About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of eight books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

NATUREBRARIES: How Libraries Can Connect Children and Adults to Nature and Build Support for Libraries

Can libraries connect children to nature? You bet. Adults, too. “Today, via a library’s outdoor learning space, librarians are participating in the growing movement to connect children with the environment,” write Tracy Delgado-LaStella and Sandra Feinberg in American Libraries magazine.

The excellent piece describes the efforts of Middle Country Public Library in Centereach, New York, which has created The Nature Explorium.

In collaboration with the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and Long Island Nature Collaborative for Kids (LINCK), the library converted an adjacent 5000-square foot area into a outdoor learning environment, “including a climbing/crawling area, messy materials area, building area, nature art area, music and performance area, planting area, gathering/conversation place, reading area, and water feature.”

The program encourages a balance of programmed and informal activities, and The Nature Exploratorium is watched by library staff (pages or clerks) and every child is required to have a caregiver on the grounds. From the beginning, the idea “struck a chord with many supporters,” including some new donors.
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Indeed, libraries are a perfect place to gently and safely help families connect to nature. Libraries exist in every kind of neighborhood; they already serves as community hubs; they’re often supported by Friends groups; they have existing resources (nature books); they’re often more flexible than schools; and they’re known for being safe.]

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Perhaps we need a national library campaign to connect people to the nature of their communities. One benefit of the approach: libraries could expand the public constituency for libraries, as they offer information about the health and learning benefits of nature time.

Recently, Booklist, the American Library Association’s book review journal, asked me for suggestions for how libraries and Friends of the Library groups could apply what I call “the Nature Principle, a book that I hope will help build the children and nature movement, by expanding it to the lives of adults. I shared some ideas with Booklist, specific to libraries. Here are some of those, and a few more:

  • Libraries can become proponents of family nature clubs, providing free tool kits (the Children & Nature Network offers this online, in English and Spanish) and encouraging the clubs to meet at the library.
  • They can offer families information about online resources for outdoor activities, such as Nature Rocks. Another good resource is C&NN’s feature, Where Nature Meets Story.
  • Libraries can offer outdoor gear for checkout by children. Some libraries are already doing this. Brother Yusuf Burgess, a past member of the C&NN board, reports that libraries in his community are offering fishing rods for checkout.
  • Libraries can build bioregional identity by expanding regional natural history sections, offering lectures by local nature experts, and providing a meeting place for people who want to explore and discuss the nature of their own region.petewa-library
  • They can become information hubs of outdoor activities, offering area maps, pamphlets on local nature, brochures for hiking clubs, and registries for community gardens.
  • They can develop new partners, such as parks departments, to plant the seeds of literacy.
  • They can also encourage backyard biodiversity by partnering with natural history museums and botanical gardens. For example, libraries could hand out free packets of seeds to families who want to help bring back butterfly and bird migration routes.
  • Libraries can convene groups of architects, urban designers, educators, physicians and other professionals to plan the re-naturing of the surrounding community.
  • And, libraries across the country can create outdoor reading and learning centers, as Middle Country Public Library is doing.

In libraries like these, as that library’s web page puts it, “children will discover the gift of nature.” And so will adults.


Richard Louv amazonlastchildjacketis Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Principle.” 



More C&NN information on children, nature and literacy:

Small Town, Big Ideas: In Petawawa, Ontario, libraries check out snowshoes and trees have their own book branch!

Where Nature Meets Story: Getting Reading Outside

Nurturing Our Family Relationships Through Stories of Nature

Indoor Learning for Outdoor Education: What’s Wrong With this Picture?

Where Nature Meets Story: Get Reading Outside

The Hybrid Mind: The More High Tech Schools Become, the More Nature They Need



Comments (22)

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  1. This is so inspiring. I’m not sure what personal action I can take on this right now, but you’ve really got me thinking. Thank you!

  2. Jerry Reynolds says:

    As someone who was helped and encouraged by a local librarian in rural North Carolina as I pursued my interest in reptiles and amphibians at an early age, I can certainly attest to the connection with nature that libraries can nourish. Perhaps we should encourage libraries to develop similar areas on their grounds much like the NC Museum of Natural Sciences does for schools with the UTOTES (Using The Outdoors to Teach Experiential Science)program.

  3. Jeff Williamson says:

    This has caused me to reflect on others in our communites who might become community building partners that share our ambition. In addition to libraries we find our local independent book stores and most independent local buisness through their associations as being very supportive of youth development activities. It becomes a quality of life issue that they want assciated with them in part as a way of distinguishing them selves from mmass retailers.

  4. Janet Ady says:

    A town near here is having a GreenFest in May, and we are plenning a display on youth and young adult literature in partnership with the local library. The goal is to use reading material that appeals to that age group to generate interest in and excitement about nature and natural resource related careers. The organizer of the GreenFest happens to work at the local bookstore, which is owned by author Nora Roberts. Neat partnership!

  5. Catherine says:

    Wow! This idea combines my two great loves – nature and books! I’d love to be involved with something like this. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Vicky Stever says:

    In July 2010, the library at Hurlburt Field, FL, a United States Air Force installation, certified “The Nature Connection” as the first library outdoor classroom in the Department of Defense. We have a transient population of military families who endure a stressful lifestyle, so the benefits of connecting with nature are especially needed. All types of library programs are held in the space, which is open to the entire community 24/7. Families are eager to take the concepts of The Nature Connection home and we empower them with helpful advice and the information tools of the library. Hurlburt Field Library has a Facebook page that showcases many of the activities and features of our outdoor classroom. I invite you to take a look and see what you can do, too.

  7. Kathy says:

    The Hampton Bays Public Library on Long Island, NY, has incorporated a number of great partnerships into their programming year round that bring librarians to outdoor spaces to read and connect with children and young adults. There are also a number of nature-based organizations that gladly partner with the library at a preserve or at their location to educate attendees. Often its as easy as calling to ask them if they’ll work with you! Its a great idea any way you look at it.

  8. Carol Knepp says:

    I’ve conducted two Growing Up Wild workshops with librarians and if they can survive budget cuts they’re completely committed to conduction programs with young visitors using Growing Up Wild activities. They enthusiastically understand the possibilities.

  9. Clifford Knapp says:

    I have been reading children’s literature that suggest an outdoor activity and then I take the children or teachers outdoors to do the nature activity. I call these types of books, “springboard” books because they spring us outdoors to do the activity and love nature. I’ve got a list of great books, many of which have been written by Byrd Baylor. One example is “Another Way To Listen”.

  10. RJ says:

    Here are some of the ways our public library works with the community and collaborates with park personnel to help people get outside. Display local parks’ events schedule, provide resource guides with book lists and web sites to learn about and enjoy the outdoors, invite park personnel from local, county, state and federal parks to provide library customers with information about their parks and activities. We have also created an “adventure backpack” with guides, binoculars and a nature quest for the nature preserve behind our library. We would be doing more, but budget and personnel cuts have caused restrictions to our services.

  11. Richard Louv says:

    “Springboard books.” Wonderful concept, Clifford. I hope others take it up.

  12. Trudi says:

    For inspirational “springboard books” that connect kids with nature, take a peek at Tracy Kane’s Fairy Houses Series. It’s unique in taking a traditional fairy theme but turning the focus to the magic of nature. The photographic books of small natural dwellings motivate boys and girls to go outside to build their own fairy house! Librarians can find more info and tips on http://www.fairyhouses.com.

  13. This idea combines my two great loves – nature and books! I’d love to be involved with something like this. Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. Robin says:

    The Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert, Arizona is located next to the Riparian Preserve (http://www.riparianinstitute.org). We offer an adventure backpack for check out with a library card or driver’s license. The pack includes a GPS, binoculars, guide books specific to the preserve, preserve map and a nature quest. Two resource sheets are available listing library books titles for animal, insect, bird or plant identification. The library also has great books for additional outdoor activity ideas.

  15. LOVE IT! We are brainstorming right now to find ways to incorporate this into our summer program in partnership with our local library and reading academy. Thanks for the article!

  16. […] • Natural teacher. As parents and educators learn more about the brain-stimulating power of learning in natural settings, demand will increase for nature-based schools and nature-based experiential learning, providing new opportunities for natural teachers and natural playscape and school garden designers. Librarians can be natural teachers, too, creating bioregional “naturebraries.” […]

  17. […] A Library that Connects People to Nature. National spokesman for outdoor learning Richard Louvre held up the Nature Explorium program by Middle County Public Library on “Strong Island” as a beacon of learning gone rogue in the right way. Check out how an outdoor space compliments the traditional indoor library. Share this:FacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  18. […] of my most favourite ways to read a good book. Here is an a great article by Richard Louv, showing how libraries can connect children and nature. I love reading outdoors. And you, where do you like to curl up with a good […]

  19. Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your posts.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal
    with the same subjects? Many thanks!

  20. This article reminds me of Bart’s Books located in Ojai, California and the same post on your main website.

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