Snapshot on Sustainability: A Library is far more than its books in circulation

Although the smart phone sitting in my pocket can help me find the answer to most any question, I don’t think of my phone as the intersection of technology and learning, but simply a tool that I use more often than I’d like to admit. However, a library is truly that space – that intersection – and more. I think of a library not only of the treasures found deep in the stacks but also about the curated guidance by knowledgeable librarians, characteristics of the physical space, and what each conveys.

I have my favorite libraries around Los Angeles and in other cities I’ve visited. My favorites are those where I’m met with a smile and gentle offer for assistance. The space is just as inviting, luring me in from the curb with unique or historic architecture, and within by alcoves where I can snuggle in with a newly discovered treasure or plug in my laptop and spread out my notes across a huge table so I can finish a document that’s been nipping at my heels.

Even as the digital revolution has changed the pace of our day and our growing impatience for access to information, public library attendance has been on the rise and this trend, according to recent polls, is expected to continue.

Libraries are redefining themselves from rows of books to multi-purpose information hubs designed to meet a variety of community needs. Some, like the Simi Valley Public Library, are taking this to the next step, thinking about how the space can be used to reflect the goals and vision for sustainability that the City leadership has set forth.

Development of a Discovery Garden is this year’s USGBC-LA Legacy Project winner, bringing together the many goals of the community into a single manifestation of sustainability in action. By designing a habitat for local and migrating animals, this garden will show the community ways to reduce water use, build awareness of native plants, and provide a context for bringing community together in the design, establishment, and maintenance of this garden.

This is the right project for the right place. How do I know? The project has all the help it can handle. People are drawn to it, wanting to donate time, expertise, and equipment to make it happen. In mid-March, the project broke ground with work party days to remove existing vegetation and prepare the soil so the in-house team can install water conservation infrastructure upgrades. The plan is to plant in the fall to take advantage of the best conditions for establishment. And in the mean time, programming on native species and water conservation are under development to support the garden as a space of learning as well as enjoyment.

Could this be an example of Louis Henry Sullivan’s theory of form following function? I might argue that sustainability strategies work best when they reflect the culture that is already in place, but I could also see this new garden sparking ideas in visitors, raising awareness about how to create aesthetic spaces that also make the community more livable.

Will people who visit the library remove their turf lawn and replace it with native gardens? We’ll have to wait to find out. In the mean time, join me in grabbing a book and finding a place to sit either in the garden itself or by a window looking out onto this landscape that does more than provide ground cover – it provides an example of new solutions to ever-pervasive challenges.

I’m curious what you think and I hope you will join the conversation by contacting me directly at or leaving your thoughts by posting a comment below.

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