The concept of a library, a place where a single item—often a single book—is used by many, is an exemplary model of sustainability. Libraries are increasing the weeding of their physical collections in order to provide collaborative learning spaces, more flexible space for computer users, and more digital material. In short, it seems that new reading habits have outpaced the resources available to librarians with respect to environmentally and socially responsible disposition practices.
This web-based training offers libraries across the nation an opportunity to engage citizens and raise awareness of carbon-neutral reuse options for books and materials being weeded and discarded from library collections. With help from our recycling partners, the Austin Public Library's Recycled Reads program keeps books and other media out of landfills. Representatives from Goodwill of Central Texas, Austin Resource Recovery, the Office of Sustainability and the public have drawn upon their collective experiences to advise on the development of content and dissemination of this online training tool.
There are many who find the term "weeding" to be a pejorative. The purpose of this project is to engage people in a conversation about weeding projects and disposition practices. Many resources exist about weeding, and more people are talking about it every day.
We weed in order to make room for the needs of our communities, whether for new material, more space for computers or community gathering. Call it what you want: Weeding, discarding or deaccessioning—as with gardens, we weed to keep our libraries thriving. We also know that reading trends are changing. According to the Pew Research Internet and American Life Project, more adults than ever are reading ebooks. We can confidently say that the physical book is here to stay. What we are suggesting is that some content might be better suited for digital publishing first.
At the Austin Public Library, we've set goals for ourselves. We're working to extend the life of library material as well as material donated in support of the library by reselling it, repurposing it and then recycling it. With our partner, Goodwill of Central Texas, we work hard to ensure that no media that arrives at or goes out our back doors ends up in any landfill. We're also committed to educating our customers and the Austin community at large in the values of sustainability and the City of Austin's Zero Waste Goals. We hope our efforts to maximize the use of materials in a sharing economy by (1) encouraging use of public libraries, (2) increasing the use of digital content when available and appropriate, and (3) ensuring the library is not just a warehouse for information but a space for exchanging ideas, information and creativity.
There are three main parts of the Recycled Reads ecosystem:
The retail space with its module furniture that can be transformed into a classroom, a stage or a makerspace; the loading dock/sorting room where all media is processed before being sold (reused), upcycled (repurposed) or recycled; and the pre-shelving area where carts are built to stock shelves.