Imagining the Green Library

Libraries have always been an important part of the overall health of a community, and recent statistics have shown that 94% of survey respondents state the local library is a vital service in their cities. But the image of the dusty old building with winding miles of stacks and shelves is quickly giving way to the library of the future. These new structures are inviting and even futuristic, but more importantly, many of them are actually good for the environment.

When new libraries are built or existing structures undergo renovation, many community planners incorporate eco-friendly and “green” initiatives into the plans. After all, as a beacon of education, instruction, and insight, the library serves as more than just a warehouse for books, but also as a bastion of best practices. Therefore, meeting the guidelines set forth to be considered a LEED-certified building (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is an important characteristic for libraries.

Some structures, like the Scottsdale, Arizona, Appaloosa branch used 95% reclaimed materials in the building of their new facility, while the landscaping outside was specifically selected to not need irrigation. Apart from the monetary and environmental savings on water, the building itself was designed to rely on natural daylight to cut energy costs, but also to use that daylight in a way that wouldn’t overheat the building and require expensive air conditioning bills.

Others, like the Sun Valley Branch Library in Los Angeles, were built with very purposeful location planning and geographic orientation in order to prevent the need for excessive heating or cooling, as well as to maximize on natural light sources to cut down on the energy costs.

The interior is just as much a part of the structure as the exterior, and libraries like the Battery Park City Library in New York City have used features like carpets made from recycled auto tires, reclaimed wood flooring, and low-flow water fixtures throughout the building.

But one of the most important steps any library can take is to incorporate digital content whenever possible. While print books, magazines, and newspapers aren’t going away any time soon, there are libraries like the BiblioTech Public Library in San Antonio, Texas, that have done away with physical content altogether in favor of digital. What advantage does digital have over print?
Apart from the obvious factors like the environmental impact of printing and shipping the materials, patrons also have to drive to the library to borrow them and then to return them. That driving adds to the overall carbon footprint of the library. Of course, stocking and storing printed materials requires large buildings with extensive energy needs.

Digital lending can be done in such a way that patrons use their existing digital devices to borrow what amounts to nothing more than a file download, one that is stored on a server instead of in a large facility. With the elimination of transportation costs associated with receiving the book for the catalog and then the needs of patrons who borrow and return materials, libraries are able to make significant global impact in small ways; these small steps can serve as an example to community members on how to effect larger change.