Building Communities of Librarians at Home and Beyond: Thoughts From a New Librarian

My introduction to SustainRT happened by chance in the midst of completing some office work during my first year as a library science graduate student. I happened across the roundtable’s name in an online newsletter, and after some digging around I was blown away by the community of librarians that I had just discovered. I’d always been committed to promoting the growth of more sustainable communities through personal endeavors like volunteer work, and my interest in this community was substantial enough that, during my last semester as a graduate student, I decided to complete an independent study on sustainability in librarianship. The purpose of this was to begin building an understanding of how sustainability had been discussed in the field of librarianship, the key issues that had shaped these discussions, and current initiatives and hot topics that librarians were addressing. The “Resources” page on the SustainRT section of ALA’s website proved an invaluable starting ground, and works like Mandy Henk’s Ecology, Economy, Equity and Maria Jankowska’s Focus on Educating for Sustainability significantly shaped my understanding of how intricately sustainability ties into librarianship and how librarians can support the development of more sustainable societies. The knowledge that I gained through this study, and the related projects that I completed during the course of that semester, solidified my commitment to supporting sustainable practices as an academic librarian and to actively incorporating sustainability work into my long-term career goals.

Prior to embarking on this study, I had both a very narrow understanding of what sustainability meant and only a vague notion of how it could connect to librarianship. My interactions with fellow students showed that I certainly wasn’t alone in this; whenever I mentioned the topic of my study, more than a few were simply surprised at the notion of connecting those two areas. Others, though, expressed a strong interest in hearing more about what I was reading and learning, as well as a desire for more opportunities to learn about topics like this. Those reactions got me thinking about opportunities, or rather missed opportunities, for MLS students and early career librarians to learn about a topic that is so central to our work. Regardless of the specific subset of librarianship in which one chooses to work, the core mission of SustainRT - promoting a “more equitable, healthy, and economically viable society”1 - connects to all of our work and the relationships we build with our communities. I strongly believe that learning about sustainability in its broadest sense and how it connects to our individual roles as librarians can help us all orient our work and formulate the larger contributions that we wish to make in our communities. There are some incredible resources available online that provide these opportunities for education and reflection, and without SustainRT I wouldn’t have known the full extent of how librarianship connects to building sustainable communities or been introduced to the work of so many inspiring librarians across the country. Yet I missed the chance to engage more with my fellow students and build an in-house community for learning about and discussing these issues, especially considering that real, meaningful discussions of the broader social and political forces that shape our work was largely absent from our formal education. While I had the time and means to explore these issues in-depth and even incorporate them into actual coursework, many of my peers didn’t necessarily share that. These limitations make the existence of groups like SustainRT all the more necessary, but having the opportunity to also meet with peers in-person, share new information, and build a supportive network right at home is a valuable way of translating ideas from this national community to our immediate lives. Understanding how our work, both collectively and as individuals, can support the resiliency of the communities we serve is a vital aspect of our education as librarians, and the existence of these national and local groups supports both our professional and personal growth.

Looking back on my study, my only regret is that I didn’t focus on developing this very sort of community- one that could introduce other students to sustainability resources while providing immediate opportunities for us to come together and reflect on how they shape our work - with others who were equally interested in sustainability. I had focused heavily on educating the wider university community, by developing research guides on sustainability resources and coordinating library events that promoted campus sustainability groups, but I didn’t fully consider working with my fellow librarians to educate us all until it was too late. Granted, this took place during my final semester of graduate school, when my time on campus was winding down and the terror of the job hunt was looming large. But while this opportunity was missed during my school years, I hope to support the development of an active community devoted to addressing sustainability at my current institution. This will include sharing educational resources with my fellow librarians and seeking out opportunities for us to come together and discuss both our concerns about sustainability issues and what we can do to address them at our library. I also hope to expand that community of librarians to include other concerned individuals across campus, thereby developing an even stronger understanding of how to create a more sustainable campus. I’m eager to focus on this work and to learn more about what others have done to promote discussions of sustainability at their libraries, and would welcome any stories that others can share of their experiences creating such communities. The range of factors that threaten the vitality and very existence of our communities is daunting, and I hope that we as a profession (and myself personally) are active changemakers instead of passive responders. I’m encouraged by the community here at SustainRT and throughout the wider library profession, and hope to continue harnessing the power of this roundtable as a means of connecting and sharing ideas to build active, local communities at home.

  1. “Sustainability Round Table.” (n.d.). American Library Association. Retrieved from


Klimek_profile-e1510029341161-150x150 Sarah Klimek recently began working as the U.S. History Librarian at Michigan State University. She received her M.L.S. from Indiana University in May 2017, where she worked as a Public Services Assistant and a Teaching & Learning Graduate Assistant at the Herman B Wells Library. Prior to her M.L.S., she received a B.A. in history with a certificate in early childhood education from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. As an early-career librarian, Sarah is dedicated to supporting the growth of resilient and sustainable communities - she is a member of SustainRT and recently published an article on the availability of government information on sustainability in the Winter 2016 issue of Documents to the People. She is also a member of ALA and ACRL, and looks forward to being an active member of these communities.