June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Kids, the Ultimate Stakeholders | Editorial

When it comes to the future of our planet, our kids are exposed to a proverbial landslide of information—and misinformation. They need support to sort truth from myth, fact from fiction. Children also need to see a path to build and express their own agency—what they can do to make a difference.

Reading Leila Meyer’s “Virtually There” left me daydreaming about how virtual reality (VR) could be used to help kids connect in a more visceral way with the problems wrought by climate change and the people affected around the world. It could also be used to help them experience sustainable design solutions already at work and imagine yet-to-be created environments that support life. VR is just one of many tools to help kids design the future they will inhabit, and it’s an exciting one.

Better yet, though, may be our own modeling of a commitment to building a more sustainable world. This is true of even the smallest choices, such as ­opting for a reusable cup rather than disposable paper or plastic products. It’s also true of longer term engagements—active learning, discussion, and ­visible problem-solving. As we grapple with the many questions and issues involved and respond with both tactics and strategies, we give children the gift of seeing the extended, collaborative work needed to address significant problems. And we can invite them to ­grapple along with us.

We can, and should, do this as individuals. Even better, we can do this at the institutional level by adopting a sustainability commitment and following through in choices large and small. That, however, can be difficult to pull off.

Now there is a guide. The new Sustainable ­Libraries Certification program is a mechanism for library leaders to embrace such a commitment, for the sake of their libraries and the communities they serve. It was developed by the New York Library Association Sustainability Initiative (NYLA-SI), of which I am a member and cocreator, and approved by NYLA Council in August. The public library certification is now available, with programs for academic and school libraries in development.

“The word I keep coming back to is activate,” says Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, NYLA-SI cochair and cocreator. “Regardless of the age of the patrons we work with, most people are driven to find meaning in life, to contribute on a large or small scale to making the world a better place. Children who are introduced to the importance of sustainability, and see educators modeling behavior and making choices that make a difference in the lives of others, get a front row seat to the kind of thinking it will take to thrive as a society as they get older and embrace their ability to influence their future.”

This goes way beyond an annual focus such as Earth Day, which is essential but a given, says Smith Aldrich. “The issues our world faces are so large that an awareness of these issues needs to be threaded throughout our daily lives. School should be a laboratory for young people to learn more about the world around us and how to positively influence it,” she says. “When kids understand why something is important—have a chance to learn that they can affect a positive outcome for themselves and others—we can truly work toward creating generations of citizens who are all moving in the right direction. Sustainability, as a driver of curriculum and programming, activates children to take a wider look at the world around us” and see how personal choices influence life for all.

I’m in. Are you? If you are already engaged in this work, please share what you are doing in your schools and libraries to empower kids on sustainability.


Rebecca T. Miller

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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