- Serves all of Pima County’s 27 library branches
- Distributing over 1000 packs of seeds per week
- Approx 50% of seeds in collection are locally saved
Pima County Seed Library was set up by a group of librarians working within the public library system. Employees Justine Hernandez and Kelly Wilson approached senior staff about the idea and were met with instant approval. Staff throughout the administration were inspired by the innovative nature of the seed library model and felt it offered the public something relevant as well as fitting with their sustainability objectives. Pima County is generally a progressive, liberal area and its important that the library offers programming that suits the people they serve. Overnight, Kelly and Justine were tasked with coming up with a system that could serve all 27 branches in the county.
I spoke to Kelly in October 2015, three years after the programme’s launch, and its clear the library staff have risen to the challenge. The seed library is fully integrated in to the library’s existing catalogue; users can request seeds to any branch in the county or visit a physical collection in 8 of their branches.
How it works
Pima County Seed Library is run by the library staff and accordingly forms an important part of their public programming. They run gardening workshops at various branches, attend seed swaps and organise their own outreach events. Permanent collections are housed in eight branches where visitors can take out seeds without having a library membership. One of their priorities in establishing the seed library was to ensure that the collection was accessible to everyone; as a result they have made it as easy as possible to check out seeds. They also have two mobile seed libraries which are sent to smaller branches to broaden access and ensure that staff across the county are familiar with how it works.
They have received donations from numerous seed companies. In particular, Arizon-based seed company Native Seed Search has become an important partner. They are located in the same region as Pima and as a result the seeds they supply generally do much better than from other suppliers. Kelly comments that, as the number of locally saved seeds in the library increases, so does the collection’s resilience; only seeds that do well in the region will be returned.
Anyone wishing to return seed must complete a simple form with details of where and how it was grown so that library staff can assess it quality before adding it to the system. At the moment, any seed which seems likely to have crossed with other varieties, is kept to one side, and used for art projects. Although Kelly has toyed with the idea of making these ‘uncertain’ seeds available to more experimental gardeners.
At the moment most of the seed processing is done at the library’s main branch. Staff there work with a team of volunteers to ensure that all seeds are packaged, inventoried, labelled, and catalogued before being sent out for delivery. They are running at a large-scale, distributing over 1000 seed packets per week, and so the processing can be extremely time-consuming! The work of volunteers is invaluable but still the system relies on a big commitment by library staff who don’t receive any extra time in their day to do this work. The goal is to make the branches more independent so that processing can be done at each one.
Pima County Library have made a long-term investment in their seed library. Their short-term goal of being able to maintain their supply of seeds from local seed savers seems within reach. Their long-term goals of empowering people to have access to healthy food and creating a more resilient local food system will be harder to measure, however it’s clear they are already building a culture of seed saving. The exposure of the project and its potential to reach people through the library system is huge. By running at such a large-scale, they are introducing the concept to hundreds if not thousands of people per year. These beginners may not all save the best seed but some will go on to become skilled. At a wider level, people across the county are being educated about the role seeds play in our food system and the benefits of a locally-adapted supply.
More info: http://www.library.pima.gov/seed-library/