Seeds + Libraries = Community Seed Security

Posted on Thursday, 16 June 2022 under Stories

What do seeds have to do with libraries?

In many ways, libraries for books and libraries for seeds are not all that different. When we sign a book out of a library, we are expected to return it in a similar condition to when we signed it out. When we borrow seeds from the library, they also need to be returned in good condition. Rather than returning the same seeds that we signed out, however, new seeds need to be returned in as good or better shape as the ones signed out. In order for a book from the library to be useful, the borrower needs to learn how to read. In the case of borrowing seeds, while the skill set is different, the principal is the same. In order to sign out seeds, the borrower needs to be seed literate. They need to know how to grow seeds and return them in as good or better shape as when they were signed out.

Twenty years ago there was no affiliation between seeds and libraries, aside from the books about seeds that could be found on library shelves. In 1999, the first seed library was established at the Berkeley Ecology Center. It was called the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL). In 2004, the first seed library affiliated with a public library was started by Ken Greene at the Gardiner Public Library in New York.

Since then, similar initiatives have been germinating all over North America each year. There are now more than 50 seed saving groups in BC alone. There are almost as many ways to organize them as there are groups taking on the task. Not all of them are affiliated with libraries, though many are. Some groups come with years of experience and connection to the greater seed saving community, while others are starting from scratch and just beginning to sprout.

Our Cold Climate Seed Library's rolling seed library. Photo by Mary Cosman.

Over the last several months, we have had numerous groups around BC reach out to us, requesting help to set up a seed library in their community. Awareness about seed security and interest in seed saving is growing, and we are willing and eager to help out.

The potential for seed libraries to significantly contribute to our seed and food security is enormous. Imagine- a network of people who are literate in the skills of seed production, and connected to their local library, which is in turn connected to all other libraries through the current inter-library exchange system. There is an incredible opportunity to create a resilient, distributed, and community-centred public resource of germplasm necessary for local food production. We are not there yet, but we can dream!

Starting in early 2022, we began updating our map of seed libraries, an online tool that helps folks around the province find local seed libraries. We are inviting all seed library groups to join our Seed Library Capacity Building project. If you run a library and want to be listed, feel free to visit our site and fill out our listing form. If you know of one that is not on our map, or run one and want to be a part of our capacity building project, please reach out and let us know by emailing