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Community Engagement: Demonstration Garden

on October 18, 2020


I have dabbled and appreciated gardening throughout my life. I was recently introduced to community gardening this past year due to Covid-19 Pandemic. As expressed in my intro video, I needed an activity where I could go outside, enjoy nature, focus on something positive, do some exercise, engage socially and create yummy food. ‘Third places is a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and refers to places where people spend time between home (‘first’ place) and work (‘second’ place). They are locations where we exchange ideas, have a good time, and build relationships.’ (Butler & Diaz, 2016)

The community garden became my third place. Our academic campus was closed to students and administration. We were considered essential workers and had the run of the garden to ourselves. Being habitual renters’ outdoor space has always been a challenge for gardening. We dived right in and learned as we went along. During the past 6 months we researched so much about gardening. To name a few topics: companion plants, collecting seeds, good bugs versus bad bugs, DIY composting, pruning, monarch rearing, and organic growing. My coworker and I planted a variety of our favorite veggies, flowers & herbs in eight open plots as well as adopted occupied plots of our co-workers who were working remotely.

Thinking Outside the Stacks

As I prepare the framework for this service proposal for a library garden, I am reminded of some of the characteristics described by Dr. Stephens about the hyperlinked library. His idea of it being everywhere, not just in buildings or virtual space as well as reaching all users, not just the ones who come through the doors. I am also reminded of the characteristics of a hyperlinked librarian who gathers all kinds of evidence for decision making, spot trends that impact service and change user behavior. While building upon the foundation of the core ethics and values with a playfully approach to opportunities that create learning experiences and engage information. (Stephens, 2016)


Outdoor library gardens have been springing up more and more during the first part of the 21st Century. Since the Fall of 2016, Dr. Noah Lenstra has researched this trend and surveyed over 1500 public libraries in the United States and Canada. His research and survey found 303 libraries offering outdoor StoryWalk programs, 246 offering outdoor gardening programs and 90 offered both. (Lenstra, 2019) In his study Evidence based library and information practice, library garden programs are classified as movement-based programs. Libraries reported that thru movement-based programs for all ages brought in new library users and will continue to offer these programs which support outcomes in health/wellness, community building, outreach and literacy. American Libraries Association recognized this trend and in 2019 published a great resource book for librarians interested in building this type of program called Libraries and Gardens: Growing Together. As well as producing a webinar which will be both included in the resource section.

Map of the public libraries in the US & Canada with outdoor gardening programs (Lenstra, 2019)

Description of Community

Photo: view of the entrance of the South Pasadena Public Library,
Photo: entrance of the community room located behind the library

The city of South Pasadena, California has a diverse population of over 26,000 residents which half are renters. There is only one public library that neighbors the senior center. Both are nestled on two acres which is considered a passive park with low key activities. The city is very proud to be a part of Tree City USA movement as well as active in environmental and sustainability programs for the community. The city has a community garden located about a half a mile from the library. It is an exemplary garden and currently has a waiting list for open plots. The city of South Pasadena has partnered up with the Los Angeles Community Garden Council who help manages the community garden. I believe that the city will be supportive of adding a garden to the library.

South Pasadena Strategic Plan 2017-2022

Vision: A welcoming gathering place in our community to build connections, support creativity and encourage learning.

Strategic Focus: Community hub

Objectives: Broaden adult program offerings and audience-including single adults and senior programs.

Desired Outcome: Growing the library’s position as the “center of the community”

Goals & Objectives

The goal is to start a sustainable demonstration garden at the South Pasadena Library that will support existing and new programs. The objective is to use this garden and design events around it to bring the community together which aligns with the libraries vision. The library will engage with their core library users of all ages and will reach new users with this program.

Photo: Aerial view of Library Park, Main Entrance to SPPL is just below red pinr

This garden could start as an edible or sensory garden that will engage adults, teens and children of all backgrounds. The grounds where the library is located is not feasible for a large-scale garden due to the number of trees blocking sunlight. Gardens typically need six to eight hours of sunlight. However, a couple of small raised beds can be constructed near the entrance which has enough required daily sun and access to water.

The Garden program can also expand beyond the library grounds. A partnership with the city’s community garden could provide additional plots for planting which could diversify and expand upon demonstrations, educational workshops, lectures and nature walks. Forming partnership for the garden program will be a huge contributing factor for sustainability.

Thinking like a startup and learning from their successes. My personal goal is to get the idea out there quickly, test, assess with feedback from the community/staff, improve, try again, refine to eventually scaling up and expand programming.

Photo: Example of a small giving garden at the Calvary Presbyterian Church.
Photo: Signage identifies each food in the garden and how to harvest properly without harming the production of the plants.

Action Brief Statement

Convince the South Pasadena community that by creating a demonstration garden at the library they will gain new skills and knowledge which will create social connections and inspire lifelong learning because of shared interests and collaboration.

Evidence and Resources to support service

ALA book by Carrie Scotts Banks & Cindy Mediavilla (2019) – Libraries and Gardens: Growing Together

ALA ProgramingLibrarian.org [Blog] The Cooperative Extension System: Your library’s Go-To Partner for gardening, nutrition and healthy living programing by Noah Lenstra

ALA Webinar (2018) – Growing your Library’s Role: Creating a Community Garden with Impact. The Director of the Pottsboro Public Library in TX discusses how the community garden started, evolved and brought the community together. Voted best small library in the U.S. by Library Journal in 2017

Let’s Move in Libraries: Gardening by Mary Beth Mcquaid, Youth Services Librarian, Ingalls Memorial Library in New Hampshire. This website has a wealth of information for librarians considering a garden program like where to start, things to consider, what about costs, etc.

Great inspiration and examples of existing library garden programs are found on OCLA Webjunction

DIY Blog post – making raised beds on a budget

Mission, Guidelines and Policy related to service

My knowledge of the SPPL is limited. Their existing policy can be amended for the garden project. I would imagine there would need to be some liability waiver needed for some aspects of this project especially for the construction portion. I know what they value which is expressed in their 2017-2022 strategic plan can be used as framework for the mission and guidelines.

  • Passionate & dedicated about improving lives
  • Open to all and honor the diverse nature of those we serve
  • Demonstrate character and integrity to our customers, fellow staff members and the community
  • Strive for excellence in everything we do

As well as curiosity, exploration, transparency/openness, creativity, flexibility, play=learning are the key characteristics to create a 21st century learning experience described in Dr. Stephens’ post about hyperlinked school library but I think it can apply to the public libraries and the garden project as well. (Stephens, 2010)

Funding Considerations

Due to the pandemic, funding could be a barrier. To get this program off the ground, I would contact and pitch local nonprofits for volunteers, funds and donated materials before spending a dime. The Friends of the SPPL have a membership of 700 supporters for the library. They generate substantial support and funds through annual fundraisers and the volunteer run bookstore. South Pasadena Beautiful is another local nonprofit who pursue sustainability and beautification project throughout the city. They have gifted a couple of landscaping projects around the library grounds already as well as donated and take care of the indoor plants at the library. Grants could be obtained when the garden supports education in nutrition and health literacy for additional staff hours and materials. Soliciting local businesses like Ace Hardware and Armstrong Nursery for donated materials or at least discounted purchases. Initial startup costs for two 4×8 ft beds will be minimal [$200] however a large community garden could range from $5000-$7000.

Action Steps

  • Propose the idea to staff and library director to gauge interest and feedback as well as see how it can integrate and support other existing programs.
  • Be transparent and engage library users by conducting a survey through social media and/or in-house survey to gauge interest, feedback and find volunteers.
  • Compile data to inform the development of a basic plan of action and timeline for pitching to library director.
  • Library director presents idea to library board and city council for approval.
  • Meet and check in with all appropriate city departments for construction, land use, safety regulations, water consumption, etc.
  • The best time to start the garden will be during the summer and evaluate after the growing season on whether to continue
  • Winter months can be used for planning, seed procurement, forming partnerships, acquire donations/material/tools, volunteer recruitment and construction of beds.
  • The library of things (LOT) should be up and running by then. Any extra garden donations should be added to LOT collection.
  • Late winter– start seedlings inside library to further engage interest from Library users. Hold a couple of seed parties in the library. This could coincide with storytelling of Jack and the Bean Stalk. Maybe get the kids/teens/adults involved in planting the seeds. Give out seed packets to the community as well. Have a talk or guest lecture about seed saving and starting your garden. Do a time lapse video of the seeds growing and post on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Planting event and set up watering schedule with volunteers and staff.
  • Plan and execute additional events that are garden themed.
  • Throughout the summer, set up a display of garden themed items for all ages (books, movies, music, etc.) with different items every month, theme related to garden events and story time.

Staffing Considerations

This new service would require one full-time staff member who has an interest, experience or desire to learn to spear head this gardening program. Additional help of a couple volunteers or part-time staff at least to help water plants on occasions due to illness, vacation, scheduling conflicts, etc. This may involve or partnering with the city’s park groundskeepers as well. Also incorporate and involve the neighboring senior center which could possibly share the load of work.

Planning & research can be done during library hours. A few field trips to local businesses and gardens may require some off duty personal hours. The great thing about this project is that staff could learn in tandem with participants and create personal learning networks. Staff involved should visit a few local community gardens and speak with garden managers and volunteers. This would provide valuable knowledge and insights for the proposed garden project and future events. Maybe attend a workshop or volunteer at the garden.

Photo: LACGC: South Pasadena Community Garden


The Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC) partners with 42 community gardens in Los Angeles. LACGC garden managers are more than happy to help manage the business side of local community gardens as well as guide gardeners who want to produce healthy food through hands on experience and/or workshops.

Trained master gardeners could be brought in to help dispense knowledge and skills to the staff and public. The National Institute of Food and Agricultural has Land-Grant university partners through the Cooperative Extension system. For Los Angeles, CA that would be the University of California Master Gardener Program. This is a public service and outreach program that educates the public about the latest research-based knowledge on home horticulture, pest management and sustainable landscaping practices.

Promotion & Marketing

Dr. Stephens expressed in his lecture that hyperlinks are people too. ‘Communities are human systems given by conversation that build relatedness.” (Block, 2008) The garden project will bring people together, share, promote conversations and connect with each other in person and online. SPPL primarily uses Facebook and Twitter for promotion of upcoming events. They just started their own YouTube page earlier this year. They should also create an Instagram account for the library. This could tie into a future photo contest or community engagement like show us a photo of your garden.

Generate a buzz and try to get the local newspaper [South Pasadena Review] to write an article about the garden and/or events. Have a groundbreaking ceremony and stake out the area for the beds. Record the event and put it on the library’s YouTube page as well as cross promote on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram

Since the garden will be near the entrance of the building. As library users enter and exit, they will be met with a sign announcing the future location of the library garden. ‘Check out our upcoming events via SPPL website, Facebook or Twitter.’  Also promote this program through in-house flyers which could be left on display at local business partners or supporters.


Interest and attendance are going to be a key metrics. This will also be seen in the various social media platforms via posts, shares, comments and reactions emojis. Sharing pictures of events with partnerships on social media will help cultivate and strengthen relationships. After several events maybe administer an online survey to community through Facebook & Twitter to gauge whether to proceed with more events and share relevant information with partnerships. Engage front line staff to share insights and comments in some form or event [coffee break/lunch]. An in-house library survey would help include the older demographic who don’t use social media as much.

Circulation metric of garden themes books, magazines, LOT items and reference questions should be monitored and noted as well. A small report should be compiled and presented to the director as to proceeding with the project either by amending or canceling. If canceled, learning takeaways should be noted and used for future projects


Block, P. (2008) Community: The Structure of belonging. [eBook] Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=Ns8dMbXejkgC&pg=PT47&lpg=PT47&dq=Communities+are+human+systems+given+by+conversation+that+build+relatedness&source=bl&ots=6AdcfoTQzK&sig=ACfU3U3kCNT41zYYz2_ANnvJui8y1t1Yjw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi_84_cudXsAhX3CTQIHYImDGkQ6AEwCnoECA4QAg#v=onepage&q=Communities%20are%20human%20systems%20given%20by%20conversation%20that%20build%20relatedness&f=false

Butler, S & Diaz, C. (2016, Sept 14). Third Places as community builders. Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2016/09/14/third-places-as-community-builders/#:~:text=Third%20places%20is%20a%20term,good%20time%2C%20and%20build%20relationships

Hill, C., Streams, S., Dooley, J. & Morris, L. (2015). IMLS Focus: Engaging Communities, Los Angele Public Library. OCLC.

Lenstra, N. (2017). Movement-Based programs in U.S and Canadian Public Libraries: Evidence of impacts from exploratory survey Unpublished Manuscript, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC.

Lenstra, N. (2019, June 20) Thinking outside of the stacks: The growth of nature smart libraries. [Blog] Retrieved from: https://www.childrenandnature.org/2019/06/20/thinking-outside-of-the-stacks-the-growth-of-nature-smart-libraries/

Lenstra, N. (2019, June 20) Thinking outside of the stacks: The growth of nature smart libraries. [Map 2] Retrieved from: https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1K5ppMP5nCcw2InwW8ePGotPqUJOsi63q&ll=48.80971186560994%2C-106.82943974999998&z=4

Stephens, M. (2010) The Hyperlinked school library: engage, explore, celebrate. [blog post] Retrieved from: https://tametheweb.com/2010/03/02/the-hyperlinked-school-library-engage-explore-celebrate/

Stephens, M. (2016) The Heart of Librarianship. ALA editions.

2 Responses to “Community Engagement: Demonstration Garden”

  1. Ciera Pasturel says:

    Hi Christine,

    This is a great project! Community gardens have the potential to bring people together, and what better place to do that than at the library! I also like the idea of holding workshops and programs in the garden. This is a service that will definitely encourage community engagement.


    • Christine Caldwell says:

      Hi Ciera,
      Thank you. Yes, I feel the same way. It is so versatile that it can reach so many age groups. It was really inspiring to hear how it pulled the community together at the Pottsboro Public Library in Texas.

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