Book Review (Part 2/4): Ecology, Economy, Equity

Henk_300Ecology, Economy and Equity Book, Part 1: Transitioning to Sustainability in the Library, offers 3 sections. The first section dives into the three 3 Es (ecology, economy and equality) and how they pertain to librarianship. After giving a brief overview of the basic concepts of climate change, with personal anecdotes, she states that their realities we are facing “require librarians to develop new practices in our collection building and programming as well as a new understanding of the natural world and our relationship to it. (page 5)  Libraries provide access to information for our communities and librarians define their role and responsibility in helping citizens become more information literate and life long learners. Only when citizens who are educated enough to understand this immediate global threat, can sort through emotional responses to propaganda and have access high quality collections with well-trained librarians, will real societal change occur. Mandy points out the digital library shift, its effect on the environment (ex: disposing of electronic devices, the carbon footprint of the servers for our electronic resources), the exploitative labor systems, the consolidation of the publishing industry, the enclosure of the information commons, and outdated copyright/fair use laws. All issues we as librarians are facing and can stand up to!  The first part concludes with a key point that we as librarians need to review our existing operations and library ethos to bring forth sustainability as an integral piece of our fundamental values.

The second section of Part 1, on making the case for sustainability, Henk aligns our overall general library values with those of sustainability. Value of Democracy: libraries exist because our society believe in self governance and libraries provide access to information to help citizens self govern. This value of democracy also incorporates the concept of equality – allowing every citizen access to the information they seek. Intellectual freedom and literacy also fall in this value area. Value of Scholarship: rational objective scholarship drives how we organize information and assist people to use it. Libraries have a commitment to educating and preserving knowledge, so users can enhance understanding to solve challenges in life. But Mandy brings up a good point that we are not completely neutral in our collecting of information due to scarce funding, something that can cause controversy. Stewardship Value: preservation of content itself like repositories, as well as eliminating the barriers to access, such as through fair use, copyright, perpetual licensing agreements, and protection of the right of first sale. Henk  covers the philosophical debate on sustainability, ecological economics, increasing population, and scientific research regarding the topic, providing quality research, anecdotal stories, and statistical facts to support the topic, in a concise easy to read and understand manner. Ending on a more positive tone, she states that the sustainability movement is now turning into a social movement and trend.

The last section of Part 1 provides a method for making the transition. Henk says the first step involves educating all your stakeholders on the relevance and benefits of sustainability in libraries, making sure people understand this is beyond just greening the library programs.  It’s critical to allow room for discussion and debate through reading groups, open forums, film and discussion nights, etc. She offers an appendix of resources that could help in this area in your library. Forming a sustainability committee can help with key visions and direction for this transition. Henk offers lots of great suggestions on formatting this group , who should be included, and the importance of making contacts outside the library. Community and campus partnerships are key in learning, connecting and transiting to a sustainable library. She gives the important plug or your frontline staff being critical for the success of this committee, as they may be the most impacted in many of these changes (such as going with a new sustainable printer paper or a composting program). Be sure to check out her section on how to talk to your administration if they are not supportive. And remember “small steps” – each one counts toward the whole.   Part 1 concludes with an amazing useful assessment tool – the complete version is found in the book’s appendix. Part 1 of the Assessment Tool has 5 steps: sustainability committee, support for initiatives, relationships with outside groups, sustainability programming and collections, and creating a sustainability plan. For more details, you’ll have to get the book!

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