Liaison Perspectives on Sustainability

Blog Post by Kristen Mastel

The concept of sustainability is gaining ground within the library community, as we have seen with the adoption of “sustainability” as a core value of librarianship this past year. While this is a great start to bring this to the forefront of our profession, we need to ask what are we working towards, not just simply working on regarding sustainability in our libraries, community, and beyond.

As the liaison to the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, I have seen how they have crafted a strategic plan with a mission of both people and planet prospering together. This aligns with the concept of the triple bottom line “where organizations must be economically prosperous, promote environmental quality, and be champions of social justice in order to be sustainable,” according to John Elkington. How could libraries work together towards this goal?

As an outreach and instruction librarian, I will highlight some of the efforts we have undertaken at my institution, as I work on programmatic outreach planning rather than merely a collection of activities related to sustainability.

Since the beginning, libraries have implicitly had sustainability as a core value - if we look at one of our main services is to circulate books and materials to the public. In addition to providing books at pop-up libraries at our campus and community farmers’ markets, we also table and provide activities, such as button making with discarded magazines, at various sustainability programs and events. These efforts not only increase awareness of the Libraries resources and services but serve as an environmental model of reuse and repurpose.

A core area where our university is trying to foster change is around social justice issues related to food systems. The library is a key partner with faculty focused around food access and food desert research as we provide in-depth research assistance through research sprints. In addition, the Libraries are a central player in reducing student costs by finding open educational resources and library-licensed materials for course readings. Another core outreach effort is to review the STARS report, which gives great insight into courses that discuss sustainability and support resources for outreach.

At a micro-level, we acknowledge that our student workers are often forced to make difficult choices with their finances, such as either purchasing a textbook or healthy eating. However, we recognize we can do more by addressing living wage issues as well. We want to empower our students and staff to support their own health by growing their own food. We have six circulating gardening kits and provide seeds at the campus garden plot lottery. These coordinated efforts ensure that the library is viewed as a central player in the community around sustainability. Therefore, the library can be a safe space where complex discussions around climate change can happen, as the campus works to balance corporate financial support and sustainability and tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in order to ensure that people and the planet can prosper together.