What makes a library green?

There are many ways to define a green library, but there are a number of central themes that run through all of them, including, minimizing the negative impact the building will have on the local environment, and if possible having a positive impact. Reducing the use of water and energy by designing in a way that maximizes the use of natural and renewable resources. Integrating actual greenery and vegetation into the building and site design; Preferably, using drought resistant and/or native vegetation. And, maintaining high standards of indoor air quality to help ensure the health of the people who inhabit the building.

Despite the fact that there are many paths to sustainable design, the emergence of the trend has created a demand for quantifiability. In the United States, the non-profit organization the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system in the year 2000. Their point based rating has a total of 100 base points possible, and buildings can be categorized as certified (40 points), silver (50), gold (60), or platinum (80+). LEED uses five different categories to judge a building's sustainability; 1) site location, 2) water conservation, 3)energy efficiency, 4) materials, 5) indoor air quality, and a bonus category for innovation and design. As of 2003 libraries accounted for 16% of all LEED projects (Brown, 2003).

Sustainable library design is strongly tied to the overall green building movement, but libraries have specific needs that present some extra challenges for green builders.

The biggest challenge is balancing the sometimes conflicting needs of the patrons and the materials. One of the central themes of the library's mission is to preserve knowledge, so that it can be passed on to future generations. For over a thousand years books have been the dominant way to do that. While the internet has become the information medium of choice for many, books still play a very important role in the preservation of knowledge. In order to be preserved, books must be kept away from extreme temperatures, moisture, and sunlight. In contrast, many individuals find sunlight to be the most enjoyable light for reading. Sunlight also plays a major role in green design, because it can be used to reduce the reliance on artificial lighting. For a long time, libraries needed to protect the collection from the damaging ultra-violet rays of the sun. New developments in glass technology over the past ten years have given designers more flexibility in their ability to place collections (Mcabe, 2003).

Another, often overlooked, challenge the library presents is the weight of the books. A common strategy in green design is to raise the floors to increase circulation, but the weight of the stacks can be an impediment to this strategy. To deal with this challenge, many designers have resorted to zoning the library into designated areas, so these strategies can be enacted in certain areas, and alternatives can be used in others. Libraries need to be built flexibly, in order to make room for expansions in size and in wiring capabilities. Library buildings are long term investments into the community, so when designing them architects need to be looking 50 or 100 years into the future. These obstacles by no means present insurmountable challenges to green libraries. The special needs of the library just need to be taken into consideration from the beginning of the project.