The Concord Free Public Library’s sustainability efforts include onsite gardening and resources to help patrons with their own gardens at home. (Photo courtesy Concord Free Public Library)

Looking beyond its bookshelves, the Concord Free Public Library has earned a sustainability certification for its environmentally focused efforts involving property improvements and public outreach.

The library, whose 1873 dedication ceremony featured “Nature” author Ralph Waldo Emerson as keynote speaker, is the first in the state to be designated as a Certified Sustainable Library by the New York-based Sustainable Libraries Initiative. The certification, announced on May 6, reflects the library’s commitment to the environment and its efforts to incorporate sustainable practices throughout its operations, services and programming.

The Concord library joined the Sustainable Library Certification Program in 2022, as part of its effort to improve sustainability awareness in the community and to work toward a goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. The library staff’s Green Team, formed in 2023 as its third generation of sustainability teams, builds on the work of previous teams that created a five-year sustainability plan, engaged in greenhouse gas reduction planning, and joined the national sustainability initiative.

The library’s outreach includes a quarterly electronic sustainability newsletter and partnering with other town departments, local nonprofits and private organizations. Library staff are encouraged to adopt more mindful routines and model them to the public — by, for example, providing paper receipts only upon request, and providing reusable tote bags.

Inside the building, library staff focus on promoting healthy indoor spaces and energy efficiency to benefit patrons, employees and the book collection. These improvements include reducing aerosol use, adding indoor plants, scheduling regular maintenance of heating, ventilation and cooling systems, using programmable thermostats and more efficient light bulbs, monitoring humidity, and tracking water usage and undertaking water conservation efforts.

The library has worked with a local farm, a high school club, and other departments to host native seed workshops. The library has also fostered a stronger relationship with the outdoors, with numerous green spaces including Wi-Fi accessible seating areas, a children’s garden with native plants, a pollinator garden, and a demonstration garden to educate patrons about sustainable lawn alternatives. Its seed lending library offers seeds, resources, and workshops on planting tips and seed saving.

Staff benefit from a community-supported agriculture membership, which provides fruit from a local orchard. The library is also focusing on sustainable transportation options, including plans to get an electric delivery van in 2025.

Library Director Emily Smith said the sustainability certification represents a collaboration among numerous stakeholders in the community.

“We look forward to continuing this important work and mentoring other libraries to follow our lead in building a more sustainable future for all,” Smith said in an announcement about the certification.

Janet Scherer, a member of the Sustainable Libraries Initiative Advisory Board and director of the South Huntington Public Library in New York, said it has been a “rewarding experience mentoring the team” in Concord.

“They have consistently demonstrated leadership in sustainability initiatives,” she said, “exemplified by their forward-thinking approach.”

Though Concord is the first in the state to receive the certification, the initiative also lists the Rockport Public Library and the Bigelow Free Public Library in Clinton as members of the certification program.

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