Opinion: Protecting Public Libraries Can Aid in Climate Justice

April 7, 2022

Public libraries are the heart of any city big or small. Societies center around public libraries in times of celebration as well as in times of need. Personally, public libraries hold a special place in my heart; I can vividly remember spending endless hours visiting my local library as a child. I would arrive and immediately go into the children’s section with my sister while my mom roamed other sections of the premises. It was one of the only places that I was allowed on my own without any supervision. I would pick out books that looked good solely based on their covers, and head to the literal reading castle built into this section of the library to dive into different stories. When my sister and I finally grew tired, we would check out at least ten different books, feeling very important since we were using our very own library cards, and take home even more books. I recall attending summer day camps at the library, which I looked forward to immensely. The library was fun on sunny days, but was cozy on cold and rainy days. It was the perfect place to visit any time of the year. As I grew up, I continued to find solace in libraries at school. I even had the pleasure of learning the Dewey Decimal System as a Library Assistant in middle school, which fascinated me. As I navigated my way through college, the library was the only place I liked to study and get work done. My friends and I would stock up on snacks and caffeine, work for hours, and deliriously walk home explaining what we learned that day.

Libraries have given me copious amounts of comfort but they are so much more important than me and my everlasting love for them. As we as a society attempt to handle the climate crisis, public libraries will be of great assistance. They will bring us together, aid us, and teach us. With the guidance of public libraries, we can work to combat climate change and its subsequent consequences.

An obvious way that public libraries can be advantageous in the fight against climate change, is to teach us. The first step in achieving anything in this battle, is education. Some people do not have the privilege of receiving higher education. Knowledge should not be something only set aside for those with financial edge. Knowledge pertaining to a changing world that will inevitably affect us all, should especially be available to anyone and everyone who cares to learn. Public libraries are one of the last places in society with free resources for all people to use. There are many different types of ways to learn about climate change in a library whether it is through books, online references, or magazines.

Another way in which public libraries aid in fighting climate change is their power of bringing communities together. Along with individual education on climate issues, many libraries nationwide have held panels with different environmental organizations to teach their communities even more, bringing like-minded people together in order to achieve a greater good. Since libraries are usually at the center and heart of cities, they often house workshops or events that the city wants to produce, which can be beneficial to the climate crisis. Examples include lessons on how to compost and recycle at home, clothing swaps, and other activities that encourage low waste and sustainable lifestyles.

Not to mention, libraries are one of the most sustainable institutions in existence and encourage a circular economy as books and other materials for checkout are reused, reread, donated over and over again, instead of being wasted. Also, since libraries are loved and appreciated by people of all ages, racial backgrounds, gender and sexual orientation, financial status, or other possible defining characteristics, they can house a plethora of different sources all in one convenient location. Finally, as the climate crisis charges on, more and more people will likely be displaced for certain periods of time if not permanently. Severe weather such as heat waves, floods, and storms can put people, especially vulnerable people at high risk. Libraries are an excellent place to escape as there is air-conditioning, heat, shelter, and entertainment as well as the ability to spend an entire day there for no cost or punishment at all. Libraries and other places in communities are now becoming climate resilience hubs, meant to educate and provide refuge during and after climate-related disasters for those who need it most such as low-income communities and communities of color, where climate change affects are impacting people even more severely.  It is extremely important to have places in our community such as libraries, in order to protect people who may not have the means to do so themselves.

To work on this article, I visited the local library in my hometown. As an adult I still feel impassioned and inspired while being here, although it is not the same one I visited as a child. Every few minutes, I can see kids checking out tiny armfuls of new books with their mothers and siblings and find myself nostalgic and almost emotional as I look on from the my upstairs table. People here are eager to learn and happy to help others. There is a sense of respect for others as well as the materials we are surrounded by. Though I am not to sit at the short work tables in the kid’s corner any more, as I sit in the Genealogy section of the library with the other adults, I like to imagine they have similar love letters to write to their favorite public libraries and that we are all connected by this amazing part of our community.

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Photo: Patrick Robert Doyle via Unsplash

Abbey Serio
Abbey is a recent college graduate based in Southern California who is extremely passionate about sustainability and zero waste. She has been vegan for over 4 years and loves animals. In her free time Abbey can be found hiking, reading, listening to music, experimenting with new vegan recipes, gardening, and spending time with friends and family. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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