In 2014, the governing body of the New York Library Association (NYLA), Council, passed the Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries, acknowledging the critical role libraries can play in larger community conversations about resiliency, climate change, and forging a sustainable future. Through this resolution NYLA Council enthusiastically encourages activities by its membership – and itself – to be proactive in their application of sustainable thinking in the areas of their facilities, operations, policy, technology, programming, and partnerships.

But what does sustainable thinking look like? What activities would a library engage in to achieve this ideal? How would a library know if they were successful in this endeavor?

To help find the answers to these questions and define a potential path, two retreats were held in 2015. Sponsors stepped forward to underwrite these events to enable library leaders from around the state to convene and discuss what it would look like for NYLA to move forward in a way that was true to the 2014 resolution. Thank you to:

  • Leadership & Management Section of the New York Library Association (LAMS)
  • Public Library Section of the New York Library Association (PLS)
  • Public Library Systems Directors Organization (PULISDO)
  • Sandpebble Project Management
  • Suffolk Cooperative Library System
  • Suffolk County Library Association

The work products envisioned through these retreats set the stage for the work ahead. The group adopted a common vocabulary and thought through what it would take to help library leaders experience a mindset shift to consider the Triple Bottom Line of sustainability for their library and for their community.

NYLA Council was inspired by the work of this group and in 2015 formed the NYLA Sustainability Initiative Committee, made up of the retreat participants to carry out the proposed work.

The NYLA Sustainability Initiative was member driven, all products were created by volunteers with donations from our peers and corporate partners. In less than four years this group of 25 volunteers has changed the way many libraries in New York and beyond think about their role in creating a more sustainable future.

  • Continuing education opportunities to introduce library leaders to this topic.
  • The Road Map to Sustainability was created both in print and as a mobile app to help library leaders capture their new thoughts and plan a new path forward.
  • A one-of-a-kind certification program was piloted for public, school and academic libraries to help guide meaningful action using the Triple Bottom Line definition of sustainability.
  • An experiential professional development opportunity that helped library leaders partner with community leaders on collective impact projects was piloted.
  • Consistent messaging, speaking engagements and articles have been published by our volunteers to help spread the word and make the case. 

In 2016 the American Library Association (ALA) passed its own Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries and in 2017 convened a Special Task Force on Sustainability. In the final report of this task force, issued in 2018, it was recommended for ALA to partner with the Sustainable Libraries Initiative to bring the Sustainable Library Certification Program to a national audience. The importance of this work was elevated further in 2019 when ALA added sustainability as a core value of librarianship.

In 2020, ALA President Patty Wong named sustainability one of her four presidential pillars and again stressed the importance of the national library community to engage on the topic of sustainability, specifically noting the opportunity of the Sustainable Library Certification Program in her call for “Solidarity on Sustainability.” 

Today, the Sustainable Libraries Initiative is hosted by the Suffolk Cooperative Library System which serves as the fiscal agent of the initiative. Advisory board members are made up of original co-creators of the project who continue to guide and advise the project.