Blogger Erika Hogan

Sustainability and Children’s Services

Earth Day is one month away, but what happens all year long matters just as much, maybe more. Ever since the ALA endorsed sustainability as a core value, there’s a recognition of the key leadership role libraries can play in community knowledge and resilience in response to climate change. While I often plan programs around nature-based activities, getting youth outdoors to appreciate the natural world is only one step toward ecological thinking. After joining my library’s sustainability team, I’ve begun to center thinking about the kinds of practices that lend themselves to children’s programs and services with a lighter eco-footprint. Here I’d like to share some reflections and resources I’ve found helpful on my continuing journey toward greater sustainability in children’s services.

So what do sustainable practices in children’s services look like? For starters, I have an opportunity to reconsider over-reliance on single use items like craft supplies and coloring sheets. The web of ways youth services staff can engage with sustainability involves programming and other aspects of planning.

spider web

Things move fast in youth services so I keep it simple and reflect on two phases: before and after. Before purchasing, I look for reusable, upcycled, or repurposed materials for programs and activities. When purchasing, I also think about where items were before they arrive. Sourcing local options when feasible used to be a hope, and now it’s a priority. I also challenge myself to think about what will become of the items after the program or event. Am I generating waste or can items be repurposed, donated, or used when they go home?

Sustainability is not a zero sum situation: thinking about the lifespan of what we do and the materials we use only takes a moment but it can make a long term impact on sustainability. Whether verbally or through other means, communicate the why. A brief explanation that a change of supplies or practices relates to the library’s sustainability practices clarifies the purpose and underscores the value.

For more insights about inventive eco-minded craft planning, check out “Waste Not, Want Not” and consider what kind and how many toys the library play space needs. Whether your library has joined the Sustainable Libraries Initiative or not, their practical approaches, webinars, and resources can inform library choices toward economically feasible, environmentally sound, and socially equitable library policies and practices. Whatever you’re inspired to do for Earth Day, global and local communities have the potential to thrive when libraries make climate action a priority all year.

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