Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Growing Our Vision Together: Forming a Sustainability Community within the American Library Association

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Growing Our Vision Together: Forming a Sustainability Community within the American Library Association

Article excerpt

Introduction

A rich and colorful tapestry of innovative and sometimes daring library practices, services, and engagement emerged in response to the unpredictable dynamics of the twenty-first century, not least of which were the explosion of technology, the Great Recession, and a growing environmental imperative. In a world struggling for sustainability, libraries continue critically evolving to embrace their communities' successes and adversities. Library associations bring together professionals to co-create solutions, share expertise, and bolster resilience through learning and community building. This article reports on the early stages of development of the American Library Association (ALA) Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) in 2013, the result of an urgent "call to action" for a unified effort to address the new millennium's environmental, economic, and social sustainability challenges within the library profession in the United States and Canada. We identify the technologies, processes, dynamics and other factors that led to the formation of SustainRT as a functional Community of Practice (CoP) -- "a group of people who share a concern, set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis" (Wenger et al. 2002). From the initial large-group webinars to the identification of leaders, from the acceptance of the Round Table into ALA to the decisions involved in forming committees and prioritizing work, the establishment of this CoP offers a model for engaging in dialogue and collaboration within the library profession to better foster community resilience.

In an article entitled "To Remake the World," Paul Hawken (2007) refers to hundreds of thousands of sustainability-related groups as constituting "the largest coming together of citizens in history." He describes these groups as being without a center, codified beliefs, or charismatic leader and as cutting across economic sectors, cultures, and regions. Arising from research institutes, community-development agencies, village and citizen-based organizations, corporations, networks, faith-based groups, trusts, and foundations, they all share the goal of creating "a just society conducive to life on Earth."

Andres Edwards (2005) synthesizes the intentions and objectives of such sustainability-oriented groups with the three E's, "concern for the environment, the economy and social equity," and recognizes sustainability as "a common language that links the central issues confronting our civilization as well as its potential to bring social change values into the mainstream." This article outlines SustainRT's place within the global context separately described by Hawken and Edwards and how it was established as a professional forum for ALA members to exchange ideas and opportunities regarding sustainability in order to move toward a more equitable, healthy, and economically viable society.

Libraries and Commitment to Community

Library resources and services are generally accessible to all members of a community, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, political views, race, religion, and other differentiating characteristics. Libraries are distinct in the types of communities served, such as a municipality, school, university, hospital, or business. As hubs of information, intellectual exploration, and community, libraries offer a synergy of space, services, and resources that create dynamic learning environments, while their open-door ethos facilitates partnerships with a wide range of organizations and individuals. However, to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, libraries must reflect the concerns, needs, and realities of their communities, as well as spark inquiry, develop innovative opportunities, and serve as a bastion of free knowledge and lifelong learning. This strong advocacy for equality of access and learning is reflected in ALA's "Library Bill of Rights," which states that "all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community. …

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