-via Megan Bennett, American Libraries

Climate Change Chat: Library Staffers Discuss Grant Program to Educate Patrons on the Environment

“Climate change is the one thing we’re all experiencing,” says Alexandria (Va.) Library adult services librarian Megan Zimmerman. Institutions like hers see the firsthand effects of climate change right outside their doors. Twenty percent of the city is located on a floodplain, she said, and in recent years, storms have become more severe, causing homes and businesses to flood.

Alexandria Library was one of 25 libraries that received an American Library Association (ALA) Resilient Communities grant to help educate patrons on the climate crisis. Representatives from five public and academic library recipients joined to discuss their work in a January 28 program at ALA’s 2023 LibLearnX conference in New Orleans.

The Resilient Communities’ six-month pilot, which began in October 2020, provided $1,000 to libraries to host programs, and offered materials and other resources to address climate change and highlight issues of environmental justice, sustainability, and emergency preparedness.

“Just talking about climate change with the students has been really important because they don’t talk about it that much,” said Julia Kress, senior electronic resources assistant at Rice University in Houston. “And there are still some people—and I’m sure this is everywhere else, too—but in Texas, they question if climate change is a real thing.”

With the grant funding, panelists organized programs like movie screenings, talks with local climate experts, and sessions about recycling and waste reduction. Others were able to add to or fine-tune existing initiatives. For example, Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas hosted clothing swaps for students. Binghamton University in New York used its funding to open a seed library and work with student groups on sustainability projects.

“It really helped us make connections with these students, which gets them into the library and learning about other things as well,” said Neyda Gilman, assistant head of sustainability and STEM engagement and pharmacy, nursing and health sciences librarian at Binghamton University. “And it’s helped promote that culture of sustainability throughout campus.”

Bonnie Brzozowski, public services librarian at Corvallis-Benton County (Ore.) Public Library (CBCPL), shared that her library took a racial equity approach to its climate-related programming as a way to address what she described as her state’s racist history.

“Being outdoors is a place where climate change can often be observed and a passion for climate action is typically developed,” she said. “Oregon is rich with natural areas, as well as rich with a history of white supremacism and Black exclusion, so it seemed imperative that we start to address inclusivity in our events.”

With part of the funding, the library hosted two successful bird-watching events in partnership with its local NAACP chapter, led by a birder of color, which contributed to more collaboration between CBCPL and the organization.

Despite successes, most panelists noted some challenges to the work, notably building strong attendance for early pandemic–era programs. However, the panelists also noted that their library administrators were supportive of this work. Even if ideas initially received some “raised eyebrows,” as described by panelist Betsy Evans, Sul Ross’ director of library and archives, leadership was trusting of what they could accomplish.

“That’s what libraries do so well and so often,” said Evans. “Pleasantly surprising the people that they serve.”