In 2021, we attended a Library Leadership program delivered jointly by the State Library Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria. Fate (some may say destiny) led us to become not only walk-talk partners to digest the program’s learnings, but also partners in purpose to find ways of supporting sustainable development in libraries. Despite our vastly different locations, one from a regional setting and the other from a metropolitan one, we found ourselves sharing a deep commitment to the future of the public library industry. This connection took a meaningful turn when we joined a project group focused on exploring how Victorian public libraries could promote environmental sustainability within their communities. As we delved into this research, it became evident that remarkable sustainability efforts were underway across Victorian libraries. However, a common challenge emerged – the need to facilitate the sharing of this valuable information between library services. In response to this need, our project group (Jacqueline Auhl, Elizabeth Payne and Jac Torres-Gomez) took the initiative to establish a Sustainability Special Interest Group (SIG) under Public Libraries Victoria (PLV). The SIG hosts eight meetings annually and has grown to include membership of more than 60 dedicated Victorian library and information professionals.

In an era marked by unprecedented global challenges, libraries have positioned themselves as dynamic catalysts for change. They no longer simply curate and disseminate knowledge; they actively shape a sustainable future. The SIG encourages library services to integrate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their service offerings and is there to offer advice, resources and a commitment to ongoing SDG action.

One exciting initiative in this journey is the development of the new PLV Sustainability Portal. This portal is the result of many hours of collaboration between PLV staff, Sustainability SIG convenors and BSO Digital, a Melbourne based web development agency using a grant from Royal Society of Victoria. This innovative platform is a testament to the commitment of Victorian libraries to have a meaningful impact on sustainability, all while fostering a culture of awareness and action among their communities. The key goal of the portal? To support the library industry and communities to increase their knowledge to become more environmentally sustainable, and to spotlight library services who make a positive impact in this area. The site features an explanation of the SDGs with reference to public libraries, an interactive map that pinpoints key sustainable initiatives and a bank of case studies to inspire new sustainable programs and partnerships.

Public Libraries Victoria Sustainability Portal landing page

The United Nations SDGs are a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. They provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. Victoria, with its rich and diverse library network, has taken up the mantle to promote these goals, make them accessible to the public, and build widespread awareness for library and information professionals. The Sustainability Portal breaks down the SDGs into digestible, engaging content that resonates with library users and the broader community displaying how they relate to everyday life. We decided to highlight the sustainable initiatives introduced across Victoria with an interactive map. The map amplifies the innovative solutions libraries have put into practice in an answer to today’s environmental and societal challenges. The eight initiatives (community gardens, plant and produce swaps, community pantry, community lunches, energy saver kits, library of things, seed libraries, and the provision of e-waste bins) outline the impact of sustainable approaches. They provide a tangible example of how individuals, communities and libraries can contribute to a more environmentally conscious and socially responsible world.

Sustainability Portal Interactive Map

The portal acts as a hub of sustainability education for library communities. By providing valuable information and resources, it empowers individuals and services to take action on issues that matter most to them. Whether you are interested in poverty reduction, climate action, or any other SDG, you will find accessible, informative content on this platform. The website’s commitment to science education extends beyond mere information dissemination. It serves as a platform for local libraries to collaborate, share insights and implement projects that align with the SDGs. Victorian libraries are inspiring positive change on a personal, community, and global level. They are helping people understand how individual actions contribute to the larger global agenda. By providing access to the site, which we believe is the first of its kind nationally, libraries promote the idea that every action counts, every voice matters, and collective efforts can bring about profound change.

The portal is not just a static information repository; it is a living, evolving testament to the commitment of Victorian libraries to make a positive difference. To quote the International Federation of Libraries Association (IFLA) 2016, “The consideration of the role of humanity in climate change and the notion of sustainable development are core concerns of society, and consequently of libraries.” This digital platform is a vibrant testament to the power of libraries to shape a brighter, more sustainable future for all.

(This article was first published in INCITE, ALIA, Dec 2023.)

Contributed by Jessica Anderson – Branch Coordinator – Goulburn Valley Libraries, PLV Sustainability SIG Co-convenor and Rachel D’Arcy – Library Team Leader & Portfolio Lead – Brimbank Libraries, PLV Sustainability SIG Co-convenor