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Seed Library

Pima County Public Library, AZ
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Innovation Summary

The Seed Library of the Pima County Public Library supports gardeners and seed savers, from beginner to expert, through the process of growing, harvesting, and saving seeds. The Seed Library strengthens the community by providing resources and tools that promote healthy diets, food justice, agricultural biodiversity and sustainability.

Problem Statement

Tucson and the Santa Cruz River Valley have a rich and complex agricultural history. Despite these ancient traditions, our modern community became increasingly disconnected from its agrarian roots. This transformation led to fewer local food producers and a loss of agricultural biodiversity. The overall health of our community suffered as we became more removed from a secure source of a variety of healthy, nutritious local foods. The Pima County Public Library provides equitable access to digital and print resources to economically, geographically and culturally diverse communities. The Seed Library takes the library’s mission a step further by expanding the resources to include open-pollinated seeds. By facilitating greater access to seeds and the information needed to grow, save and share them, the Seed Library provides people with healthier lifestyle choices and promotes the values of food justice. The Seed Library provides the community with the opportunity to embrace healthy activities and nutritious food. The Seed Library also raises awareness about environmental stewardship by teaching the community about sustainable agricultural practices and permaculture principles that benefit our urban environment. Working together with our community partners, the Seed Library serves as an anchor for important conversations about social justice, food democracy and sustainability. The Seed Library strengthens the community by bringing people together to share knowledge, experience and information.


Pima County Library patrons can reserve and check out seeds with their library card, exactly the same way they reserve and check out books. Seeds are housed in seven branches, but all residents of Pima County have access to them because the seeds are fully integrated into the Millennium Integrated Library System. Patrons can browse seeds online by typing “Seed Library” in the catalog search box. When a patron places a reserve, the seeds will be delivered to his or her local branch. Seeds can also be donated at any library location. The donation slips allow the seed saver to share more information than just the type of seed. Donors sometimes share the provenance of treasured seeds that have been passed down in their family, while others pass on growing or cooking instructions. As each generation of open-pollinated seed is grown and returned to the library, we create a collection of desert-adapted plants that thrive in our climate. The collection is a donation based, community supported, sustainable resource. In addition to using Millennium to catalog and track seed circulation, the Seed Library also created a database to measure the level of community participation. Donations, volunteer hours and outreach events are logged and evaluated. One quantifiable measure of sustainability is having seed donations from community members become an increasingly large percentage of the total collection when compared to donations from seed companies. The database is evolving to capture the stories behind the seeds. The Seed Library strongly believes the stories behind the seeds strengthen the connections in our community.


Since the Seed Library opened in January 2012, Pima County Public Library patrons have checked out over 7000 seed packets. More than 400 varieties of decorative and edible plant and herb seeds are now in the hands and soil of our community. Dedicated volunteers come together at Repacking Events to clean, sort and prepare the donated seeds for checkout. Gardeners are now completing the cycle by returning seeds from the plants they grew from seeds borrowed from the library’s collection. The Seed Library provides opportunities to share knowledge about gardening, seed saving and sustainable agriculture. Strong partnerships with local organizations Native Seeds/Search, the Community Food Bank, and Master Gardeners allow the library to host free educational presentations and workshops. Popular topics include Mesquite Milling, Self-Watering Containers, and Rainwater Harvesting. One library branch tends a garden plot with The Community Gardens of Tucson, allowing librarians to gain practical experience while creating stronger neighborhood ties. Librarians participate in events outside the library, including Farmers’ Markets, school science events, and gardening groups’ meetings. The Seed Library has a strong Facebook presence and uses social media to share stories and foster relationships. State and regional library conferences and webinars provide opportunities to further promote the goals of a seed library and to share a successful model that can be adapted by other library systems. The Seed Library provides an innovative, sustainable avenue for the Pima County Public Library system to forge relationships to help our community reach its full potential.