Santa Clara’s library set out several years ago to offer free educational programming built around sustainable living. Through funding from the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), administered by the state librarian, the library developed Sustainable U, a series of sustainable programs and resources that partner with local educational institutions, farms, fisheries and other libraries to increase the health, wellness and viability of the community.

Sustainable U has two foundational goals:

  • To teach and understand why sustainable living is an important and viable option for the community thereby creating a healthier community; and
  • To create awareness, inspiration, and access for a sustainable lifestyle, thereby transforming the library into a hub for sustainability in the community beyond the life of the grant.

Creating a communication plan launched the process and staff structured it by divided the large topic of sustainable living into a number of smaller, manageable parts.

The plan sets out to:

  • Develop a seed library to give community members a free opportunity to create their own garden and make a connection from the ground to the plate;
  • Host a series of programs to be held at the library to encourage thought and conversation around sustainable living. These programs focused on the many aspects of sustainable living. The library paid attention to creating a rotation of hands-on programming, as opposed to speaker focused programming, to inspire the public;
  • Partner with local farms to bring fresh organic produce and seafood to busy families, turning the library into a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Fishery (CSF) pickup location;
  • Partner with local libraries and city organizations to increase awareness of sustainability;
  • Organize a volunteer fair to support giving back within the community and community involvement; and
  • Develop a publicity campaign to tie the many different faces of Sustainable U into one cohesive message.

Along with executing the plan, the project coordinator is also responsible for building relationships and new partnerships outside of the library. Partnerships include: Santa Clara Adult Education, local farmers, Veggilution, Santa Clara University, Master Gardeners, Metro Newspaper, local libraries, city offices, Nissan Leaf, Silicon Valley Power, and Bay Area cycling groups. All of these contacts further advance the library’s goal of becoming a vital hub for the local community.

In a one-year period, the library held 22 programs for all ages. Programs covered topics such as water conservation, green transportation, cooking at home, planting, and urban homesteading. The library provides courses to teach skills that can be used at home, such as learning to make jams, pickles, and simple breads. Children of all ages learned how to transform the ever popular meal of pizza into a healthier version by making their own dough and using fresh vegetables.

The Biking in the Library endeavor brought awareness to alternative transportation. A partnership with the nonprofit organization Bay Area Bike Mobile, a part of the MTC Climate Initiatives Program, and the Santa Clara Police department, invited patrons to bring their bicycles to the library for free tune-ups and bike safety lessons. A library2library bike ride was designed in partnership with San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View libraries. Community members from all four cities rode 16 miles visiting local libraries and learning about the unique benefits each offered.

Working with local farmers in the Central Coast through the CSA program, Eating with the Seasons, the library became a farm box pickup location. Pick-up day coincides with the library’s evening family story time in order to expose more families to the health benefits of eating locally. During the program Sustainable Seafood, the library developed another new partnership with Local Catch Monterey Bay (Now “Real Good Fish”); a local CSF devoted to sustainably caught seafood.

Additionally, the first seed library was created in Santa Clara when the library began soliciting and cataloging seeds for its patrons to use. A partnership formed with seven bay area library systems to create an initiative called Silicon Valley Grows.

Over 300 hundred patrons attended the library’s first Volunteer Fair, which featured 27 different nonprofit organizations. Patrons signed up to work with teenagers, animals, parks and a variety of volunteer opportunities learning that anyone can make a difference in their community.

Library staff created a bed of living succulents, arranged in a dynamic display of boxes that read GROW to provide an example of drought tolerant plant solutions. The sign was placed at the library’s entrance enabling patrons to touch and feel what can grow with little water.

One of the goals of Sustainable U was to educate the public about why sustainable living is an important and viable option for the community. The new partnerships formed with the CSA famers and fisheries enabled the library’s patrons to have convenient access to fresh, local food. More than 350 different types of seeds were circulated through the Santa Clara Seed Share with 4,000 individual seeds sown in local gardens. During the Silicon Valley Grows program the selection of Trail of Tears black beans meant that participating households throughout the Bay Area were growing, harvesting, and saving one seed for the community to share in coming years.

More than 1,200 patrons visited the library for Sustainable U programs and 80 percent of patrons reported learning new information from those programs. Programs such as the healthy pizza class, bee keeping, backyard chickens and bread making helped the library gather statistics on children participating in Sustainable U. One hundred percent of the children in the pizza making class said they would use what they learned at home, 75 percent said they would share what they learned with friends or family, and 95 percent over the age of five reported learning something new about chickens or bees after attending Sustainable U programs.

Sustainable U was featured on the city’s February 2015 calendar and also won a California Library Association PRExcellence award. LSTA viewed Santa Clara as a model seed library and flew staff from two southern California libraries to learn about Santa Clara’s program. The Silicon Valley Grows program will begin a spring seed set of programs this year increasing from seven to 12 participating libraries.

Program attendance and enthusiasm was greater than expected. The attitude of other city departments changed as the city manager’s office saw the success of Sustainable U and began to look into creating a Santa Clara community garden. Sustainable U became one of the library’s most successful campaigns, with 76 percent of patrons reporting that they would use what they learn beyond the Sustainable U grant and in their daily lives.

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Originally posted at the League of California Cities. This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
The 2015 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. The city of Santa Clara’s Sustainable U was submitted in 2015 for the Health and Wellness Programs award category.