By Melissa N. Thompson
Our Georgia libraries continue to offer unique services that foster a sense of community, build a rapport with patrons, and overall meet a local need. Southwest Chatham Library, a branch of the Live Oak Public Library System, started a Seed Library and an accompanying Spice Club to help the community share in resources and knowledge. The following interview, featuring Senior Community Library Manager Maryann Brickey, details more information about the Seed Library—how it began, and the challenges faced when creating it. A very special thanks to Maryann for participating in this interview and providing the photos for this post!
1. What sparked the idea of offering patrons a seed library?
The idea of the Seed Library began as part of a larger concept for a Community Garden Project at Southwest Chatham Library, a branch of Live Oak Public Libraries. We have several staff members who are interested in plants or involved in local gardening clubs, so we thought a fun community engagement activity would be to create a learning garden and possibly a gardening club of our own.
Our plan was to collaborate with local partners to build the garden and the library would supplement some of the STEM education related to it by providing programs and resources. We envisioned the Seed Library as a way to encourage conversations about agriculture, science, climate change, healthy eating, and nutrition in our community.
2. In what ways have you seen this service transform your patrons/community?
Since the Seed Library was first launched, more than 240 patrons have checked out almost 600 packets of seeds. We have families who check out what is new in the Seed Library every time they visit the library!
As this September completes our first year offering this service, we have been gathering stories of patrons who checked out seeds last fall or in the spring and have successfully grown the vegetables and herbs in their home and container gardens. And the Southwest Chatham Library community has enjoyed watching the watermelons grow in our garden this summer.
The Seed Library has proven to be a perfect project to connect with the community, even during COVID. Since people are spending more time at home, gardening gives them something positive to focus on and look forward to as they follow the progress of their seed—and something to celebrate as they see the results of their care for their plants.
And with social distancing being a factor, the Seed Library is a great fit for outdoor community events. We can safely reach new audiences at local farmers’ markets and through Farm Bureau AgMobile visits. We also designed a StoryWalk® featuring Plant a Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson to further engage with our community.
Through the Seed Library, we have developed partnerships with Chatham County Extension and Master Gardener volunteers, which allow us to extend our reach to new groups and individuals. We now have connections with Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, Wormsloe State Historic Site, Healthy Savannah, Savannah Urban Garden Alliance (SUGA), Victory Gardens, and others that we did not have prior to offering this service.
Our goal is to keep the cycle of seed saving going. And the program has been so successful that we are planning to expand the Seed Library to other locations in our library system. We hope to continue to build lasting connections with our community by offering gardening and seed saving resources.
3. Please tell us more about the Spice Club! Is it for people who like to garden? Foodies? What sorts of activities does the club partake in?
The Spice It Up Club is for anyone interested in cooking, exploring new flavors, and learning about the history and uses of spices that they may not normally use. Each month, library staff create a card that has information about that month’s featured spice, a recipe using the spice, and a prepackaged and measured amount of the spice to cook that month’s recipe. Our customers have really enjoyed the program and have even returned to the library with a sampling of the prepared recipe! The Spice Club is currently active at a few of our locations, including Bull Street Library and Garden City Library.
4. What was the biggest challenge when deciding to offer this service?
For the Spice It Up Club, the biggest challenge in launching the program was assessing costs and quantities for how many recipe cards and spice packets we could provide each month. Library staff spent time researching spices and correlating recipes that would be interesting and cost-effective.
For the Seed Library, some of the challenges were anticipating what sorts of seeds our community might want, keeping seeds in stock, and maintaining the integrity of our collection. We based our initial seed purchases on feedback from local growers, advice from the UGA Cooperative Extension Vegetable Gardening in Georgia (Circular 963), and a focus on heirloom and organic vegetables and herbs.
In retrospect, we could have done a community survey to better understand what people might want. For example, we have learned that not as many people are interested or willing to attempt root vegetables, such as beets, radishes, and turnips. In contrast, seeds for cherry tomatoes, okra, and watermelon were depleted very quickly. While we did make a small purchase of pollinator-friendly flowers in the beginning, based on the feedback we have received, we now know patrons are very interested in obtaining flower seeds from us.
We are continuing to learn and grow along with our community!
Melissa N. Thompson is a graduate student of the Valdosta State University MLIS program and a library assistant at Augusta University’s Reese Library. When her nose isn’t stuck in a book, you can find her reading comics & graphic novels, blending more iced coffee than is normal for one human being, and joining far more committees than is feasible for her schedule.