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Arlington Reads 2010

Arlington (VA) Public Library
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Problem Statement

The Arlington Library has modeled sustainability with efficiencies that have cut energy use by 36% over 10 yrs.; the installation of solar panels this spring will increase the savings. Beyond that, in 2010, when the County Board Chair announced a focus on fiscal and environmental sustainability, the library decided to link the chair's priority with its mission of promoting reading. Staff believed that, as a County entity with an educational role, the library could highlight the cause and capture the interest of residents by expanding the theme to food, something everyone understands, and by creating a community dialogue around works of writers who address important sustainability issues. With related programs and a hands-on organic garden, the library could reach a broad spectrum of ages and demographics with the message that sustainability can be personal and achievable.


Food sustainability was the 2010 Arlington Reads theme with talks by Oakland farmer Novella Carpenter (Farm City) and environmental and literary icon Wendell Berry (The Memory of Old Jack). We partnered with schools and gave Farm City to students who met with the author. We hosted a community discussion of Berry's book moderated by a Georgetown U. professor. We offered a film series, panel of local farmers, beekeeper and growing plants programs for children. Our monthly art show, open to all ages, featured Food Art. Volunteers created a vegetable garden to benefit Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) in a raised bed at the entrance to the library. The garden attracted nonprofit and government organizations/volunteers outside the norm of library partnerships (Dept. of Agriculture, No. VA Regional Park Authority, a Girl Scout Troop, Potomac Vegetable Farm, Master Gardeners, and AFAC), supported a worthy cause, demonstrated the feasibility of producing food in urban spaces, and became a community-building and educational lab before 2500-3000 daily visitors.


Record-breaking attendance at author talks heightened awareness of sustainability; the garden raised over 100 lbs. of food, demonstrated the value of partnering and practical ways to eradicate hunger, made an abstract concept understandable and, by continuing the cycle of growth, dormancy and renewal, kept issues of sustainability alive.