Illinois Libraries Talk Sustainability / Green Literacy Gets Off to a Great Start

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by  Greg Landgraf

Originally appeared October 25, 2010 in American Libraries, US & World News, and in the December 2010 ILA Reporter (page 15).

Sixty librarians from around Illinois met at Chicago’s Field Museum October 22, 2010 to discuss how they could better help their communities go green. The workshop kicked off the Illinois Library Association’s year-long Go Green @ your Illinois Library program (http://www.gogreenila.info), which aims to develop a group of librarians committed to environmental awareness.

“It’s about libraries holding the conversation in their communities about sustainability,” said Denise Raleigh, director of marketing, development, and communications at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. “Libraries already connect people to resources; this is about connecting people to each other.”

The program will function as an information clearinghouse, offering resources and an opportunity for participants to share their experiences rather than dictating how libraries should offer programs and resources related to sustainability. “We’re asking participants for a commitment to help other libraries and to report back to the group,” Raleigh told American Libraries.

The workshop included two breakout training sessions. “Telling Our Stories: Creating Green Communities” offered a number of tools to collect stories from the community, including questionnaires, visual collages, story circles, and using objects to trigger communication. These stories can then be used as a basis for programs, identifying green projects, and strengthening social ties. “Fostering Green Partnerships: A Workshop for Exploring Common Ground” discussed the types of partnerships libraries can foster and how to nurture them.

The workshop also included a tour of the Field Museum’s Ancient Americas exhibit, guided by museum anthropologists who discussed how people have adapted to their environment over time. “The human record for the last 40 thousand years is replete with examples of the ways in which we have adapted to environments and to changing circumstances,” said museum anthropologist Madeleine Tudor. Viewing these changing circumstances as sustainability issues gives “all these examples of how people have dealt with challenges and you can use those as models for how to address sustainability issues today.”

Participants also watched a walk-through of the program’s interactive website, which features 11 case studies and will continue to be developed as a resource for librarians throughout the state and the country, and short storytelling performances by In the Spirit. Attendees received a green toolbox including a solar panel, cleaning rags made from recycled clothes, and materials to help facilitators capture community stories. Produced by the Rebuilding Exchange, a job-training program for ex-offenders, the toolboxes are made of recycled wood diverted from landfills.

The Go Green program grew out of the Field Museum’s New Allies for Nature and Culture initiative, which aimed “to help organizations and policymakers throughout the Chicago metropolitan area develop an integrated approach to social change that links environmental and social issues.”

“We want to give libraries ideas for how to connect green to things that their communities care about,” said museum anthropologist and Go Green coordinator Jennifer Hirsch.

The museum first connected with libraries when a forest preserve in northern Illinois that was part of the New Allies program partnered with Waugekan Public Library, among other entities. One of the library projects those partnerships made possible was the library’s Mariposa Festival in June, which celebrated nature, arts, and culture. Elizabeth Stearns, public relations manager for the library, created a DVD demonstrating the partnerships, and showed it at a marketing meeting of the North Suburban Library System. Raleigh, who also serves as co-chair of the Illinois Library Association’s Marketing Committee, saw the video and brought the potential partnership to ILA’s attention.  Watch the video at http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/news/10252010/illinois-libraries-talk-sustainability.

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