February 17, 2018

Lead with Green: Q&A with Louise Schaper

Louise Schaper says sustainable management is critical and touches every aspect of the library.

When Louise Schaper opened the new Fayetteville Public Library (FPL) in Arkansas in 2004, she brought the state’s second LEED Silver-certified building to completion. The green building fulfilled a community expectation for sustainable innovation established through complex public dialog, and the library went on to become the 2005 LJ/Gale Library of the Year. The building also prompted Schaper, who retired as director in 2009, to see the library’s operations afresh, with an urgency to match the building’s green outside with the practices inside.

What followed spurred staff innovation, led to greater integration of the library’s values and procedures, put the library out front as a community model, and saved energy and money—lots of both. It made the library more sustainable in many ways. Schaper describes the gargantuan effort in “Let ‘Green’ Creep” in the Library by Design (LBD) supplement with this issue. Today, FPL is going for LEED-EB Platinum certification.

For Schaper herself the approach meant a steady evolution toward greener customs, an embrace of data, and clarity about the importance of libraries and librarians to be green leaders. It’s just common sense. “Don’t simply look at the bill you are about to pay,” she says. “Make sure the money you spend on your institution makes sense in the long term. This is not religion; it is economics.”

LJ: When did you realize the disconnect between the values that shaped your green building and daily operations?

LS: Right from the beginning [in the new building] I began to experience that disconnect. For me, it was through all five of my senses, and it went on for a couple of years.

I saw it in the trash containers after an event. You throw away dishes, cups, etc. I could smell the disconnect in our cleaning products. I could taste it in the foods we chose to serve at kids’ events, or the bottled water we gave our guests. I heard the disconnect in conversations about purchasing decisions. [For instance,] folks would say paper with recycled content is more expensive so we can’t buy that. That kind of thing.

On a really personal level, I felt it in my own desire to turn up the heat in the cold months, or down in the hot months.

But where I really experienced it, to the extent that I felt embarrassed, was when I gave or went along on our building tours. Most of our tours for adults include some green component. I saw the library from a wider perspective—in all that we do and all that we stand for. I am going around explaining all these great features, and then I’d look around and see things that clashed with values, and I’d think, “Please don’t notice that we printed out ten zillion newsletters, or that we’re giving you water bottles.”

What did you decide to do about it?

I’m really grateful for all those “aha” experiences, because I got dipped into the values clash so many times, it became apparent I had to do a lot of changing personally in order to make any kind of difference. And I really questioned whether I could do it and effect change. After all, the first few years in a new building are pretty busy. But we did some brainstorming with the staff, and the departments went off and did some brainstorming, developing lists of areas where we could be greener.

I focused on identifying people who could take on leadership roles to help make the change [called “champions”].

The hardest part for me was to keep talking about it. I didn’t feel I was articulate enough about the topic at the time. I could feel it, I knew it, but I couldn’t quite state it in as convincing a way as I would have liked. As a leader, you must be able to help others make change.

How did you move forward?

It was an evolutionary process. About that time, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out. There were more green-focused speakers. Probably the one who influenced me most was Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute. He pointed things out about our building that could have been greener.

It’s easier now, in 2010, to make green decisions. We have a lot more information. Back then it was a little bit harder.

What impact did you see?

Things began to change—slowly. I’ve always been a collaborative leader; I’m not going to shove anything down people’s throats. People were busy offering library services and keeping the building in good condition. But it was amazing how many staffers wanted the library to be green. Many of us shared the dream of having solar energy. The more we talked, the more apparent it became how excited people were.

So much of being green is about saving money, but it’s also about being a leader in the community. I realized that as a library staff, we had a deep, competitive nature. That propelled us into being the first LEED-registered building in our state and the first public building in our city. It certainly propelled us to make our building greener after we opened.

At a certain point the numbers really began to dip in terms of energy use [see chart in LBD]. That was really exciting, and it made us want to do more. And we wanted people to know about it.

The things we’d begun to do were simple, like [which] cleaning products we used, and how and when we did our cleaning. That reduced the amount of electricity we were using. It made for a much healthier climate for our employees and our customers. Those were pretty obvious impacts.

What areas remain the most problematic or challenging?

Overall, it’s really challenging to find the time to work on operations and do it in the way I wanted to—and I don’t mean the end result, I’m talking about the process. That was hard, and that’s why I relied so much on the champions, because basically I said, “Okay, champions, go, do!”

On an ongoing basis, one of the biggest challenges was the kind of food [we served and what we served it on]. The conflict between wanting to do the cheapest thing vs. doing the right thing.

For me as a library director, most challenging were people’s personal habits—I wanted people to get it in terms of the decisions they made in their personal lives, because then they would get it at work. You could see it in people who come from communities that recycle; it’s easy for them to recycle at work because they already know how to do it.

Then, implementing alternative energy is definitely challenging. It’s a wonderful challenge.

When some say that green operations are extracurricular or optional—or expensive—how do you respond?

I just say let’s compare our data. I can guarantee we’ll be measuring different things. Someone who is not interested in being green in operations might be looking at how much money they spend on utilities. I’m going to be looking at not just how much money but how much we actually use. I’m going to be looking at employee health and satisfaction, our carbon footprint, and how the library is viewed by the community. Those may not be on the list of someone who is not interested in being green. You have to look at the whole picture.

So many universities have green policies, green plans. Why would it be extracurricular or optional in a library as opposed to a major academic institution?

Is it just that librarians haven’t thought about green policies?

It may be that they haven’t thought of it, but also many of us operate our libraries with a poverty mentality: we have to do things the least expensive way, when in reality that may not be the least expensive if you look at it long term.

Leading an organization from a green perspective is not extracurricular or optional or even expensive; the data shows that. The shift in how organizations are being run across the county demonstrates it, too.

It’s very similar to the push on quality management that hit the corporate world in the late 1980s and maybe hit the library world in the 1990s; it felt like a layering on, but it was really a new way of managing things. Now, customer service is a key part of what we take for granted. In the same way, managing green will become second nature.

How do you connect the greening of all aspects of libraries to the big picture of sustainability for libraries themselves?

It’s a pretty easy connection. We all know that unless libraries are relevant they’re going to enter the entropy phase. Sustainability for a library is no different from sustainability for any other entity or community. You are there to meet your mission, and you are there in the future. To do that you’ve got to have open systems, you’ve got to anticipate and exceed customer expectations, and you’ve got to make decisions based on the long term. Those are key to sustainability.

It’s incumbent upon library directors and librarians to find, create, and negotiate new models of operation beyond what we’ve innovated over the past ten or 15 years. The changes in technology and the pressure on us to green our institutions will define what we are as public libraries.

It’s not just the cheapest box to house a library but something that has a long life, makes an impact on the community with the smallest possible carbon footprint, and becomes a place that offers unbeatable and memorable learning experiences. They’re out there. They’re leading with what they offer and how they offer it. And the how is critical.

That’s the gap for the whole public sector. How do libraries as public sector entities behave? Are they leading their communities along or are their communities dragging them along? I wouldn’t want to be the library director being dragged along.

What are library leaders who don’t get the potential impact of greening their operations missing?

They’re going to miss being viewed as cutting-edge leaders who are doing everything they can to help their community and residents become greener.

It makes me think how many of us are data shy. We need data to show people what we did, how much energy we saved, and how we were able to buy them more books and other materials. People will love that story.

The other thing is that people who are attracted to work in libraries are sustainability-friendly. Last summer at [the American Library Association conference], I heard librarians say they wanted their libraries to be greener but their leadership wasn’t interested. I can promise you that if a library is greener and the staff have been involved in [the process], you’ll have a better work environment, you’ll have more networking between the library and other local organizations. More people are going to want to work in that library, everyone is going to be learning, residents are going to respect you even more, and you are going to be modeling great behaviors for the whole community.

Author Information
Rebecca Miller is Executive Editor, Features, LJ


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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