November 22, 2017

Blueprint for Resilience: Toward Libraries that Give Back | Editorial

Sometimes, just envisioning something can set change in motion. That’s what’s happening at the Belgrade Community Library in Montana. That little library was named LJ’s Best Small Library in America in 2015 and effectively leveraged the honor for local interest and investment. A few years later, the library, under the leadership of Director Gale Bacon, continues to make the most of its opportunities, now via design that is helping to set the community’s sights on a possible future. To make something real, you first must be able to see it clearly—and bring others to see it, too.

The design process helps do just that. For Belgrade, with little resources but plenty of will, the dream to expand took form through a partnership with fifth-year architecture students at Montana State University’s (MSU) School of Architecture, Bozeman, who embraced the library as part of an annual design challenge the school conducts under the guidance of Tom McNab, director of MSU’s Community Design Center. (See one rendering from the effort below, and read more at “Community Vision.”) The process and results, while so far only theoretical, have prompted vital conversation among stakeholders and the public about what they imagine when they dream on the library Belgrade needs and desires.

The outcome of such a process can be seen in Calgary, Arizona State University, and the communities that built the AIA/ALA winners, where people have come together to bring their ambitious imaginings to fruition—or close to it, for those still in progress.

At LJ, we are serious about strong library design—which inherently means, in our view, sustainable design. The emergence of the Living Building Challenge (LBC) takes the concept of a sustainable facility a significant step further, driving us to conceptualize how to create regenerative buildings—those whose impact on the environment is not just net zero but net positive. They give back instead of simply minimizing negative impact, though that, in itself, is already a huge accomplishment. This is so exciting to me, as someone committed to pushing the envelope on sustainability in libraries and as a human being on this amazing planet.

Imagine if libraries could help raise the level of sustainability by reenvisioning our structures this way. We know that libraries sustain and contribute to our communities. Why not expect the same from our buildings?

We’ve had LBC on our minds for a while (for instance, see my editorial “Living Buildings: Green That Gives Back). The “challenge” aspect is significant, with an emphasis on a materials gap, but as King County GreenTools’ Patti Southard says, there is movement in the industry, and the combination of demand, collaboration with vendors, and the pioneering work of early adopters will continue to spur development and, ultimately, drive prices down.

The global library community has the opportunity to help lead the way on ever-deeper sustainable design. One library still in the dream phase is already doing so: the Obama Presidential Library aims to be a Living Building.

What would happen if library leaders as a group were to dream on the Living Building Challenge and help make it real, one library at a time? Talk about collective impact. I can almost see it. Can you?

This article was published in Library Journal's May 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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