It’s an average day at the Everett Public Library: all the computers are in use, the printer is churning out somebody’s masterpiece, readers are browsing local history and graphic novels, small children are singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and in a bright corner of the top floor, somebody is checking out radish seeds.
In 2022, EPLS introduced the Un-Bee-Leaf-Able Seed Library, and since that time, the collection and circulation of vegetable, flower, and herb seeds has continued to grow (as has our collection of vegetable-based puns). Everett’s seed library encourages a community culture of embracing biodiversity and sustainability through sharing seeds, cultivating food and flowers, and harvesting and preserving food in local gardens. Our secondary goals include providing a platform for neighbors to help each other and making the world a better place—and we want to help you start a seed library, too.
Lettuce Talk About Seed Libraries
Seed libraries started forming at the end of the 1990s, mostly in California. Today, there are seed libraries worldwide, including all 50 states.
Goals for seed libraries are as diverse as gardens and gardeners themselves. A seed library might focus on preserving biodiversity, growing rare or specialized seeds adapted to a local region, or providing access to native and traditional plants for food and medicine. In Everett, we identified the need for local community-building opportunities, a venue for local gardeners to learn and teach gardening skills, and a resource for low-barrier and easy-to-grow seeds, as well as a place to recycle and redistribute seeds to the community!
Tailor your seed library goals to fit your community. We encourage you to include “make the world a better place” in your goals, even if you never write that phrase into the mission statement.
Why Should Public Libraries Carrot All About Seeds?
We found inspiration in our library mission statement: language like “resources and services to inform, educate, and entertain” and “lifelong learning” point to a seed library as part of the services we can provide to our local community members.
Giving Peas a Chance
Because we strive to reduce barriers for our library users, we don’t require a library card to use the seed library. Our seeds are free, with a current limit of five seed packets per person per year. We ask that users take only as many seeds as they can grow. If gardeners have a tremendous harvest and want to donate seeds back to the library, we welcome that. If there is a terrible harvest (it happens to everyone sometimes), we invite participants to try again the following year. We also accept donations of leftover and partial packets of almost all types of seeds. (Exceptions: invasives and poisonous plants.)
Our Roots are Showing
We started our collection of seeds the same way our foremothers started the Everett Library itself back in 1894: we asked our friends and colleagues for donations. The response was encouraging, and our first seed-sharing event in May 2022 was attended by more than 40 people—a huge number for us in our library’s early post-pandemic world. More than 120 people donated or took seeds at our March 2023 seed swap!
We also asked businesses and seed companies for donations and were rewarded with boxes and bags of seeds, as well as supplies to plant a small vegetable garden on the library balcony. We focused on local businesses, including the farmers’ co-op and Washington State seed companies, but sent letters to large seed vendors as well.
Various library and city departments contributed support: a vintage card catalog moved up from the basement became the new display space for our seed collection. City Parks staff helped remove elderly and dead landscape plants to make room for a vegetable patch; facilities staff fixed the landscaping sprinklers just before a heat wave that would have decimated our first crop; and the City of Everett design team designed an adorable logo for the Un-Bee-Leaf-Able Seed Library, which we paste on everything that will lay flat and hold still.
Time to Celery-brate
We planned three program types in coordination with the seed library launch:
Let’s Grow! for kids ages 6-14. A librarian-led program where kids provide helping hands to plant seeds in our landscaping beds and learn about plant biology and mother nature;
Gardening workshop series with the WSU Extension Snohomish County Master Gardeners, teaching skills such as soil amending, seed-saving; and
Spring seed swaps, where community members can take and share seeds!
We shared photos from these events on our library social media accounts, leading to increased interest and excitement. Due to strong responses in these programs, we purchased bulk packages of radish and sunflower seeds. These are repacked into small envelopes labeled with our cute logo and website address to give away at farmers’ markets and other outreach events this summer.
We Plant to Keep Growing
We hope to expand the Seed Library to our branch library, attend more community events, and make even more partnership friends this year. Eventually, we would like to replace all ornamental landscape plants around our buildings with food-producing plants, host produce-swaps for gardeners to share their bounty, create donation bins for fresh food to go to the local Food Bank, and promote world peace … or at least, whirled peas.
Turnip the Fun in Your Library
If you want to plant a seed library of your own, here’s our best advice:
START WITH WHAT YOU HAVE. Find staff and patron experts who will help and ask them to assist in finding seed donors.
COLLECT SEEDS. A shoebox or plastic bin will suffice if space is tight but be aware that the program may be enormously popular—be ready to let it grow.
MAKE A MISSION STATEMENT. If you include vegetable puns, that would make us very happy.
CONNECT WITH EXISTING COMMUNITY SUPPORTERS, including gardening clubs, food banks, farming co-ops, garden supply stores, and your local Master Gardeners.
REACH OUT to seed companies and large garden supply/hardware stores. We learned that it’s easy to get donations of unsold seed if you request donations at the end of the growing season.
MAKE IT EASY. Gardening should be fun, so remove obstacles for participation! If you don’t need a library card or zip code, don’t ask for it. Label seed types as “easier to grow” to lower barriers for new gardeners.
PROMOTE YOUR SEED LIBRARY WITH PARTNERSHIPS. Take photos at events and share them on your social media accounts.
PLANT SOMETHING. Even if it’s just a few peas in a soup can at the circ desk.
WSU free gardening publications: pubs.extension.wsu.edu/gardening
Seed Libraries Network (directory of seed libraries, examples of seed libraries, annual seed library summit, and more resources): seedlibraries.weebly.com
More helpful resources at our webpage! epls.org/seedlibrary