Sustainability and Academic Libraries

Meeting the mission with speakers, clothing swaps, and green supplies

April 22, 2020

Sustainability in Libraries: Sally Romero

To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day—and recognize the American Library Association adding sustainability as a core value—American Libraries returns with its ongoing sustainability series. In these posts, information professionals share their experiences with sustainability in libraries.

As academic libraries evolve to contribute to institutional missions and visions, librarians are transforming out of their “regular” roles to collaborate with students, faculty, and staff in achieving goals such as sustainability. But how can academic libraries help with this integral commitment?

Librarians and library workers can implement sustainable ideas in their library and integrate learning-by-doing into the educational experience. Some ways that academic libraries can be a part of the sustainability conversation on their campuses include the following:

Collaborate with campus stakeholders on a sustainability speaker series. Invite faculty, staff, and students currently working on sustainability research to speak at your library. You may be surprised how many individuals on campus have a passion for sustainability and either have done or are conducting research within their area. Some might even have a side business that focuses on sustainability. I attended an event at our campus makerspace where an administrator was talking about how an alumnus used the space to start their small business that produced T-shirts made from 100%-recycled plastic. I invited the alumnus to talk about the recycling process at the library during our Earth Day programming. Students said they loved the event and, more importantly, it provided the platform for our alumnus to showcase their sustainable passion project and the ways the library continued to support their growth as part of our campus community.

Host a clothing swap. A clothing swap can be coordinated in many ways, but the most popular version involves someone bringing in a used clothing item in good condition to exchange for another item. Swap events can be big or small, depending on your space, time, and collaborators. The best collaborators are student clubs focused on sustainability. Or reach out to faculty members who teach aspects of sustainability and ask them to partner with you. Partners can promote the event through social media and their groups, as well as reach out to individuals to donate used clothing. I’m working with a professor who would like to incorporate a clothing swap in their marketing course so students can practice the skills they are learning while still contributing to sustainable practices.

Seek out and use reusable supplies for DIY events. DIY workshops have become a student favorite in academic libraries. For a two-for-one event, try hosting a clothing swap and with the remaining clothes, host additional events, like making a DIY T-shirt tote bag. Collaborating with a campus makerspace can also prove beneficial in using other resources, such as 3D printers, sewing machines, letter presses, and other equipment. Students love to get creative, and supplying them with resources such as fabric and trims can help unleash their creativity. Not sure where to find fabric and trim without a clothing swap? Reach out to local fabric shops or factories and ask about scraps they no longer use or need. One shop’s trash can be someone else’s treasure.

You can also be resourceful with withdrawn material, such as magazines. Our library student club hosted a magazine-strip silhouette art event during finals week as a destressing program. Look within your discarded library resources to see what can be reused; however, be strategic in planning something that will have longevity as opposed to ending up in the landfill.

As universities aim to educate and help students, faculty, and staff embrace sustainability in their daily lives, academic libraries can help integrate the practice into their student activities and engagement and play a critical role in promoting outreach activities that educate the campus community.


Raymond Pun

Campus Sustainability through Information Literacy

First-year STEM program students conduct research and make relevant recommendations at Fresno State

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