The Green Library

by: Konrad Maziarz

Libraries are already places for lifelong learning, and they provide users with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. There’s no better place to model best practices for sustainable design, to be incubators for reduced energy consumption, to be educators for a whole range of new ideas than the library.

Francine Fialkoff Editor in Chief Library Journal 1/15/2008


            In an ever-increasing eco-friendly society, the library must lead by example.  Libraries need to modify or design new buildings to meet this ever increasing necessity for society.  Although the Greening effort has less to do with the layout of the interior of the library, it has become one of the most important decision factors when designing libraries. 

What is a green building?

             A green building is a building that is concerned with a high priority on health, environmental and resource conservation.  Green Designs emphasize environmental resource and occupant health concerns:

·         Reduce human exposure to noxious materials.

·         Conserve non-renewable energy and scarce materials.

·         Minimize life-cycle ecological impact of energy and materials used.

·         Use renewable energy and materials that are sustainably harvested.

·         Protect and restore local air, water, soils, flora and fauna.

·         Support pedestrians, bicycles, mass transit and other alternatives to fossil-fueled vehicles.

(Why Green Building Design, 2008)

 Why should Libraries go Green?

             As mentioned earlier libraries must lead by example, buildings are symbols for future generations; the symbols and attitudes of the creators are used to influence the attitudes of future generations and visitors.   Green libraries are built to last, be flexible enough to respond to changing functional demands, provide an environment that is inspiring and safe, and perform efficiently. (Sands, 2005)The aim of a green building is to develop and use sustainable and energy-efficient resources in the construction, maintenance, and long-term life of a structure.  Many libraries considering green design look to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification program for guidance.(Meyer, 2008)

                       In an ever changing landscape for library design, moving away from the traditional to a more open space structure, green design is a very important factor.  In a recent study of the effect of day lighting on student performance performed by the Heschong Mahone architectural firm, found that students who took their lessons in classrooms with more natural light scored as much as 25 percent higher on standardized tests than other students in the same school district.  (Sands, 2005)The effects of a green building are not only environmental but also psychological; contact with nature and sunlight penetration has been found to enhance emotional functioning.  With all these factors to go green, one of the most important is the cost saving factor of going green.

            Libraries continuously face strains on their budgets, and by going green libraries not only reduce their impact on the environment, they reduce many of the expenses associated with the heating and cooling costs.  In San Francisco libraries were redesigned/retrofitted and now only one of the twenty seven branches needs air conditioning. (Fialkoff, 2008)

 For more reasons to go green or to see other ways companies have been able to save money please watch the video here. (High Performance Building)

How to go Green:


Redevelop Urban Areas – Channel development to urban areas with existing infrastructure, protecting greenfields and preserving habitat and natural resources.

Alternative Transportation – Reduce pollution and land development impacts from car use by locating buildings near transit, providing bicycle amenities, and encourage carpooling.

Reduce Heat Islands by eliminating or shading blacktop paving and dark roof surfaces.

Reduce Light Pollution – Eliminate light escape/inefficiency from the building site. Improve night sky visibility.


Optimize Energy Performance through siting, orientation, building form, insulation, glazing, daylighting, and controls.

Promote Renewable Energy and minimize reliance on limited fossil fuels by incorporating on-site renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass.

Commission your building – Verify that the building is designed, constructed, and calibrated to operate as intended with third party quality control assurance.


Reuse Buildings – Extend the life cycle of building stock, conserve resources, retain cultural resources, reduce waste, and reduce environmental impact of new buildings.

Manage Construction Waste – Divert construction, demolition, and land clearing debris from landfills. Redirect recyclable material back to the manufacturing process.

Reuse Resources – Specify salvaged or refurbished materials such as wood flooring/paneling/cabinets, doors and frames, mantels, ironwork, decorative light fixtures, brick, masonry.

Use Recycling/Recycled Content – Provide for occupant recycling of waste. Specify products that contain recycled material.

Specify Regional Materials – materials that are harvested, extracted and manufactured regionally reduce transportation.

Use Certified Wood – Specify wood from certified sustainably managed forests.


 Assure Ventilation Effectiveness – Employ architectural and HVAC design strategies to increase ventilation effectiveness and prevent short-circuiting of airflow delivery. Consider underfloor HVAC and operable windows.

Daylight and Views – Provide a connection between indoor spaces and outdoor environment through the introduction of sunlight and views in a glare-free way. Consider courtyards, atriums, clerestory windows, skylights, and light shelves.

(Plagmann, 2006)


            Michael Dewe states “The optimum organization of the library interior, both physically and intellectually, combined with the environmental qualities will have a significant impact on users and staff. Readers and borrowers may well rate the public library interior, with a responsive and proactive staff, its ability to meet their library and information needs, and to offer a pleasant and rewarding ambience and experience above a building’s ‘grand design’.”(Dewe, 2006) The library can be built and designed with the utmost care, but it is the people who make the library what it is, the design is an important factor, but the most important is still finding a staff of people that will truly make the library great.

 Useful Links about Green Libraries and Design:

Green Libraries

Library Journal Design Institute: Going Green

U.S. Green Building Council

Going Green @ Your Library Blog

ALA Libraries Build Sustainable Communites 

The Green Press Initiative: Improving the Impact of Publishing

The Green Library Blog

Discussion Starters:

Can the library be a leader and help initiate a needed change for the environment?

Is there enough attention given to the need to become a greener library?

With up to 90% reduciton in natural gas usage and 30% reduction in water usage, can a library afford not to go green?

Other than cost issues for updating/retrofitting can you think of any arguments against going green?


Works Cited:

Dewe, M. (2006). Planning Public Library Buildings: Concepts and Issues for the Librarian: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Fialkoff, F. (2008). Editorial: Green Libraries are Local, Library Journal.

High Performance Building. 2008, from

Meyer, J. (2008). Global Warming’s Library Challenge, Library Journal: Library Journal.


Sands, J. (2005). Sustainable Library Design, Libris Design.

Why Green Building Design. (2008). 2008, from


2 responses to “The Green Library

  1. Commenting on the discussion questions you asked…
    1. It depends on how affordable it is. Being green is important, but other things are too, and the library needs to trade various values off in its budget. It is hard to do in this case because being environmentally friendly is what is called a “sacred value” in psychology, that is, it is a value that people don’t like to consciously trade off against other “secular” values like money and affordability (for an example of how sacred values, there was a famous experiment performed where people were asked whether a hospital administrator should spend $3 million to help a sick child or for maintennance and upkeep, people got furious if he even thought about spending it on the second option.). Ultimately, libraries should try to be a leader in this field, but only if they can afford it.

    2. It looks like a lot of people are talking about it, but I’m not sure how big a percentage of the general population they make up.

    3. Green energy saving items like those you describe are what are called “capital goods” that is, they cost a lot more in the short run, but save money in the long run. Ideally, everyone would like to purchase a lot of capital goods, but can’t always afford to because in the short run they are cash strapped. For example, I would like to buy a new car rather than a used one, because in the long run it will probably last longer and have less need for maintenance. But in the short run, I really can only afford a used car. That’s the sort of decision libraries have to make.

  2. my library in my campuss is already use green book

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