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Transforming Your Library with a Garden

by on September 19, 2014

A recent article in School Library Journal describes how libraries support development by starting gardens. As we navigate the busy fall season, take a few minutes to think about how starting a garden can help expand your community outreach, participation, and mission. Here are some main points from the SLJ article about the first steps for creating a garden at your library, as well as the many benefits associated with such a project.

Nutritional Literacy and Your Library

Many libraries are expanding their missions to include a broader definition of literacy.  Nutrition is a fundamental need, and gardening can spur new conversations in your community. Some communities may focus on nutrition by promoting access to fresh produce.  Many libraries will benefit from incorporating more hands-on programming for children and teens by highlighting DIY skills.  Library gardens are a natural setting for a seasonal celebration with a nutritional focus.

What Kind of Garden Will You Grow?

A garden can fit your space and resources. Libraries with larger outside space can build raised beds.  Buckets or large pots are a great option for libraries with limited space. Growing lettuce mix, basil, or pepper plants is surprisingly easy even for the most novice gardener, and even small harvests yield big lessons about nutrition and food. Check out this gallery of library gardens that accompanies the SLJ article for some ideas on how libraries have used the space available to them.

Cultivating Your Curriculum and Programming

Use the establishment of a garden to promote your programming and events, including film showings, recipe sharing, or garden- or nutrition-themed talks. Invite your patrons to help with maintenance. Even weeding is more fun in a social setting!

Create special displays from library resources.  Share relevant articles from your local newspaper, or national gardening magazines. What better time to supplement your collection’s gardening books?

Getting Started

Determine how starting a garden can support your goals and mission through increased outreach and innovative programming.  Create a budget that fits your available resources, but also think about applying for local or federal grants for future years.

Recruit your patrons and library-system employees with green thumbs. Work with local non-profit organizations that support community gardening. Some of these organizations might be able to help get your garden started by providing materials or tools, volunteer labor, and recommendations for types of plants and organic gardening methods.

As with any library expenditure, a garden should be evaluated at the end of the season. Gardens are by their essence adaptable and can easily be adjusted to fit the needs and future goals of your library and patron community. Happy growing!

Some Resources for Starting a Garden:

10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden – While this helpful guide from the American Community Gardening Association is geared towards larger community gardens, the basic framework will give you a good idea of the organizational process of starting a garden.


USDA People’s Garden

United States Department of Agriculture – This site has great FAQ’s and video tutorials for gardening resources, and information about federal grants.

Let’s Move

Works Cited

Dig It! Libraries are creating gardens to expand their mission: http://www.slj.com/2014/08/programs/dig-it-libraries-are-creating-gardens-to-expand-their-mission/#_

A Photo Gallery of Six Library Gardens: http://www.slj.com/2014/08/programs/a-photo-gallery-of-six-library-gardens/