How are libraries becoming green?

Green design is an integrated process. No one aspect of a building's architecture makes it green architecture. Without proper integration from the earliest moments of the planning phase, redundancies can occur, eliminating many of the potential benefits of sustainable design. Good sustainable design capitalizes on the synergistic relationships that occur between the various design elements. LEED groups these elements into five categories. Buildings can be designed in a way in which, good design in one category helps another category fulfill its goal.

Before building can start, a site must be chosen. The selection of the site has a large impact on how ecologically friendly the library will be. LEED has a number of guidelines to help the site selection process. There are a number of questions to consider that will help guide the site selection process, including, what kind of impact will construction have on the local environment, will there be erosion, what can be done with storm runoff, and is the site already green? Also, the library should be located in a densely populated area, near a number of other service related buildings. People should be able to reach the building via public transportation and the parking lots should give priority parking to those driving energy efficient automobiles. The heat island effect can be reduced by shading hard surfaces, putting them underground, or by implementing a vegetative roof (LEED, 2005).

There are many different ways for libraries to conserve water. A number of them rely on proper site selection. If a site is selected properly strategies can be used to capture rainwater runoff to be used in irrigation. Another strategy is to use low flow fixtures, and waterless urinals.

Energy efficiency is considered by many to be the most important category in becoming sustainable. In the LEED rating system it is the heaviest weighted of all the categories. Energy efficient design is in many ways a return to passive design principles that evolved over thousands of years, until the advent of air conditioning and cheap energy made those strategies appear to be unnecessary. After air conditioning became widely available, buildings were designed to eliminate influences of the outside environment. Lamis illustrates this point in "Greening the Library" when he compares two libraries built near the turn of the 20th century, the New York Public Library and the Boston Public Library; to two more recently built libraries, the Chicago Public Library and the Phoenix Public Library. The two older libraries have interior spaces that are narrow, so they can be reached by natural light and air. Whereas the two more modern libraries have large floor plans, with interior spaces far removed from the outside environment. Making them more dependent on artificial systems of temperature control.

As environmental awareness increases, as well as the cost of fossil fuels needed to operate giant heating, air conditioning, and ventilation ([HVAC]) systems, building designers are beginning to recognize that the outside environment cannot be ignored, and should be taken advantage of. What 21st-century designers are beginning to do is implement ancient passive design principles, while taking advantage of the most advanced technology available.

The passive strategies vary according to location, but they are always implemented to capitalize on the natural elements, mostly wind and sun, to manage the temperature and to provide ventilation and light. Active strategies are more technologically advanced solutions that include using various forms of renewable energy resources and using sensors to adjust lighting. Using photovoltaic cells that turn sunlight into energy is becoming an increasingly popular way to reduce energy dependence. In order to fully maximize energy efficiency and comfort, libraries are combining passive and active strategies.

It is believed that up to 40% of landfill space is filled with construction waste material. The primary responsibility in selecting materials for the library is to contribute as little waste as possible. Another responsibility is to choose materials that can be produced without causing too much damage to the natural environment. In order to fulfill the first responsibility, post-industrial and post-consumer recycled materials are being used. When purchasing materials claiming to be made from recycled goods it is important to investigate what their claims mean. It is a common marketing practice to exaggerate how green a product is by using misleading statements. Also, materials should be chosen that are going to be able to be reused or recycled 50100 years down the road when the library building has reached the end of its useful life (Tseng, 2007). As non-renewable resources decrease, reusing and recycling are going to become increasingly necessary in the future.

It is also important to consider where materials are coming from: Resources have emerged to help guide the material selection process, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). They rate and certify wood based on a number of factors regarding how it was produced; rights of indigenous peoples, environmental impact, workers rights, efficiency, management, and conservation (FSC, 1996). Another material option is using quickly renewable materials such as bamboo in place of wood whenever possible. The widening availability of green building materials, along with the development of non-profit watchdog groups are two important factors in the greening of 21st-century library buildings.

Along with energy inefficiency, poor air quality has been another side-effect of the post air conditioning building design. Because most modern buildings are temperature controlled, they are designed to be airtight. The lack of ventilation can not only make buildings expensive to cool, it also traps harmful toxins that can do serious damage to people's respiratory systems. Toxins come from a variety of sources. Materials that make up the library, including paints and carpeting, have volatile organic compounds (VOC's), which produce a ground-level ozone after reacting with sunlight and nitrogen. The carbon dioxide that people breathe into the atmosphere is another toxin. To improve air quality, materials can be bought that have a low VOC content, and CO2 monitors can be installed to ensure that CO2 levels remain at a safe level. On average, people spend about 90% of their time indoors. Therefore, green buildings need to be designed in a way in which the air gets recycled, and does not stay stagnant. A green library is not just about taking care of the environment, it is about taking care of the health and well-being of those who work in it and patronize it.