To reduce consumption and share resources, libraries lend more than just books

Libraries - havens of free informational resources like books and computer access - now are expanding their repertoire by lending out a few less traditional items.

Some libraries now are working toward being environmental stewards.

As part of waste reduction efforts, the Solid Waste Agency of Cook County (SWANCC) recently awarded grants to Elk Grove and Park Ridge public libraries for sustainability projects, such as textile repair and energy efficiency programming.

From telescopes to projectors, patrons at Park Ridge Public Library can check out novel items through its "exploration library."

"The idea behind that is to sort of try before you buy," said Laura Scott, the library's adult services manager. "It can also cut down on consumption - someone can just use ours instead of having to purchase one."

The newest exploration item is a pro-grade thermal camera that can help homeowners find invisible holes in their energy efficiency. It also can help inspect electrical panels, find water damage and look for HVAC problems.

"One of the bedrocks of libraries is sharing resources," Scott said. "We share resources with many other libraries in our consortium, and if we don't own something, we can get it for you usually within a week. This is just a natural extension to try to expand that to more nontraditional items."

The FLIR ONE Pro smartphone camera, which goes for $449.99, was funded through the SWANCC grant.

The grant program offers around $500 to schools and libraries looking to create or expand sustainability programming. Though the program has been around in schools for a decade, SWANCC expanded its application to libraries earlier this year.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

"I wanted to look at it with fresh eyes to see how we can expand our efforts and our mission into the community," said Theresa Greinig, the agency's education coordinator. "Each of our communities have a library, and library staff knows so much better than I could guess what a patron in Evanston might be looking for in the library versus a patron in Palatine, for instance."

So far, Elk Grove and Park Ridge are the only libraries to receive grants.

Elk Grove Public Library used the funds to purchase a Brother sewing machine and mending kits to support its ongoing textile reuse efforts.

The library has eight existing sewing machines available for checkout or for use at the library. The machines support programming with the group Living Green in Elk Grove Village, whose patrons make reusable tote bags and cleaning cloths.

The items are upcycled from old fabrics and towels sourced for free from the village's Buy Nothing page on Facebook.

"People are really interested to learn how to sew and how to use the sewing machines not only for these kinds of projects that we've done, but then learning how to use them to mend their own clothes," said Nancy Broten-Munson, an Elk Grove librarian. "Our hope with the new sewing machine is that we'll be able to circulate that one for people to bring home and use."

Both libraries work with local environmental groups.

In Elk Grove, the library recently collaborated with The Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove to debut a new bike rack complete with an air pump and a "fix-it" station. In Park Ridge, the library puts on book clubs and other types of programming with groups like Go Green Park Ridge and the Park Ridge Garden Club.

"That's the important thing about libraries. We have people with all sorts of skill sets," said Rick Avalos, head of building and security services at Elk Grove.

Avalos has been working toward modernizing the more than 30-year-old library building to make it more energy-efficient and nature-friendly. That includes retrofitting the lights, composting food waste and creating more green spaces around the building.

"We definitely have been hearing a lot of good feedback from people who want to improve sustainability in general in the community. Being a part of that community, I want to make sure we're listening," he said. "Libraries in general are always receptive to when a community needs something."

• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

  The Park Ridge Public Library has a thermal camera that can be checked out like a book. John Starks/
The Park Ridge Public Library has a thermal camera that can be checked out like a book. It is a small device that plugs into a cellphone and operates via a downloaded application. It made this picture inside the library. Courtesy of Park Ridge Public Library
  The Park Ridge Public Library has a thermal camera that can be checked out like a book. It is a small device that plugs into a cellphone and operates via a downloaded application. John Starks/
  The Park Ridge Public Library has a backyard projector bundle that can be wheeled home on a wagon. John Starks/
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