UBC Library’s Seed Lending Library is helping to build community and foster lifelong, home-grown learning both on and off campus.

Established in 2017 by Reference Librarian Helen Brown and Education Librarian Wendy Traas with the help of a UTown@UBC grant, the Seed Lending Library allows anyone to “borrow” seeds free of charge from two library locations on the Vancouver campus, the Woodward and Education libraries. Members can borrow a variety of high-quality vegetable, herb, and flower seeds that are well-suited to local growing conditions and later, as the summer gardening season comes to a close, they are encouraged to return seeds from their crop to the library to promote local seed sharing.

One of the Seed Lending Library’s early adopters, Lisa Zhu discovered the resource while studying in the Education Library as a student and has been delighted at how much the library has allowed her to experiment with her community garden plot in East Vancouver. “Being an avid gardener, it has been a great way for me to try new varieties of plants,” Zhu explains, “I don’t have to buy the seeds, I can just borrow them so it’s super low-barrier and low-risk.” This year, among other vegetables, Zhu is growing swiss chard, kale, beans and several varieties of tomatoes.

Lending Library sees significant growth in use

The Seed Lending Library has seen significant growth in use and popularity since its establishment in 2017. In 2018, the library saw a 240% increase in borrowing year-over-year and a huge increase in seed donations after the 2018 seed saving season.  Zhu isn’t surprised by its popularity, “I feel like right now in Vancouver, there are a lot of people who are super interested in local food, food security and want to grow their own food.”

Collection contributes to research and learning

For Dr. Susan Gerofsky, Professor of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Department of Education whose work focuses on mathematics education and environmental education, the Seed Lending Library has been critical to her work in UBC’s Orchard Garden. Gerofsky saw the potential of the garden to become a place where teacher candidates could get experience teaching in outdoor classroom spaces, “There was really nowhere for teacher candidates to get hands-on experience in creating a school garden and stewarding it or in teaching their curricular subjects with the garden as a co-teacher,” she explains. Today, the garden hosts 25 teacher candidates every year during their 3-week Community Field Experience, eight Saturday workshops between October and June and several Summer Institutes. Work in the garden is also generating research, with more than a dozen Master’s theses, PhD dissertations and graduation projects based in the garden.

Carrots grown in the Orchard Garden. Photo credit: Susan Gerofsky.

About 50% of the seeds used in the Orchard Garden are borrowed from the Seed Lending Library. “We bring students to the Seed Lending Library to introduce the idea of the sharing economy as well as why it’s important to let some plants go to seed,” says Gerofsky, “We see this collection as very much in the same spirit as the Orchard Garden. It’s about building community and sharing resources; where you might have thought there was scarcity, there’s really abundance.”

The Seed Lending Library is just one of the many ways that UBC Library is actively fostering opportunities for meaningful engagement and knowledge exchange with campus and community members. Says Education Librarian Wendy Traas, “It is really exciting to see how inviting this non-traditional library collection has been to a variety of community members. Local residents have used it as a way of learning in the garden as a family, and teacher education students have borrowed seeds to support experiential, outdoor learning. The Education Library also has a great collection picture books and teaching resources, so it’s a one-stop shop for all ages to learn about plants, gardening, lifecycles, and more.”

Learn more about the Seed Lending Library.

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