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Nature-Smart Library

Saint Paul Public Library, MN

Problem Statement

In a world where many children spend roughly seven hours a day on screens and seven minutes in outdoor play, the nature-smart library embraces a mindset shift regarding the boundaries of library influence. Beyond a biophilic building, the nature-smart library supports community engagement in the quality greening of the nearby built and natural environment. From this outdoor connection comes increased youth and family programming encouraging equity in access, use, and understanding of nature for city dwellers, as well as increased STEM learning for children and teens and youth leadership opportunities.


2016_Innovations_BirthThruTeens_NatureSmart_1.jpgSun Ray Library worked with the Children and Nature Network, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, and other organizations to engage the community about their connection to Conway Park. Results included fifty tree plantings in the park and the library development of a pollinator garden on underused greenspace. Sun Ray and C&NN created nature adventure backpacks, with common themes and easy activities for families to check out and explore nature. C&NN offered Natural Leaders training for the Young Mentors Group, resulting in increased youth leadership. The library partnered outside its usual scope to offer immersive outdoor learning opportunities for youth.


Nature experiences are now available to children, teens, and families in the Sun Ray Library area. Teens report exposure to new ideas, new places never experienced; they have taken on service learning projects related to the environment. The library’s outdoor environment supports not only reading and programming outside, but a host of pollinators and native plants. The library finds increased influence in city conversations regarding nature, learning, and the built environment through participating in the Cities Connecting Children to Nature process with the National League of Cities.