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How Green Will 2009 Be for Libraries?

Submitted by Daniel A. Freeman on February 12, 2009 - 1:01pm

It may not be Earth day yet, but there has been some environmental discussion in the library world lately. The excitement over the unveiling of Kindle 2.0 has led to a lot of discussion about e-readers as the green alternative to paper-based reading. I enjoyed this piece from the Huffington Post (Hat Tip: LISNews).

February's issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter will contain an article by Tom Peters called "How Green is my Library?". According to Tom:

Some libraries are trying to thrive as organizations without having a physical building, but that’s still rare—the overwhelming majority of libraries function primarily from an actual building. When it’s time to replace one of those buildings, or to renovate or add on to an existing building, that’s a green opportunity. The harvesting, extracting, manufacturing, and transportation processes behind the materials used in the building, as well as the building process itself, all have an impact on the overall greenness of the building project.

The cost and environmental friendliness of operating the building is another system loaded with green opportunities. HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning) systems come into play here, as well as lighting and overall energy use. When thinking about energy use, you will need to consider everything, not just the computers. Photocopiers, the refrigerator in the staff lounge, energy usage by appliances brought into the library by patrons, and all other energy consumption needs must be considered.

This got me thinking--will 2009 be a green year for libraries? It seems like the economic crisis may affect this in two opposite ways. In a sense, many libraries will have no choice but to go green in order to save money. A strained budget is likely to force librarians to reduce their consumption of paper, try to cut costs on heating, electricity and water, and thus lower the library's carbon footprint. So, at the micro level, the economic crisis will spur library environmentalism.

At the macro level, on the other hand, this crisis may not be so green. While saving paper and lowering the heating costs are short-term sources of financial relief, big-picture green overhauls of library infrastructure usually require a significant up-front investment. If you want to start planning a new, eco-friendly library building, renovate your HVAC system or install solar panels on the roof, 2009 may not be your year.

Of course, no matter what your budget situation is, there are always things that you can do to make your library greener. During our coverage of Midwinter, I neglected to link to this awesome post from the blog Going Green @ Your Library, which provides a "green summary" of the conference. Going Green @ Your Library is an awesome place to get information and find resources on how to green up your library.