Seed Saving Libraries

Seed libraries are sprouting up in public libraries across the nation. Borrow these ideas for nurturing one in your community.

| Summer 2018

To be free of corporate control of our seeds, and thus our food supply, we need to freely trade and share our seeds with one another. What better way to do this than through public libraries? They’re located in almost every community and are always looking for ways to stay relevant to their patrons. Offered free to the public in present-day public libraries — besides books, magazines, and computer and Internet access — are restrooms, water fountains, lighted parking, and climate-controlled meeting rooms. Libraries also have regular hours, another important factor in making all of their resources, including seeds, accessible to the public.

A library already has a staff that can manage the day-to-day lending of seeds, a big plus in establishing a seed library. Having a seed library in a book library is definitely a learning experience, and the people who will learn the most are the staff. Unless they’re already gardeners, librarians don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of handling seeds. Books can sit on a shelf for very long periods of time and be no worse for wear. Seeds, however, are living things that lose their viability over time. Storage conditions can extend the life of the seeds or cause their demise. Because libraries are usually neither too hot nor too damp, their conditions are right for seeds. To extend seed life even longer, the seeds can be refrigerated during the off-season.

Generally, libraries also have “friends of the library” groups to raise funds and sponsor interesting programs. A person who volunteers through such a group has chosen to donate their time to fostering good works. If a seed library were to be started at a public library, these groups could be an important key to finding volunteers and funding. Such groups may not be the driving force to get your seed library off the ground, however, they’re good allies to have in the process. In early 2013, there were about 60 seed libraries in the United States. In early 2014, I identified 163. Currently, nearly 500 seed libraries are believed to be in operation across the country, and the number continues to grow.

Whether librarians or library group members are gardeners or not, they’re sure to recognize that making space for a seed library is the way of the future. Seed libraries are easily managed and require little space. Fortunately for the library, the mess and noise involved in seed saving happen away from the library. The library acts as the catalyst by distributing the seeds and providing books, classes, and other resources. Then, at the end of the season, the library is there to receive new seeds, setting the stage for the season to come.

A person whose passion is sparked by the very thought of a seed library needs to make it move forward, rather than someone who has been assigned the task but has little understanding of what’s involved. However, all those involved may have ideas that will contribute to the overall success. I first became aware that public libraries loan more than books and magazines when my college housemate brought home works of art to hang for a month in our apartment. Now, I’ve found that libraries loan lots of things: tools, toys, fishing poles, nature backpacks, telescopes, novelty cake pans, kitchen equipment, knitting needles, sewing machines, musical instruments, and seeds. A lending library collection of any of these items can be supported by speakers, demonstrations, and classes, along with related books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. Libraries that evolve to suit their communities will keep their patrons coming back.

Seed libraries can inspire people who want to do things for their community but don’t know how to get started. Reading about plants and getting to know other people with similar interests is a great first step, especially for those whose garden ambitions are currently landless. A library could even host a seed club, or combine it with a garden club for the express purpose of learning more about seed saving and maintaining the seed library. It doesn’t even have to be a club — just a monthly meet-up at the library. A local food group could also meet at the library and take an interest in the seeds being offered, along with the library’s cookbooks. Using resources already available at the library, they can learn from each other. When people are passionate about something, they’re usually excited to share what they’ve learned.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: September 14-16, 2018
Seven Springs, PA

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!