Green library

From New World Encyclopedia
National Library, Singapore

A Green library, also known as a sustainable library, is a library built with environmental concerns in mind. Green libraries are a part of the larger green building movement.

Libraries, particularly public libraries, are life long learning centers for people of all ages in local communities. Libraries are not only repositories of knowledge, but are also important information resources for raising awareness about environmental concerns. Green libraries educate the public about environmental issues through their collections, sustainable and environmentally friendly facilities, and public library programs. Among other things, green libraries maximize the effects of natural sun light and natural air flow; green libraries are thoughtfully designed while taking into account site selection to structural design, energy use, materials used and human health effects.


There is no univocal definition of a green library. But there are a number of central themes that run through all of them, which seek to minimize the negative and maximize the positive effects the building will have on the local environment. Green libraries seek to reduce the use of water and energy by designing the building to maximize the use of natural and renewable resources. They also integrate actual plants into the building design, preferably with drought resistant and/or native vegetation. Furthermore, the maintenance of high standards of indoor air quality to help ensure the health of the people who inhabit the building.

Despite the fact that there are many paths to sustainable design, the emergence of the trend has created a demand for quantifiability. In the United States, the non-profit organization the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system in the year 2000. Their point based rating has a total of 69 points possible, and buildings can be categorized as certified (26 points), silver (33), gold (39), or platinum (52+). LEED uses five different categories to judge a building's sustainability: 1) site location, 2) water conservation, 3) energy efficiency, 4) materials, 5) indoor air quality, and a bonus category for innovation and design (Sands, 2002). As of 2003 libraries accounted for 16% percent of all LEED projects (Brown, 2003).

Green Library Challenges

While green libraries are related to the overall green building movement, libraries have specific needs that raise some extra challenges.

For their preservation, books must be kept away from sunlight as well as moisture and temperature changes. However, many individuals find sunlight to be the most enjoyable light for reading. Sunlight also plays a major role in green design, because it can be used to reduce the reliance on artificial lighting. For a long time, libraries needed to protect the collection from the damaging ultra-violet rays of the sun. New developments in glass technology over the past ten years have given designers more flexibility in their ability to place collections (Mcabe, 2003).

Another, often overlooked, challenge the library presents is the weight of the books. A common strategy in green design is to raise the floors to increase circulation, but the weight of the stacks can be an impediment to this strategy. To deal with this challenge, many designers have resorted to zoning the library into designated areas, so these strategies can be enacted in certain areas and alternatives can be used in others (Lamis, 2003).

Libraries need to be built flexibly, in order to make room for expansions in size and in wiring capabilities. Library buildings are long term investments made to benefit the community, so when designing them architects need to be looking 50 or 100 years into the future. These obstacles by no means present insurmountable challenges to green libraries. The special needs of the library just need to be taken into consideration from the beginning of the project.

Libraries and environmental problems


All libraries have the mission, whether it is explicitly stated or not, to improve the condition of mankind. An institution can no longer, in good faith, aim to improve the human condition while contributing to the destruction of the earth: buildings produce about 40 percent of the dangerous greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere (Anisko & Willoughby, 2006). The fact that humans are causing harm to the environment is no longer seriously questioned. Since libraries are public buildings meant for the betterment of all, they have the responsibility to not contribute to the destruction of the environment, to educate the community regarding our current situation, and empower them to make a difference. Libraries are discovering that their green building gives them a great opportunity to educate the citizenry (Tseng, 2007). As libraries continue to take a more progressive stance on improving the human condition, sustainability will have to be a central theme. Green libraries often offer various programs about environmental education by explaining how they are reflected in their architectural design and mechanism.


The technology and knowledge needed to build green buildings have passed a tipping point. Green buildings are constructed all over the world in every sector of the economy; residential, commercial, non-profit, government, etc. Another breakthrough is the diversity of green technology. There is an abundance of options, so any green builder has the ability to capitalize on the local natural resources available and customize the building to most efficiently operate in the local environment. Along with the advancement of technology, the increasing awareness of environmental issues decreases the burden on the green builder. With the development of organizations like the USGBC and the FSC, green builders have information resources available to them. These organizations offer measurable levels of achievement to strive for, along with acting as watchdogs to help prevent the exaggeration of green credentials or "green-washing." With these advances, sustainable construction is no longer a utopian fantasy, but is simply becoming the way good buildings are being built.


Today, the library is undergoing an identity transformation and it is struggling to stay relevant, as a vocal minority predicts its demise. While its image as an outdated institution is not entirely deserved, it is trying to assert itself as an irreplaceable part of the community that plans on being an assertive force for good in the twenty-first century. Green design helps it do that three different ways. First, a sustainable building makes a statement that the library is investing in the future of the community. Second, sustainable buildings are smartly designed, aesthetically pleasing, and are powered by state-of-the-art technology. When people see these emerald marvels they will no longer be able to maintain false stereotypes regarding libraries as anachronistic relics from an analog age. Finally, as more people take environmentalism seriously, a green image can improve an institution's image.

In addition, many green libraries are actively educating the community about environmental concerns through their collection development and public programs.


As publicly funded institutions, libraries are constantly battling with budget issues. Swings in the economy can affect the tax dollars coming into the library, as well as new legislation. Sustainable design offers libraries a way to reduce maintenance and energy costs, providing them with a degree of independence. Thanks to computer modeling software, building planning can be done more efficiently than in the past. Precise estimations on quantity of building materials can prevent waste and save money. Simulations can also be done to predict how big of an HVAC system the library needs. Solar 5.5 is a computer program that builds a 3-D model of the library's energy performance, and then plugs in various passive and active design strategies to see what kind of effect they would have on each other to maximize the energy savings and cost of the building; it has saved some California libraries up to 46 percent of the energy cost compared to meeting minimum state requirements (Boyden & Weiner, 2000).

High-profile green libraries

In the 2000s a number of high-profile green libraries have been built in the U.S. and in the rest of the world. The list of green libraries is growing all the time. For an up to date information on green libraries and green library projects in the U.S. and Canada see green libraries.

Seattle Central Library

The Seattle Central Library designed by Rem Koolhaas opened in May 2004. It uses a number of innovative techniques to achieve the status of a green library. It is located in a dense urban area, accessible by public transportation. Rainwater runoff is stored in a 40,000 gallon tank, and used to irrigate the landscape. It has triple glazed glass, used to reduce heat buildup. Seventy-five percent of the demolition and construction waste was recycled. Many other green strategies were employed that can be read in more detail here: SPL's green strategies.

National Library, Singapore

The Singapore National Library has been called the greenest building on the planet. Designed by Ken Yeang, it opened in July 2005. It was designed using light shelves that allow the light to filter into the library without any negative effects. During the moments that the sun is either to bright or not bright enough, sensors are programmed to dim or brighten the lights, and raise and lower the shades to maximize comfort and reduce costs (Anisko & Willoughby, 2006).

Minneapolis Public Library

The Central Branch of the Minneapolis Public Library System was designed by Cesar Pelli, and it opened in May 2006. It has a 18,560 square-foot green roof. The green roof is planted with vegetation that does well in Minnesota's harsh climate, and it reduces rainwater runoff, the building's heating and cooling load, the building's heat island effect, and adds green space to the downtown cityscape (MPL, 2006).

Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County

The Joe and Joan Martin Center is the first public building in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County certified by the US Green Building Council. In 2006, ImaginOn was awarded LEED certification at the silver level. Go on a green hunt!

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh underwent extensive expansion and renovation in 2004 using sustainable techniques and guiding principles thereby earning silver LEED-certification, one of largest museums in the country to receive this designation, and the first children’s museum in America to do so. For more detailed information, see The Green Museum.

See also

  • Green building

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Anisko, E. and M. Willoughby (Producers). 2006. Deeper shades of green [Television mini-series episode]. Directed by Tad Fettig, narrated by Brad Pitt, and with Ken Yeang. Arlington, VA: Public Broadcasting Station.
  • Boyden L. and J. Weiner. 2000. "Sustainable libraries: Teaching environmental responsibility to communities" [Electronic version]. The Bottom Line, 13(2), 74-82.
  • ———. 2001. "For the public good: Sustainability demonstration in public library building projects" [Electronic version]. Public Libraries, 40(6), 44-6.
  • Brown, B. 2003. "The new green standard: With the LEED rating system in place it is easier to make sure your new library saves money as it treads lightly on natural resources" [Electron Version]. Library Journal, 128(20), 61-4.
  • Fox, H. 2004. Seattle central library: Water conservation (Web Video) Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  • FSC. 1996. Forest Stewardship Council Retrieved November 23, 2007.
  • Lamis, A.P. 2003. "Greening the library: An overview of sustainable design." In G.B. McCabe and J.R. Kennedy (ed.), Planning the Modern Public Building (pp. 31-45). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 0313321558 ISBN 9780313321559
  • LEED. 2005. Reference Guide, Version 2.2 US Green Building Council. Retrieved June 14, 2008.
  • McCabe, G.B. 2003. "New Concepts for Technology in Library Design." In G.B. McCabe and J.R. Kennedy (ed.), Planning the Modern Public Building (pp. 31-45). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 0313321558 ISBN 9780313321559
  • MPL. 2006. mplib greenroof, New Minneapolis Central Library. Retrieved June 14, 2008.
  • Sands, J. 2002. Sustainable library design Libris Design Project. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
  • Tseng, S.H. 2007. "An eco-building, a healthy life, and good service: A new Century in public library architecture" [Electronic version]. Public Libraries 46(4), 50-5.

External links

All links retrieved July 14, 2017.


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