Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

12 October 2023

Sustainability schemes in libraries across the UK

Libraries Week takes place every year in the first week of October to celebrate the important role that libraries play throughout the UK. This year’s focus was sustainability, and how libraries are championing the push for net zero.

Throughout our Living Knowledge Network, libraries across the country have implemented a wide variety of green schemes in their local communities, doing their part to mitigate climate change. We celebrated them on our LinkedIn and Instagram throughout the week, and have compiled all five posts here. Read on to discover how five different local libraries are contributing in their own creative ways to the protection of our planet.


Library of Things

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Did you know, in many libraries, you can borrow a drill along with your books? This photo shows a hub at Kilburn Library which allows people to borrow useful items - whether you need a sewing machine, a trolley or some secateurs.

The goal of Library of Things is to provide affordable access to tools, reduce waste and bring the community together. Since 2014 they have been driving the transition to low waste, community-powered neighbourhoods and now have 16 locations.

You can currently find Library of Things in public libraries across London with more sites outside the capital opening in future. Similar schemes can be found all over the world, so make sure to keep an eye out for 'things' when visiting your local library.

Find out more on the Library of Things website.


Cambridge & New York postcard exchange

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'Late summer, early dawns and dusks. Intense skies. A hare in a field, a jay in a tree, fallen apples and blackberries.'

Pictured is one of a selection of postcards exchanged over the course of a year between two women: Judy from the Bronx, USA, and Abigail from Cambridge, UK.

They are part of the Nature Exchange project, led by Cambridge University Library, Cambridgeshire Libraries and New York Public Libraries. This project celebrated the global letter network established by Charles Darwin, who exchanged letters with over 2,000 people all over the globe, seeking their observations of the natural world.

In this project, participants in the UK and the US were invited to exchange observations of nature, just like Darwin’s correspondents did.

Members of New York Public Libraries and Cambridgeshire Libraries were paired up offering an opportunity to exchange a postcard every two months, sharing seasonal changes and notes about the natural world around them. 


Glasgow Business & IP Centre

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Ever dreamt of starting your own business?

Our Business and IP Centre (BIPC) network supports entrepreneurs and innovators from that first spark of inspiration to successfully launching and growing a business, with 21 national network centres across the UK including a site at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow.

The Glasgow BIPC run Learning Lunches offering anyone who is interested in starting or currently running a business an introduction to business topics in a friendly setting. As part of this series they have been exploring how entrepreneurs and consumers can effectively reduce their impact on the planet.

Whether business owners want to understand legislation and support available, find ways to reduce and assess their environmental impact, or research the latest trends and innovation around sustainability, the Glasgow BIPC are helping to create more sustainable start-ups.

Find out more on the Glasgow BIPC website.


Wakefield Libraries

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Last year, Wakefield libraries set out to encourage sustainable transport usage across the city, thanks to a CILIP Green Libraries Grant supporting environmental activity in public libraries.

They set up cycle repair hubs across all 12 of their branches, helping local people maintain their bikes in an affordable and sustainable way.

Wakefield libraries are creating even more environmental projects across the service, including seed libraries, an e-waste recycling programme, and community gardens at their branches.

Watch Chris Williams, Senior Library Officer at Wakefield Libraries, discuss their environmental schemes.


Swiss Cottage Library, Camden

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Swiss Cottage Library is a Grade II listed building designed by Sir Basil Spence and opened in 1964. It's often seen as an iconic piece of London post-war architecture, but due to its age, it had become one of Camden council's biggest users of energy.

Thanks to funding from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, the building was retrofitted with new energy efficient windows, insulation, lighting and heat pumps to become more sustainable. This led to a large reduction in carbon emissions, and has future-proofed the library while still retaining the unique architectural character of the building.

It's also formed a key part of Camden's plans to become net zero by 2030.