Living Knowledge blog

03 November 2021

Libraries and a brighter climate future


Lydia Hiraide is a PhD student researching environmental politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. During her placement at the British Library she worked to understand the role of libraries in tackling climate change. To help find some answers, she collaborated with colleagues from London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Wakefield and further afield with colleagues in Europe and Africa. Lydia presented her findings at the National Libraries Now conference in September and here’s a summary of what she found out:

For three months over the summer I worked as a PhD placement student at the British Library in their Public Policy team. My placement allowed me to see my work used far beyond the world of academic research and help shape conversations about how the Library can approach climate change.

Before stepping into my role, the Library had already made steps to taking more responsibility for its actions. By reducing carbon emissions by 26.4% over the last 10 years the Library has made a great start on its path to net zero. Now it has secured over £8 million through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme and sustainability consultants to help reset its goals in light of the climate emergency. And with this progress the Library can now develop a roadmap to achieve its bigger ambitions.

But, beyond being responsible for their own emissions, what is the role of a national library in the climate conversation? The conversation around climate change can be overwhelming. It’s a collective problem with many nuances, and it throws up questions around social inequality, youth empowerment and changes in economies. So how can a library help navigate this fast-evolving world?

A trusted source of information

Reliable information is a key resource in tackling climate change. And how we verify and communicate it brings many challenges but, importantly, libraries can provide and validate information to anybody wishing to access it. It is intriguing to think about the different purposes this information can be used for. From informing public debate and helping small businesses to develop sustainable practices, to supporting scientific research which could help us find real-world solutions.

A network of change

My experience in the Public Policy team encouraged me to think about how such a large institution like the British Library can work collaboratively with a huge variety of partners to create real change. This autumn the Library hosted The Natural Word, a series of events created to inspire people into climate action with different voices contributing from communities on the front line of the climate emergency. You can catch up on these important conversations online on the British Library Player.

Just recently the Library worked in partnership with Blue Peter to launch the Our Planet Now competition to give a young person the amazing opportunity to share their poem or short story about taking climate action at the COP26 summit.  Their work will become part of this critical moment in history and will also be added to the Library’s collection, capturing a record of these important world events.  

A culture of reuse

Not only are libraries important for sharing information, but they are also safe and vibrant community spaces. Most libraries are built on a model of lending and borrowing, which means that they are already naturally sustainable. The British Library’s copies of fashion magazine Vogue have been accessed more than 6,000 times over the last 10 years alone!

It’s been exciting to learn about how libraries all over the country and the w orld are building on these models to create even deeper cultures of sustainability among their staff and audiences. I discovered a range of inspiring projects, including Libraries of Things, Seed Libraries, and the Wakefield Word Fest, all helping us to take those vital steps towards change.

We are working toward a brighter climate future. Find out more about our plans.