AKRON, Ohio — You already knew you can check out more than books at the library.
Ohio's Akron-Summit Public Library recently added a Seed Sharing Library, a resource for distributing mainly heirloom vegetable seeds. Users choose envelopes of seeds from a repurposed card catalog in the Main Library's science and technology division and then check them out by filling out a form.
Unlike books, DVDs, CDs and the like, the seeds don't have to be returned. "There are no overdue fines," division manager Monique Mason said with a smile.
All the library wants to do is encourage people to grow and eat healthful foods, she said. But it will welcome donations of seeds produced by the veggies its patrons grow.
The idea was suggested earlier this year by Liam Murray, a neighbor of a librarian who works with Hattie Larlham's food-growing operation, Hattie's Garden. Since the library is already a place for distributing resources, "it just seemed like such a natural fit," Mason said.
Library representatives talked to people involved in local gardening efforts, researched seed-sharing operations at other libraries and obtained donations of seeds before quietly launching their own seed library in April.
It started with about 800 envelopes of seeds representing dozens of plant varieties — mostly heirloom vegetables, but also a few hybrids as well as some herbs and flowers, said Michele McNeal, a science and technology librarian who is in charge of the seed library. The seeds include such charmingly named varieties as Yaya carrots, Grandma Oliver's green tomatoes and McNeal's favorite, Lazy Housewife pole beans.
The seeds were donated by High Mowing Organic Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., as well as gardeners including Mason.
McNeal said 75 to 100 seed packets already had been distributed by late last week, even though the library hadn't promoted the seed library heavily. Borrowers may choose up to six packets of seed a month, each of which produces three to five plants.
The seed envelopes are arranged by the plants' common names — lettuce, dill, Swiss chard and so on — but patrons can also look up what's available in either of two directories. One organizes the seeds by plant type and the other by variety name. The directories contain photocopies of the seed packets, where patrons can get planting and care instructions.
The seeds also are rated according to how difficult it is to save the new seeds produced by the plants.
The library focuses on heirloom seeds, partly because of the tasty veggies they produce, but also because their offspring are more consistent. Hybrids, on the other hand, are more of a genetic toss-up. Because hybrid plants are created by crossing multiple parents, their seeds can produce plants with a variety of different traits.
The library doesn't require borrowers to produce seeds to bring back to the library, but it hopes some people will, Mason and McNeal said. Eventually they hope the seed library will be stocked mostly with seeds produced locally.
"Even if we don't get anything back, it's still promoting gardening and healthy eating," Mason said. The library can always request more seed donations to keep the seed library stocked, she said.
For now the seed library is only at the main library, and patrons need to come there to use it. They can't request that seeds be sent to their branches.
Nevertheless, Mason said the library will use information gathered from the forms that borrowers fill out to determine whether demand exists to start seed libraries in other locations.