Exploring Sustainability and Libraries in a Global World

This was the topic of the fourth Madurodam Conference which took place in The Hague on Thursday 23 April 2009.

The conference organised by the Vereniging van openbare bibliotheken  – VOB (Association of Dutch Public Libraries)  brought together 50 participants from Western Europe, with the exception of one American, one Canadian and one South African. The study day was divided into two time slots: the morning was devoted to international experiences, in English. The afternoon was reserved for Dutch experiences,  presented by Dutch speakers.

This article provides an overview of the morning presentations.  As the introduction mentions:

Sustainability is a key factor in the politics and economics of the global world. It refers to concerns about the planet’s quality and environment, but also to the human activities, building and construction, trade, finances and culture at large, for the benefit of the world population.”

  • How are libraries responding to this global concern and issue?
  • Are they housed and styled in sustainable buildings and design?
  • Is the staff aware of the discourse on sustainability and sensitive to it in their own activities and organisation?
  • Do they also work on (digital) sustainability of their collections?
  • What do libraries contribute to global awareness of sustainability?
  • How can libraries demonstrate their role in working for a sustainable world?
  • How sustainable is the concept of libraries?

Of course, none of the speakers could answer to all questions. But, the combination of the different presentations provides ways to enable libraries to go green. The variety of the speakers made it possible to understand the various aspects in which libraries and sustainable development met.

Following the introduction of the day by Mr. Matthijs Balfoort (Chair, Director Stichting FORCE), Drs. Annemarie van Doorn (vice-president Special Projects ABN AMRO; Board Dutch Green Buildings Council) began with a very interesting speech on the Long Term Value of Sustainable Development, pointing the importance of the economic pillar of sustainable development.

Prof. ir. Jón Kristinsson (Architecten- en ingenieursbureau Kristinsson) took the relay, providing the architect’ viewpoint, in which the distance puts the problem into perspective, and not only giving technical solutions for future generations, but also a global overview.

Then Prof. Dr. Claudia Lux (President of IFLA 2007-2009) put libraries worldwide on the agenda of sustainability. She pointed to three main aspects: 

  • Libraries provide professional information on sustainability, train students and other people alike
  • Inside libraries some sustainability problems have to be solved and examples provided on how libraries already contribute to sustainability in general
  • Libraries sustainability : Libraries and library projects will remain sustainable through advocacy activities

For the librarians in the room, this was a very great moment. Because it showed that advocating sustainability and libraries is not only very important,  it is a core concern of libraries.

After a short coffee break, the section Sustainability examples from other countries began with Alain Caraco (Université de Savoie, Chambéry, France; organizer of first French ecolibrary conference (January 2009).  Mr Caraco showed that sustainability is commitment for everyday life. This is his daily experience as a librarian and as a citizen too.  He told us that the French people are now aware of sustainable development because of some recent national events (like the last presidential election) that put this item on the forefront.

Then Niels Dejgaard (bibliotekar og Kulturchef, Albertslund, Denemarken, first environmentally certified library and municipality in Denmark) made a very interesting presentation on ecomanagement. Mr. Dejgaard showed that civil servants in charge of public services (such as libraries) have to organise the services following ecological management. And that this creates a set of things in which everything is linked to another.

The last speaker was Vincent Bonnet (Co-convenor of the IFLA Special Interest Group on Sustainability and cofounder of digital community on Environmental Sustainability). His presentation focused on the role  the Environmental Sustainability and Libraries IFLA SIG could play in advocating the place that libraries could have in Sustainable Development.  Mr Bonnet insisted on the fact that this could be possible only if everybody (librarians, civil servants, politicians…) gets involved.

The morning conference ended by a short debate with the people in the room.

The afternoon conference focused more specifically on experiences in the Low Countries and was conducted in Dutch.

It started with a presentation by Marcel Aldewereld, director of Kirtas Europa, a leading company with international presence, specializing in Mass Digitization. He explained the vision and mission of his company in relationship with sustainability: making every book available digitally for future generations, by increasing access for a wider audience regardless of geographical location, ensuring preservation of content and protecting originals, and reducing costs. He described the pillars of digitization as being: quality capture, OCR (Optical Character Recognition), metadata structuring and optimizing digital images. A video of a digitization machine in action was included.

The presentation by Ieke Kuijpers-van Galen of the engineering bureau DGRM dealt with Sustainability and Energy savings in Library Buildings, with an emphasis on heating and lighting, the largest consumers of energy. (Energy and building sustainably is the focus of the division which she directs). She described DGMR as specializing in among others, the fields of building physics and sustainability, fire protection and prevention, and stated their mission as including the improvement of living and work environments, in terms of health, safety and sustainability.

After defining what sustainability in general and specifically in buildings means for her company, she discussed applications to library buildings, in terms of energy and water use, building materials, light and ventilation, protection of collections, management, fire prevention and emergency management, etc.  She provided examples of new buildings such as the Forum building at Wageningen University and the Boekenberg (Bookmountain) building of the Spijkenisse Library, and explained what can be done as well with existing buildings to improve their sutainability.
The third presentation was by Hildebrand Does, about the smart electricity meters by Oxxio, a Dutch company specializing in green energy utilities and energy efficiency technologies. He showed that users of the intelligent meter save an average of 6 GWh ~ 4,5 Mton of CO2 per year, and of course pay a much lower energy bill. He also discussed Dutch metering legislation and procurement conditions for Dutch libraries.

This last presentation of the Conference was followed by a colloquium with the participation , in addition to the aforementioned speakers, of Veerle Minner Van Neygen, Convenor of the Environmental Sustainability SIG of IFLA, who discussed what the SIG has to offer to librarians of the Netherlands – and anywhere else: among other things, a professional group open to all information professionals (not only members of IFLA), a forum for discussion fostering collective intelligence, and a multicultural perspective on sustainability and development – hence creativity and inspiration for finding “different” solutions. She also presented the tentative short term agenda of the SIG, which includes marketing the group and recruiting members and volunteers, improving international participation and multilingual access, developing resources and activities, and finally, invited delegates to join the SIG.

The Conference closing event was a prize-giving ceremony, chaired by Jan-Ewout van der Putten, president of FOBID, for grantees who will be attending the IFLA 2009 Conference in Milan.

For more details, please see: http://www.debibliotheken.nl/content.jsp?objectid=23010

Vincent Bonnet, Public Library of Marseille (France) and Veerle Minner Van Neygen, Ph.D.  Consultant Librarian, Las Rozas, and Associate Professor, Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain), are the convenors of the Environmental Sustainability and Libraries Special Interest Group of IFLA.