This article was originally published in the March/April 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1996

in energy

Libraries and Utility Collaborate to Educate

In an innovative program, Dane County Library Service (DCLS) and Madison Gas and Electric Company (MGE) in south central Wisconsin are collaborating to deliver energy information and assistance. Both the libraries and the utility benefit from the program. It increases the libraries' ability to supply patrons with energy information-an obvious need, given that energy materials are checked out of the libraries 50% more often than the nonfiction collection as a whole. From MGE's standpoint, the libraries provide a visible community-based distribution system.

DCLS is a coordinating agency for programs involving the 17 municipal libraries of Dane County. MGE serves much of Dane County and customers in six additional counties. Their partnership has resulted in a grant of nearly $20,000 for energy awareness and educational activities at nine public libraries over an 18-month period ending December 31, 1996. Project activities focus around October Energy Awareness Month in both 1995 and 1996.

The grant comes from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (WEEB), in cooperation with the Wisconsin Energy Bureau. The project aims to teach citizens how to develop good energy conservation habits. A key element of the grant is to publicize the project and encourage similar partnerships between other interested utilities and public libraries.

A buzz of activity surrounds a table staffed by Julie Chase, Dane County Library Service director and Betsy Proctor, branch coordinator for the Madison Public Library. Items displayed include energy books and an energy kit full of weatherization tools, which is also available for loan.
Program Basics Half of the grant goes toward the purchase of circulating energy books, videos, and tool kits. The kits contain basic tools needed to caulk and weatherstrip a home, such as a caulking gun, hammer, utility knife, tape measure, putty knife, scraper, and screwdriver. Portable energy meters and Green Plugs will be added in 1996, so that borrowers can test whether Green Plugs will save energy for their refrigerators.

Individual libraries selected activities for fall 1995 from a number of options, including energy displays, exhibits, children's programs (for example, Wizard of Watt, an energy conservation puppet show) and adult presentations, such as home energy workshops.

The workshops consisted of a general session and three breakout sessions. The general session covered such topics as hidden heat losses, heating equipment tips, cost-effectiveness ratings for various improvements, and services and financing for home improvements. The breakout sessions addressed lighting, insulation, and services and financing. All of the sessions allowed plenty of time for questions, and the breakout sessions offered participants a chance to handle insulation materials and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

Energy-saving incentive gifts, such as CFLs and water-saving showerheads purchased through the grant, help to bring people to the workshops and make it easier for them to implement the energy measures they're learning. Each attendee completes a home energy action plan charting proposed energy-saving actions and purchases. MGE follows up on the action plans, offering assistance while also monitoring the program's progress. MGE and the libraries also issue surveys to determine whether the participants have taken energy saving actions as a result of the program. Thus far, survey results indicate that 40% of the respondents have acted or are planning to do so.

Publicity and Promotion The program got a major boost when Governor Tommy Thompson declared October Wisconsin Energy Awareness Month, and the State Energy Bureau developed a special energy poster. The poster was prominently displayed during October 1995, often in conjunction with energy exhibits.

The local media also helped publicize the program. And, in connection with a City of Madison planning effort, middle-school students dropped off fliers in local neighborhoods about the library's home energy workshop. The school also made the fliers available during registration week. Workshop attendees could and did check out the new resources on the spot, thanks to a computer and the library system's new on-line information system.

Overall, promotion of the energy activities and resources made use of the libraries' and MGE's ties with local schools, businesses, city government, and community organizations. For instance, one library convinced the local bank to include a flier about upcoming energy happenings in the bank's September mailing of account statements.

Lessons Learned The 1995 energy activities and resources were received very well by participating libraries and their patrons. Evaluation of all areas of the project is an important ongoing part of the grant. Insights from the 1995 activities will be used to fine-tune the 1996 activities.

Individual events, such as the children's puppet show and adult energy presentations, tended to be most successful when scheduled during a regular library time slot-for example, family night-or when piggybacked onto a community meeting-as one library did with the Parent-Teacher Association.

One library had an energy display that generated considerable attention. It consisted of a coal pile topped with a compact fluorescent light bulb. The caption explained how savings from using the fluorescent bulb translate into environmental benefits. Equally creatively, another library decorated its homecoming parade float with state Energy Awareness Month posters and an energy banner and balloons.

These examples illustrate the flexibility of the collaboration to adapt to individual library and community needs. That's a strength essential to the continued vibrancy and evolution of the partnership.

For further information, contact Julie Anne Chase, Director, Dane County Library System, at (608)266-6388, or Eileen Vandoros, at (608)252-5631.

-Eileen Vandoros

Eileen Vandoros is senior market analyst at Madison Gas and Electric Company in Madison, Wisconsin.


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