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Get Carried Away at AADL

Wed, 08/15/2007 - 5:05pm by josie

On Monday, August 20, we will begin a transition from plastic bags to unbleached, cotton totes. Unlike the heavy plastic bags, the totes will not be free. They can be purchased for $2.00 at any circulation desk. Plastic AADL bags are seen everywhere. Sometimes they end up in places that are not good for us or for the environment. This new way to carry library material is in keeping with the AADL's emphasis on sustainability.

So, be prepared to get carried away and support the AADL's efforts to lead by example by purchasing a tote that is washable, squashable, and good-looking! The plastic bags will be gone when supplies are depleted or by January 2, 2008, whichever happens first.



I applaud your sustainability efforts, especially on this front. I would also suggest that receipts are not printed unless requested. Also, recycling receptacles would be useful at the exits so miscellaneous paper can be recycled instead of thrown away.

Most excellent!

The Library also uses canvas tote bags that are nicely embrodered with a closing zipper to manage groupings of children's books. Is there a possibility that these bags could be purchased for general use too? I wouldn't mind paying more to support this effort.

Hurray! I think you'll find you have significant support for this!
I also second the idea of only printing receipts for those who ask.
This is a great step forward, thank you!

Thanks for your support, and suggestions. I'll cover all of the comments in one response.

We agree about receipts. When checking out material at a service desk, staff do ask if a receipt is required, and patrons are given the opportunity to decline. If we forget to ask, remind us. However, the self-check machines do not currently allow a receipt to print/not to print option, and we are working on that. We are already investigating ways to give patrons a global receipts preference and we plan to roll out that functionality by the end of the year. Hopefully, that will mean that a receipt preference can be made from the accounts page once in the same way pick-up locations for Holds are determined. If your needs change, then you can change your preference. I don't know if we'll ultimately be able to get this level of control for you, but we'll try.

I, too, love the bags that we use for story kits. Compared to the cotton totes, they are quite expensive and we didn't consider them as an alternative to the plastic bags for that reason. However, you are not the first person to ask about the possibility of purchasing them, and we'll look into that, too.

We do have recycling containers at the new branches, and recycling containers are located near copiers in all of our buildings. We don't have enough though in the Downtown Library. Thanks for prodding us on that.


I go at least once a week, sometimes more often, to Malletts Creek. I have NEVER been asked whether or not I wanted a receipt. I didn't realize there was a choice. I think it would be great to make it optional, because I just toss the receipts as soon as I get home. Going to my account on the web site is much more useful for checking for overdues, as well as the e-mails sent to remind a due date is coming.

Until it is option for you when you are managing your account online, please let the clerk know that you don't want a receipt before your materials are checked out. Hopefully, we'll do better asking, too.


I could have written Ruth's comment; everything she said applies to me as well. I go to Mallett's frequently and have never been asked if I wanted a receipt. I'd also rather check my account status online. Thanks!

I personally don't use bags at all because I tend to ride my bike which has paniers built-in, but I think the cotton bags are the way to go. Great idea!

Thank you! I sincerely appreciate your efforts to reduce the use of plastics... It has bothered me to see so many AADL plastic bags being given away.

The plastic bags are very sturdy and I reuse mine, too. We have been looking for a better, and affordable option for awhile. I hope that you find the cotton bag as useful.


Ok...I'm in the significant minority here...but NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! I love, love, love those plastic bags...we re-use ours over and over again! Will be sad to see them go...I'll be sure to "stock up" while I have the chance ;*)

Do you know how well the cotton totes will wash?? I'm sure that they'll look great new, but with time (and my 3 young children) I'm sure they'll be a sorry, dirty mess in no time at all! Just my 2 cents.

Hi. While I like this idea in general I've got one problem with it -- a couple times a year I take a plastic bag because it's raining out and I don't want the books to get wet on my way home (by bike). I'll try harder to keep a plastic bag in my bike basket but I wonder if AADL could have a stash of plastic bags -- even grocery store ones would be fine -- available upon request (with desk clerks cheerfully getting them or --even better -- a self-service spot!).

Thanks for thinking environmentally,

Emphasizing reusable cloth bags is good. However, when it's pouring rain, the plastic bags protect library materials much better than cloth. Especially if people are walking or biking some distance, the plastic protects library materials from rain. Maybe the library could keep a few plastic bags for rainy days. Of course, I can try to remember to bring my old plastic bags and reuse them.

I, too, am so glad the library is switching to cloth bags. Yes, please try to have recycle containers visable at all branches....and what about those stickers affixed to the HOLDS? Could they be made of a material that is able to be recycled? Thanks for your efforts to be environmentally friendly!

I never understood the bag thing. No library I'd ever been to offered bags, then suddenly ours started to ask if I wanted a bag, even while I had my backpack on the desk to put books in. People who drive can easily carry their books in a stack for the short distance to the parking lot, like they carried them around the library. People who walk or bike generally have some way to carry things like a backpack or tote. I hope that the price for the cheap fabric bags is enough to fully pay for them.

I agree with the others that the receipts aren't useful for people who have continuous internet access. It was better to have the due date stamped in the book.

Carrying heavy books home while riding the bus is cumbersome, tiring and awkward. If you have a backpack and do not need a library bag just tell the librarian you don't want it but do not assume that others couldn't make use of it.

Many of the library's lower-income patrons don't have money to spare for a bag to carry their library books home. Why can't the Ann Arbor library issue one bag to every cardholder. If someone loses their bag, then they can be charged a replacement fee for a new bag.

Although I really do like the plastic bags used by AADL (I use them over & over), I think it is an excellent idea to go strictly to canvas bags. I also like the heavy duty canvas zippered bags and would be interested in purchasing one if they are offered for sale in the future. These heavier bags perhaps could have water-repellant applied to them for those of us who want to keep moisture off of our books in bad weather, or a heavy-duty plastic or vinyl bag could be offered for sale in the future to raise proceeds for the library. In the meantime, I'm going to hoarde a few of the old AADL plastic bags and keep one in the canvas bag in case of bad weather!

Also - if you or your children are hard on canvas bags - they are cheap & plentiful at yard sales and thrift shops. These are a great place to pick up replacements or extras to keep in the trunk of your car for trips to the library or grocery store.

As for patrons that cannot afford a canvas bag - if AADL cannot give every patron a new bag, maybe they could sponsor a 'tote drive'. Patrons can donate the extra canvas totes they have lying around at home to the library to be re-used.

Perhaps patrons' puzzlement over why some of us prefer a bag at all stems from the difference in what we check out. Some of us with diverse check-outs in terms of age range and material end up with a giant assortment of sizes, shapes, and the like, with slim and slippery children's picture books, DVDs, CDs, large adult books, and small adult paperback fiction. It is virtually impossible to carry a selection like that in one piece, unlike, say, if you have a tidy pile of the three latest issues of "The Economist" tucked under your arm.

I generally bring my own bag to the library, particularly when I anticipate such a "haul." However, it has happened that a downpour began when I ran in to pick up an item or two, and I hate to get the books wet on the way out.

Finally, I don't think the library will outlaw patrons' use of plastic bags, so I don't understand comments along those lines (such as the suggestion that someone who loses their bag will be charged). Can't patrons bring their own plastic or other bag to tote their materials home in?!

Perhaps there could be an area for patrons to bring in plastic bags for others and emergencies, if this seems necessary. A library I used to work at used exclusively reused grocery bags to those patrons requiring a bag.

Good morning, and thank you to everyone for bringing this blog to a conversation. I understand about the rain and that is why we went with plastic to begin with. The heavy duty plastic holds up to the weight of library materials and the thin type used at grocery stores do not. Just to lay one idea to rest now, we won't provide "space" for donated plastic bags. The problem is that we don't know what was in them before they came to the library. :) If they are grocery bags they could have contained meat, fish or fresh vegetables. Several years ago we did allow people to donate bags and had to stop the practice because of public health related issues.

I think using a water repellent on the totes or lining them with an "old" plastic bag is a good solution, and thanks for passing it along.

Of course, anyone can bring their own bag, plastic or cloth, to the library and I believe people have always done that.

Finally, the Friends of the Library did sell canvas bags for years, but they no longer do so, and have decided to discontinue the practice. The AADL is not competing with the FAADL.

Thanks again for the great discussion. It helps me think of new and better ways to provide good service for all of you.


May I say that while this is a reasonable decision, I really love the AADL's plastic bags -- they are so sturdy! We have always saved and reused ours. It was one of the little details of customer satisfaction that makes for a terrific experience.

I do worry that you are adding a small flat tax to the library experience which will have a small, tolerable, but non-zero adverse affect on children, elderly, those on fixed incomes, and those prone to going about with little cash. Since it may be awkward to ask for a free canvas tote, I think the most humane policy would be to encourage library staff to take a proactive stance in giving the bags for free for anyone who appears to be in difficulty coming up with the $2 for whatever reason.

Thank you for sharing your concerns Mr. Zimmerman. Because we do not and will not require patrons to use any bags supplied by AADL, free or otherwise, when they check out material, and do not and will not prohibit any patron from using bags and backpacks of their own, I don't think the situation that you describe is one that we will face. If it does occur, because we try to err on the side of generosity, I trust the staff to make that judgment call.


How much did the AADL spend on library bags last year? A few thousand dollars? The more customers the more bags, right? I concede it is clever business management to convert a variable cost to a profit center (or, to be fair, a "cost recovery" center) but the bottom line is that you are imposing a slight but real inconvenience on anyone who comes to the library without $2 or a bag and wants to check out more than a couple of books. As other posters have demonstrated, the AADL's bags are frequently reused, which makes them 200%, 300%, 400% more resource-efficient than single-use plastics like tearaway grocery bags or sixpack rings.

I realize that it makes good political sense for the library to position itself as an environmental leader, but as I have observed in other threads, the library could do nothing "green" at all and it would still be vastly more resource-smart and eco-friendly than most other institutions in society.

Out of curiosity, in response to the original statement that the plastic bags will be gone by Jan 2, 2008 or when they're all used up, whichever comes first: what does the library actually plan to do if there are unused bags come the deadline?

AADL spent $9800.00 on plastic bags last year. The cloth totes actually cost the library $2.05 per bag. I would like to see the zippered bags available and would be willing to pay more to purchase one!

Ms. Duey is correct. The plastic bags cost .14 each and the order last year was 70k. Our initial order for the cotton totes was 2k at 2.05 each. Pricing them at 2.00 allows AADL to save .09 on each bag sold when compared to the plastic.

Several people have asked about the zippered bags that we use for our storykit collection. To break even, AADL would need to sell those for $30.00 each.

We chose not to sell paper bags because the environmental impact of their production is very negative. It is clearly a choice between two negatives, and we hope that we chose the lesser negative.

We will give away plastic bags until the supply is depleted. We needed to say when they would no longer be available, and chose January 2 based on our supply and our wish to allow enough time for a transition.


I am in sympathy with the idea that $10,000/year is a lot of money to spend on plastic bags. I am not averse to seeing a more efficient solution proposed.

I for one am perfectly willing to pay $2.25 or even $3 for a one-time tote so that the library covers its costs on the canvas bags, so long as there is a free bag option.

How can the environmental impact of recycled paper bag production be any worse than the environmental impact of recycled paper books? we recycle our paper bags, too...

Very few stores are willing to inconvenience their customers by offering "totes or nothing". Instead, they offer the option of paper or tote. I realize the library is different from a store, but the library circulates exactly the same media formats that stores do. the only difference is the 100% return policy. Does the library think it falls into a special category of "publicly funded media providers that can afford to inconvenience their customers"?

the more this decision is justified, the more ill-considered it seems. were any other options considered? discussed with anyone outside the library?

Mr. Zimmerman,
I didn't refer to the negative environmental impacts of recycled paper bags, I referred to the negative environmenal impact of paper bag production. I realize that the debate rages nationally and, by individuals far more knowledgeable than I, about the merits and consequences of product production, use, recyclability and re-usability.

I can only stress that the library does not prohibit, nor has it ever prohibited, any patron from bringing a bag of any type to use to carry library materials. Indeed, until 6 years or so ago, that was the only option. We introduced bags due to patron requests, moved from the thin grocery style to the sturdier plastic because the thin bags did not hold up to the weight of books, and are now moving to what we hope is a more cost effective solution and a more environmentally responsible solution.

If one reads back through the postings on the blog, it is clear that there are those who are very pleased about the decision even though they also like the sturdy plastic bags. I'm sorry if that is not the case where you are concerned, but we are moving forward with our cotton tote decision and we will not be offering plastic bags once our current supply is depleted.


I have used the Ann Arbor library for 20 years. For those 20 years, I have had a large canvas tote bag that I purchased in a department store, and I always take it to the library with me. It is just automatic and no inconvenience at all. I really can't understand why some people are thinking that this is a problem. (And, the $2.00 price tag for the new bags is a real bargain.)

I have a novel proposal in line with the library's mission: have canvas tote bags by the check-out area that can be CHECKED OUT to patrons, and returned later. This way, patrons who don't want to purchase them (either because of the cost or because they have enough tote bags at home) but want a one-time use of a tote bag to bring their stuff home with them, can check it out and return the bag later.

Environmentally-friendly on two fronts! Eliminates the feeling that there is a mandatory tote bag purchase! Accomodates people caught with a need but without a bag!

Please consider this idea. I think it would work terrifically well. If the tote bag is not returned (and, yes, it should be renewable!), just charge the $2 as a "fine" as if it were purchased.

Mr. Zimmerman,

I didn't avoid your question. I have personally received requests in email, by phone and in person for years to eliminate the plastic bags. We have not to my knowledge ever offered paper bags as give-aways or at a cost. Providing bags or eliminating bags due to demand is a judgment call and one that requires a balanced, and informed opinion. This decision is not a policy, but an operational or procedural decision. I liked the sturdy plastic bags. I did not like seeing them in gutters or floating down the Huron River.

I appreciate your opinion about the role of libraries in terms of environmentalism. I disagree. The public library is publicly funded. We have taken on the responsibility as a governmental unit to demonstrate good practices, not only in the provision of access to collections and the traditional services associated with public libraries, but also in our efforts to be sustainable financially and environmentally.

Based on how well used the collections are, it is very likely that others may feel inconvenienced by the bag decision, but to what degree remains to be seen. I am sorry that this decision will have a negative impact on your impression of the library's quality of service, but I am very glad that you are such an avid user of the library.



Josie --

The reason I keep raising this point is because i know that this policy is in fact going to be an inconvenience for me and my family. We are heavy users of the library, we often check out more than a handful of books at a time, and we will not always remember our totes or have cash with us. We are, in fact, among your best customers, strongest admirers, and most devoted patrons. Simply as a function of statistics, I know that there will be quite a few others who will be inconvenienced like we are (to be sure, there will also be many others who are not inconvenienced at all).

Since you did not answer my question about how the decision was made, I will assume that you did not consult any patrons about this policy.

In your note, you have summarized my objection to the policy very neatly. You introduced bags due to patron requests, and are now moving to a less convenient solution to save a small amount of money and to score political points for environmental responsibility. In my view, those should not be not the core missions of the library. I would prefer slightly less focus on environmental responsibility and substantially more focus on collections and service.

My issue with environmental responsibility is that I would like it to be numerate environmental responsibility. Paper bags issued by libraries are not a major environmental problem for society, and they never will be. Eliminating them is merely a symbolic gesture. Environmentalists would be better off spending their energy questioning whether we need a third high school, a new prison, or a new aircraft carrier. Libraries would be better off focusing on making sure that everyone who leaves the library is happy and comfortable.

Since you are apparently set on going forward with your new policy without really taking this blogging thing seriously as a two-way medium, I can only look forward to the day a year or two from now when you have received a sufficient number of patron requests to reintroduce paper bags... that will be a great innovation!



Thanks Jim for articulating my underlying concern better than I was able to. The "global v. local" issue is exactly what bothers me about all these microscale efforts to be green. On this issue I see the AADL "polishing the apple" to gain a small environmental benefit at the cost of a small but entirely avoidable customer inconvenience. Why not provide paper bags, too?

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