March 17, 2018

Local Supports Local | Sustainability

untitledOne thing I know is true: local supports local.

Empower. Engage. Energize. These three words describe the relationship between a sustainable library and its users. It’s a two-way street: a library can empower patrons to do good things by engaging with them to understand their aspirations. A community can feel the authentic interest a library has in being a part of that community’s conversations, whether by being at the table or convening “the table” to find community-based solutions.

When a library shows support for the goals of those it serves by empowering and energizing patrons through library services, those communities turn around and give empowerment back to their library in the form of goodwill and financial investment. This is a sustainable pattern for the future of libraries.

Think global, library local

In the inaugural Sustainability column, we shared a definition of sustainable thinking from the New York Library Association’s Sustainability Initiative that focuses on the need for libraries to align our core values and resources with the local and global community’s right to sustainability, resiliency, and regeneration.

That type of thinking has to start with local. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Think global, act local.” It has been traced to Scottish town planner and social activist Patrick Geddes in his 1915 book Cities in Evolution. Said Geddes, “ ‘Local character’ is thus no mere accidental old-world quaintness…. It is attained only in course of adequate grasp and treatment of the whole environment, and in active sympathy with the essential and characteristic life of the place concerned.”

The local economy. The local ecosystem. Local food. Local arts. Local everything. As we strategize about our unique value position for the future, nothing is more unique than our “local.” Each town, campus, and school that has a library has a culture and physical environment of its own that needs to be nurtured, preserved, and celebrated. Who better to tap into that than the ­library?

Spend local

In the 2013 documentary Crafting a Nation (LJ 6/1/14), local craft brewers, restaurateurs, and larger-scale brewers who opened operations in ­Asheville, NC, speak to the vibrancy of Asheville and identify a key ingredient in what makes Asheville work: the commitment to “localism.” They note that money spent at local businesses gets reinvested into the community—again and again.

Thanks to a civic economics study for Local First in Grand Rapids, MI, we know that for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $73 remains in the local economy, compared to $100 spent at a nonlocally owned business, of which only $43 remains.

Sue Lynn Sasser, PhD and professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma, has quoted studies that show nonprofits receive 250 percent more support from small businesses than large ones.

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies defines localism as “building communities that are more healthy and sustainable—backed by local economies that are stronger and more resilient.”

Local environment, equity

The Triple Bottom Line approach to sustainability guides us to understand and respect the environment and the equitability of the social fabric as well as the economy. This opens the door for the library to use its resource, services, and influence in ways that contribute not only to sustainable but also resilient and regenerative ­communities.

The Resilient Design Institute’s “10 Principles for Resilient Design” notes that “equity and community contribute to resilience. Strong, culturally diverse communities in which people know, respect, and care for each other will fare better during times of stress or disturbance. Social aspects of resilience can be as important as physical responses.” This can be at the heart of what libraries do: strengthening the social fabric so we can support one another where we live, work, learn, and love in the face of environmental and economic disorder and societal unrest.

Libraries need to be a part of the localism movement in bigger and more obvious ways. If you think you do this already and it isn’t paying dividends, then you’re doing it wrong. Our profession needs to step up our game when it comes to not just “outreach” but connection and engagement with those we serve.

The library’s support of local is a strategic message that must be amplified from your institution. Build intense neighborhood loyalty to your library. Be laser focused on your community and what matters to your constituents. Only you can discover that, act on it, and ensure that your library is part of the tapestry of your community—and vice versa.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich is Coordinator, Library Sustainability, Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY; a judge for LJ’s 2015 New Landmark Libraries; and a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.