Administrative and Management Skills

Greenish: How one children’s department is trying to be better at the three R’s

“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein is a very polarizing children’s book. Some people say it is a heartwarming story about a tree that is always there for a boy when he needs it. Some people say that the boy selfishly took from the tree without ever giving anything away himself. Whether or not you think this book is fundamentally heartwarming or appalling, one thing always stays the same – the tree loses its resources over time. 

As a children’s librarian I am in the world of paper, so I am not advocating for the abolishment of printed books any time soon. The research clearly shows the benefits of holding a physical book vs. holding a screen for young children. I merely want to try to be better stewards of everything we do in our children’s department that supports literacy. 

When I was a young kid in Alabama, I remember Auntie Litter coming to my school with the refrain “reuse, reduce waste, recycle!” Over the five years I have been in my management position at the Homewood Public Library I feel like I’ve done pretty well with the recycling part. It’s the reuse and reduce waste part that has been tripping me up more than I care to admit. 

We are a mid-size library and do over 50 programs a month including preschool and elementary and tween programming. The first thing I did was to figure out how many of our programs were at zero waste. I was pleased to find that almost 75% of our programs met this criteria by using the same materials again and again such as LEGOS, story kits, and play materials. So what to do about the other 25%? The main culprit is food at programs (which our patrons love of course)!

Here is an example of our storage space before buying reusable items.

Instead of the usual paper plates and cups and utensils, we now have reusable items. Now these materials are plastic (BPA free, microwave and dishwasher safe) so not the greenest solution, but it will take our programs in a less wasteful direction by reusing these and reducing the waste we previously had.

Our other departmental favorite activities include our monthly coloring contest where kids color a shape for our Velcro wall and I Spy Challenge where kids take a piece of paper and mark out the items they find and bring back to the desk.  Although these pieces of paper can be recycled, we decided to laminate them and reuse them again and again with dry erase crayons instead of pencils and markers. Another stride toward reusing and reducing waste.

These are not perfect solutions, and I realize the environmental impact of these changes is minuscule at best. However, we are trying to do better and think differently about what we’ve always done a certain way. As Kermit the Frog reminds us, “it’s not easy being green.”

Today’s blog post was written by Laura Tucker, Head of Children’s Services at Homewood Public Library in Homewood, Alabama, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. She can be reached at 

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of VI. Administrative and Management Skills and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.


One comment

  1. Rachel

    How do you get around health department codes with reusable dishware? I was under the impression that, in Illinois, things had to be disposable unless one had a commercial dishwasher to clean them?

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