Creating the Sustainable Public Library

The Triple Bottom Line Approach

by Gary L. Shaffer


Sustainability for public libraries is about more than simply surviving; rather the goal is to ensure that public libraries thrive.

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Cover image for Creating the Sustainable Public Library

March 2018

Libraries Unlimited

Pages 184
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics Management and Administration/Strategic Planning
  Management and Administration/General

Transform any public library into a truly sustainable organization—not just environmentally sustainable, but economically and socially sustainable as well—by following the directions and practices described in this book.

Sustainability in the context of ensuring the long-term success of a public library involves more than green initiatives and conserving resources: "sustainability" for libraries also describes efforts to increase their institutions' relevance to their communities as well as to make their programs socially equitable and economically feasible—a substantial challenge.

This book is a powerful tool that public librarians, library directors, and library managers can use to create a Triple Bottom Line (TBL) sustainable library, to lead sustainability initiatives in their community, and to identify and adjust their current practices that are considered sustainable to improve performance. The chapters focus on the elements of library sustainability separately, first addressing economic and environmental sustainability before examining the aspects of internal (workforce) and external (community-facing) social sustainability. The author presents numerous case studies throughout the book that enable readers to better understand how the sustainability principles described play out in the real world.


  • Offers theory and practical advice on implementing a sustainability program from a recognized expert in management and sustainability in the library environment
  • Presents step-by-step instructions for creating a Triple Bottom Line (TBL) sustainable public library
  • Addresses a highly relevant and timely topic with librarians and library administrators
Author Info

Gary L. Shaffer, PhD, is head of Library and Information Management programs at the Marshall School of Business and assistant dean of USC Libraries, where he directs the Center for Library Leadership and Management. He is the former CEO of the Tulsa City-County Library, which was awarded a 2014 Oklahoma Quality Award for their sustainability-based application. He also shepherded the Central Library Project, which won a Henry Bellmon Environmental Stewardship Sustainability Award. A 2006 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, Shaffer speaks nationally and internationally on sustainability, emotionally intelligent library leaders, and creating 21st Century-responsive libraries.



"Readers interested in cultivating strong public libraries will appreciate Shaffer's comprehensive coverage of TBL [triple bottom line] and its use in public libraries." Library Journal


"Libraries need more than love and goodwill to thrive. They need to take hold of practices to ensure their viability. In Creating a Sustainable Public Library, Gary Shaffer offers a comprehensible and captivating discourse on how libraries can apply the tenets of Triple Bottom Line (TBL) for public libraries to flourish. Through the use of cases studies, tools and techniques, Shaffer skillfully conveys how public libraries can connect to environmental, economic, and social forces to make a case for greater relevance and sustainability. Truly one of the best works on public libraries because of the breadth of topics, it will engross and benefit a broad audience of public library stakeholders."—Luis Herrera, Former City Librarian of San Francisco

"Creating the Sustainable Public Library is a virtual compendium of smart and innovative library leadership principles woven into the context of the Triple Bottom Line value proposition. Gary Shaffer's latest contribution to the library profession will serve both seasoned leaders looking for maximum efficiency/effectiveness, and new librarians hoping to get a jump-start on understanding the vast issues impacting library administrators and stakeholders. Librarians looking for a guide to move from library outputs of the past to community outcomes of the future would be wise to read this book."—Patrick Losinski, Chief Executive Officer, Columbus Metropolitan Library

"Shaffer's approach to library sustainability is broad and detailed, including the economic, environmental, and social aspects of this critical topic. The case studies and future scenarios in each chapter are invaluable resources that will generate staff engagement and adoption of new practices. If you are just exploring sustainability for your library or fostering a long-term commitment, this book provides a clear pathway to successful implementation."—Susan Hildreth, Bill & Melinda Gates Distinguished Professor of Practice, University of Washington iSchool

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