Seed Questions: An Interview with a Local Seed Librarian

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Above: The Juan Tabo Public Library (author’s picture)

I conducted an interview on February 20th, 2015 with Brita Sauer, Branch Manager and Seed Librarian at the Juan Tabo Public Library. The following is a conversational account of my questions and Brita’s answers – enjoy!

Kylie: Describe the process of establishing a seed library within the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library system.

Brita: I am backyard gardener, so when I heard there was an idea to start a seed library in the fall of 2013 with the leftover seeds from an ABC Summer Reading program, I asked to be the librarian to champion the idea into reality. A committee to research the idea was formed and we had the support of the ABC bureaucracy which led to a successful establishment of the seed library at the Juan Tabo location in March 2014. I wrote grant proposals to Native Seeds/SEARCH and the Seed Savers Exchange to supplement the ABC budget for purchasing our seeds.

Kylie: Wow, it sounds like it was the perfect moment for the seed library! How well is the library currently operating?

Brita: Library staff, volunteers, and I are engaged in an ongoing process seeds of creating envelopes for the seeds with labels and circulation numbers. The hardest part of the seed library operation is actually getting people to check out the seeds instead of just walking away with them in their pockets or bags. (Brita thinks at least 200 seeds have been taken from the library based on an inventory recently conducted.) If patrons begin to check seeds out like they do books, films, and music, the numbers for checking seeds back in would be significant data to collect for the future of the seed library in the ABC system.

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Above: The ABC Seed Library with Seed Librarian Brita Sauer (author’s picture)

Kylie: In regards to the seed library mission, how did you craft it and will it be subject to change as the library grows?

Brita: I believe the seed library mission statement might be subject to change if the material grows and the circulation process is followed. For now the mission considers our desert’s arid climate and drought issues as well as the agricultural tradition of the region with the intention to make southwestern heritage seeds available for check out.

Kylie: What library patrons seem the most interested in the seed library?
Brita: The Juan Tabo library is in a predominately Anglo community and the seed library book club is composed of retiree women, but families have been showing some interest at seed library events we’ve held. There is sometimes a discussion of the political nature of seeds (GMOs) at our events which draws in a younger crowd. If we ever open more branches of the seed library in the ABC system, I am confident that the current demographics of patronage would change.

Kylie: What do you think about the action taken against the Simpson seed library in Mechanicsburg, PA by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in in July 2014?

Brita: The state seed law that the library was investigated under was interpreted to apply to the seed library in that state. I think seed libraries have to learn how to function within state seed laws and must agree on best practices for the community at large. Making what seed libraries offer to the library experience is important so they can be protected by the communities in which they exist.

Kylie: Finally, could you see a historian working with seed libraries in any specific capacity? Hearing your response about the state seed laws, I think a history of those laws would be pretty interesting to write and would benefit seed libraries that are in existence and ones under development.

Brita: That would be an interesting study! State seed laws have been compiled for librarians to search online (http://www.shareable.net/blog/setting-the-record-straight-on-the-legality-of-seed-libraries), but history is missing from the context. There is also a project called the Seed Broadcast that records oral histories of seeds that could setup a recording station at Juan Tabo, but we’re not quite ready to start that process. The history of seeds does not quite translate to people yet and on our intake cards for when seeds are checked into the library, we have a space for history which is usually filled in with comments like, “grows well” or “needs shade,” which speaks to the seeds planting history, but not its cultural history. If people become more familiar with Seed Broadcast, perhaps the recording station could be setup.

I would like to thank Brita Sauer for allowing my interview, it was a great pleasure to talk to an expert and take pictures of the seed library.

20150220_120638Above: A seed envelope in the library (author’s picture)

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Kylie Manning

Dancer, avid reader, poet, and lover of limes.

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