The Green Library Movement

The Green Library Movement began in the early 1990s but didn’t gain momentum until around 2003 (Antonelli, 2008). At this point, many new, green library buildings were constructed, and libraries, cities, and university campuses realized the importance of reducing their impact on the environment. The benefits of going green are numerous:

  • Economic—Reduces operating costs
  • Health—Non-toxic paint and carpets make staff more productive
  • Environmental—Reduces natural resource and energy consumption
  • Community—Acts as a role model for energy and resource efficiency

Libraries can achieve these benefits in a number of ways:

  • Building a new, green building
  • Greening an existing building
  • Implementing green practices and processes
  • Promoting environmental literacy among patrons

New construction.  A number of high-profile, green library buildings have been constructed in the past several years. These facilities don’t just respond to the new role libraries play as community gathering space, they also do their part to reduce the effects of energy crises and climate change (Meyer, 2008). The following list is by no means comprehensive but lists some of the features green libraries have included:

Renovations. Many libraries don’t have the funds to build a new LEED Platinum facility from scratch. Not to worry, there are options here as well. Solar panels installed on MIT’s Hayden Library now generate 15,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. In fact, many of the options available to new construction projects are also possible with existing buildings.

Green Practices. This is a broad category that can’t be described in a single paragraph. It includes things like powering down non-essential computers after closing hours and letting them go to sleep during business hours, using low-energy lighting, discouraging staff and patrons from printing emails and other unnecessary documents, setting printer defaults to two-sided printing, recycling old computers and buying refurbished ones, using non-toxic cleaning supplies, and installing bike racks in front of the library. If you want to be as green as the Berkeley Public Library, you can even create a Tool Lending Library, so that patrons can share tools instead of everyone buying their own complete set.

Environmental Literacy. Environmental literacy is an obvious extension of information literacy, something libraries have always been involved in (Miller, 2010). Libraries of all types are well placed to provide their patrons with the knowledge to live sustainably. They can build their collections with a range of resources on the environment, from inspiring books by David Suzuki to practical guides such as Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choice . In addition, libraries can provide e-resources such as links to governmental sites such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy or the Environmental Protection Agency’s Information Resources. Libraries can also provide information on green volunteer and job opportunities, promote green events such as author visits and workshops, and highlight environmental print and electronic resources via posters, book displays, and the website.

There are plenty of models to look to for inspiration. For example, the city and library of San Francisco (SFPL) are committed to sustainability (Fialkoff, 2008). To encourage greener modes of transportation, some of its branches don’t even have parking lots.  As one staff members explains, “We don’t believe that people should bring their cars to the library.” Similar to Berkeley’s tool lending library, SFPL also wants to expand the role of libraries in the community. They’d like to turn the library into a hub of green activity—a “one stop green shop”—where patrons can borrow a bike or earn transit rewards with their library card.

In spite of the environmental commitment shown by Berkeley and San Francisco and the rush to build LEED-certified libraries, the greening of libraries has been a slow and incomplete process. For public libraries in particular, this is partly due to two factors (Al & House, 2010):

  1. Public libraries haven’t created an official green ethic; and
  2. Public library associations have done little to encourage environmental responsibility on the part of their members

The authors of the report argue that institutions and professional associations must step up to embed an environmental ethic into libraries. The green library movement started and is being maintained at the grassroots level by enthusiastic library staff. In order to make further progress, it will be necessary to bring the larger institutions on board and become fully engaged.


Al, R., & House, S. (2010). Going Green in North American Public Libraries (pp. 1-13). Presented at the World Library and Information Congress, Gothenburg, Sweden: IFLA. Retrieved from
Antonelli, M. (2008). The Green Library Movement: An Overview and Beyond. Electronic Green Journal, 1(27). Retrieved from
Fialkoff, F. (2008). Green libraries are local. Library Journal, 133(11), 8.
Meyer, J. (2008). Global Warming’s Library Challenge. Library Journal, 133(18), 26-29.
Miller, K. (2010). Environmental Literacy: an Opportunity for Illinois Libraries. Illinois Library Association Reporter, 28(4), 30.
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