Book Reviews

Carrie Scott Banks and Cindy Mediavilla. Libraries & Gardens: Growing Together. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions, 2019. 144p. Paper. $57.99 (ISBN 978-0-8389-1855-5). LC 2018059577.

Book cover for Libraries and Gardens

In Libraries & Gardens: Growing Together, Carrie Scott Banks and Cindy Mediavilla bring librarianship into conversation with gardening. While the histories of gardens and libraries are intertwined, there has not been much written about library gardens. Banks and Mediavilla’s book encourages us to look at how library gardens “extend and enhance the library’s role as an information center and community space” (x). Writing from public library backgrounds, Banks and Mediavilla focus on how library gardens can contribute to the inclusiveness and accessibility of libraries. The book gives a tour of various kinds of library gardens, including many academic and research library gardens. In discussing library gardens, Libraries & Gardens: Growing Together contributes to a broader conversation about libraries as multisensory, experiential places.

The book begins by looking briefly (perhaps too briefly) at the shared cultural history of libraries and gardens, how both libraries and gardens have been thought of as places involving collection and cultivation, education and relaxation, community and escape. The book continues by outlining various kinds of library gardens, inside and outside library buildings (sometimes both). Some libraries have “demonstration gardens,” “specifically designed and maintained to teach gardening principles and practices” (7). Library demonstration gardens can become like botanical makerspaces, places for experiential learning through “making.” A library can be a place where somebody learns both how to 3D print and how to garden, and a place to think about the two processes in relation to each other.

In addition to libraries with demonstration gardens, there are libraries with seed collections. Patrons can “check out” seeds from the library, plant the seeds at home or in a community garden, save seeds from plants after they grow, and then “return” seeds to the library. One of the examples in the book, Nahman-Watson Library at Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts, has partnered with science faculty to maintain a seed collection in the library.

Another kind of library garden discussed in the book is the contemplative garden. Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, has installed next to its library a garden labyrinth, in which patrons can have a contemplative experience while walking the labyrinth. In Waco, Texas, Baylor University’s Armstrong Baylor Library has a Garden of Contentment, with walking paths and benches inscribed with the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. The library has the world’s largest collection of Browning material.

Libraries have also incorporated gardens into library architecture. The book gives the example of the Gutman Library at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During a 2010 renovation, the library embraced green architecture and installed interior “living walls,” ceiling-to-floor panels growing with foliage. “Living walls” and other green architecture can add to a library building’s coziness as well as its sustainability.

One of the most vivid examples in Libraries & Gardens of the relationship of the botanical and the bibliographical is the medicinal herb garden at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Bethesda, Maryland. Based on the herbs listed in Nicholas Culpeper’s The Complete Herbal (first published in 1649), the NLM’s garden grows nearly a hundred herbs with medicinal properties (chamomile to yarrow). Libraries & Gardens also mentions the Sam W. Hitt Medicinal Plant Garden at the Health Sciences Library of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The work of maintaining the garden is done by students in Biology 217, a course that combines botany and human cell biology.

Libraries & Gardens generates a sense of what is possible with library gardens while also addressing the challenges involved in starting and maintaining a library garden (or even garden-related library programs and collections). The book includes chapters on community engagement, garden design, planning and maintenance, partnerships and funding, and garden program evaluation. The strength of the book is in its examples, including examples of what can go wrong with library gardens, such as the college library that had to deal with insects and humidity from its indoor foliage. The book would be even more useful with some of the examples developed into more detailed case studies of library gardens.

There are eight pages of color photographs of library gardens featured in the book, and an appendix listing all of the gardens mentioned. Additional appendices include samples of garden rules, a garden volunteer application form, and a garden program evaluation (all from public libraries). Perhaps there is a need for a digital repository for academic library gardeners to share materials.

For any librarian interested in starting a library garden or developing garden-related library programs, Banks and Mediavilla’s Libraries & Gardens is a good beginning. The book might be of particular interest to librarians concerned with questions of sustainability and questions of accessibility in library spaces and programs (the authors discuss how to apply the principles of Universal Design for Learning to library gardens and library garden education). Libraries & Gardens: Growing Together is an exciting beginning for what will hopefully be a growing literature on library gardens. This book will be useful to any academic librarian interested in this topic as well as academic librarians who are considering starting an interactive and engaging space, including makerspaces and innovation labs.—Gregory Laynor, Temple University

Copyright Gregory Laynor

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