (SIG chair), Hong Xu, and Saima Qutab.

The IFLA Environmental Sustainability and Libraries Special Interest Group is on a mission. It hopes to address the effects of climate change on libraries, share the application of environmental practices, and increase environmental awareness among librarians.

At “Green Libraries: Together for All,” a Thursday afternoon session presented at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Columbus, Ohio, the group accomplished all three—welcoming research from Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and the US, and presenting the IFLA Green Library Award for 2016.

“Sustainability has many aspects,” said Saima Qutab from the University of Dammam in Saudi Arabia. She and her colleagues chose to focus their paper specifically on green buildings, which can reduce a structure’s energy use by 30%.

Qutab identified concepts and benefits to building environmentally sustainable library buildings in Asian countries, and highlighted examples of LEED-certified and environmentally friendly projects, such as the Anna Centenary Library in Kotturpuram, India, and the Green Library in Bangkok, Thailand.

However, Qutab acknowledged certain challenges communities might have when considering green library construction. Buildings can be expensive to implement, some regions in Asia have unusual climates and geographic extremes, and structures can be high-maintenance and require an expert workforce.

There are also plenty of opportunities that come with green building, Qutab said, such as research ventures, a renewable energy supply, opening of new markets, and strengthening of local economies. She and her colleagues suggested that standards and guidelines, policy and framework, resource and technology sharing, awareness, and education and training all contribute to making green buildings possible.

Rather than talk about a specific area of sustainability, Hong Xu, project librarian at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, focused her case study on how using library information technologies and resources has supported sustainability projects and aggregate research capacities across the Research Coordination Network for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Engagement in Semiarid Regions Project.

Xu said the services that the project provided were an information platform, sustainability research, sustainability education, and sustainability practices. She talked about software and content management systems used; data management and repository collaboration; the use of virtual conferences, learning objects, and sustainability courses for instruction; and the actual inherent sustainability practices used during this process, such as teleconferencing and “save a tree” initiatives.

Mauritza Jadefrid and Joakim Lennartsson, both of the University of Gothenburg Library in Sweden, introduced their “Searching for Sustainability” program, a blended course offered as an add-on to subject material courses that explains how to search for interdisciplinary materials.

As sustainability becomes a more popular, searched-for concept across all disciplines and research facilities, new resources in sustainable development and pedagogical methods need to be developed. The library used blended learning and flipped classroom models in a three-hour sustainability course for students, which involved both web-based and face-to-face components.

The course tackled search terms, search strategies, database training, cross-searching tools, source criticism, provided quizzes at the end of the web-based component, and issued an assignment in advance of the face-to-face component. In its first year, the course was administered to 100 students—93 of whom completed the web course component and 92 of whom attended the face-to-face workshop.

Jadefrid and Lennartsson reported positive results and feedback from course-takers, and expressed hopes to expand the program by offering the course to all university faculties.

At the conclusion of the session, the IFLA Green Library Award winner was announced, selected from 30 submissions worldwide. First place honors went to Pequeño Sol ecological library, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas state, Mexico, for its new crowdfunded and community-constructed building extension that incorporates renewable energies and recycled materials.


Top row (left to right): Lesley Farmer, Gertrude C. Umunnakwe, Emmanuel U. Anyanwu, Valérie Glass, Isabel Mendinhos. Seated (left to right): Clayton Copeland, Karen Gavigan, and Elizabeth Burns.

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