Vallila Library - Green Library

Libraries are quite “green” in that the basic activities consist of information retrieval, circulating the collections, as well as offering an open, public space. None of our activities are harmful to environment as such. This is fine, but it means that it is challenging to develop greener ways of acting. The foundation is already environmentally sustainable.

This is a lesson we at Vallila Library learned when we were the first public institution to seek and receive the EcoCompass environmental label. We received the label at spring 2011, along with some 30 small business companies as well as the Finnish National Opera. The eco-label is granted by the Helsinki City Environmental Center.

Our environmental policy is in line with the policy of the Helsinki City Library, which is based on the efficient circulation of collections, preserving the cultural heritage, preventing alienation, increasing consciousness concerning environmental issues and decreasing environmental strain. All this is quite abstract and does not have much to do with the everyday work in a small library. However, the Helsinki City Library has been very active in this respect and we have some more practical practices. We have a network of ecological support staff, one in almost every library. These persons take care of environmental issues in libraries and keep the rest of the staff informed.

This is a good start, but it is only a beginning. The environmental project led us to think and rethink environmental questions. We had to make clear for ourselves what does it mean to be an environmentally friendly library.
 Recirculation, saving energy and procurements
Recirculation, environmentally friendly purchases and saving energy are at the core of being environmentally friendly.

Usually libraries do not have great problems here. However, some points can be made.

Some years ago, we thought that computers would make us environmentally friendly. However the use of paper has not decreased but rather multiplied. At the same time, many have begun to calculate how much waste and scrap computers bring.

Add to this the electricity required by technical equipment and it's obvious that here lies our most acute source of environmental strain.

Showing the green way: an example and contributor of knowledge

Since acting in an even greener fashion presented challenges, it seemed that the best option was to show others the road to becoming green. To show a greener way means that we ex-press our commitment to environmental issues to our clients and other actors. We also show examples and encourage others to take the same road.

Receiving an eco-label was an important part of this process. It tells about our values but also states that we have taken actions. We consider environmental issues so important that we have struggled to reach the standards to receive the label.

Our first step was to let our clients know about our environmental project. One can find some information about our environmental project from our web pages.

The second step was that we attempted to offer easy access to information concerning envi-ronmental issues. Now as the amount of information grows, it becomes more and more difficult to find relevant and reliable knowledge. Unfortunately, the classification system used in libraries does not make it easier to find information on ecological subjects.

Books about recycling, climate change and energy efficient building methods are scattered around the library, as they belong in different categories. In Vallila, we gathered all eco-related books onto one shelf. Here you can also find some brochures made by the environmental center. The collection may be quite small, but our clients have already found it.

We did not readily accept the suggested requirement that we should merely grow the eco-collection. Why? The easiest way to grow the collection would be to not delete anything from it. However, it is important that we discard all information that does not hold true anymore. It is better to have a small but reliable collection of eco-books than a vast and unreliable one.

Our third step was to arrange events on environmental questions. In spring 2010 there was a discussion on climate change, and in 2011 on issues related with water. Leading experts have welcomed the possibility to share their expertise with a broader audience. For this reason we are planning to arrange a series of events on ecological topics in cooperation with environmental organizations.

Finally, our fourth step has been to show an example for other libraries. We have presented our environment project for other libraries in Helsinki and beginning this spring, we shall take the same role to the national level. We have joined a national environmental project. To a large extent our function is to share our experiences and to awake discussion.

Library paradox - more is less
There exists a paradox. It seems that in libraries more is less. Now, the easiest way to save energy for example would be to decrease opening hours, keep the library closed, switch off lights and take the computers away.

However, we are trying to do the opposite. We attempt to keep the library open as much as possible and to offer a common space for reading, working, gathering together or just to pass the time.

This is why we have the lights on whereas elsewhere lights can be switched off. Another example is that we try and offer sufficient amounts of computers so that everybody does not need to buy their own computer.

Hence the paradoxical conclusion is that we may successfully decrease the total use of resources by increasing our own use of resources.

Books and beyond
Showing a greener way presumes some new activities and ideas. In the Helsinki City Library we have already tried quite a few new ideas.

Our libraries lend out traditional library collections, but many libraries also offer electricity gauges or sport equipment. Some of these items are owned by other municipal offices, like the Sports and Recreation Department. Some items are owned by libraries themselves. The problem is someone has to buy all these items and libraries have to be able to store them.

In Vallila, we are testing a slightly different way to lend out and re-circulate things. The library cooperates with the private organization Kuinoma. This organization was founded to enable a new kind of loaning. Members lend out their own possessions, like skis, cameras and tools to strangers. The owner of the item and the borrower agree on the details of the loan and thereafter the owner brings the item to the library for the borrower to pick up. After use the item is returned to the library. The library operates by acting as a mediator, loaning out the items with the help of a code number. There may be a nominal fee involved between the two parties, but library does not participate in that transaction.

The advantage of this activity is that the library does not buy any of these items, we only me-diate the exchange. The only thing which is needed is willing people who want to lend out their own items for the benefit of strangers. Surprisingly enough there are willing people!

The motive of this activity is to repress consumption. If you need a drilling machine for a couple of days, say after having moved to a new apartment, you may see if someone has such a machine and would be willing to lend it. You do not need to buy everything. This is in fact the same idea as when libraries lend out books or allow clients to use computers or other technical equipments free of charge. These are some new ideas of how to broaden the idea of circulation, which libraries already do, and to promote the importance of green values.