Climate Action: Innovation Award

City public library’s eco-centre inspires young Kazakhs to learn about their environment and take action on climate change

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Two young girls with a screen showing information about the eco-centre.

The city of Ust-Kamenogorsk in East Kazakhstan is badly polluted. The main atmospheric polluters are the giant metallurgy and chemical companies which pump toxic gases into the air. In addition, the city struggles with solid waste disposal, resulting in unauthorized dumping by citizens, the accumulation of garbage in backyards and litter in the streets, parks and children’s sports grounds. 

Concerned about the health of citizens and about a future threatened by global warming and climate change, librarians at Ust-Kamenogorsk City Library’s Branch No. 2, devised a climate action plan - to create a eco-centre for environmental education and enlightenment of the people of Ust-Kamenogorsk.

“We believe that the loss of the environmental literacy that is embedded in the culture of the people can be revived through training and education. We are convinced that if every person from childhood learns about the nature of their native land, and how to care for the environment, then the situation will improve,” explained the head of the library, Myrzabayeva Aimangul.

In December 2022, with grant support from the Samruk-Kazyna-Trust, the Ecological Centre ‘JasylUi’ / GreenHouse, Kazakhstan’s first eco-centre in the library, was born.

Scientific equipment for experiments and exploration

The library’s climate action target group is students of 66 secondary schools and 26 preschools in Ust-Kamenogorsk. The eco-centre is equipped with digital and scientific equipment that learners can use in ecological experiments, environmental recovery projects or simply to explore and understand nature. On offer are a digital microscope; instruments for measuring the parameters of air, soil and water quality; a soil-free germinator and equipment for hydroponic planting; an interactive platform for webinars; computers loaded with useful software; a virtual reality (VR) helmet and a three-D printer. For teaching, the library relies on volunteers, mostly lecturers and teachers in the natural sciences and humanities from schools and universities. Students also volunteer their time to work with the children. 

In less than a year (2022/2023) the eco-centre attracted and engaged over 1,800 schoolchildren, including pre-schoolers and secondary school students. Children learn through a combination of theory, research, and hands-on experimentation. They study their local environment during field trips, and learn how to behave in nature, how to protect the natural environment and how to care for animals and plants. They also learn practical skills for reducing electricity consumption, using water economically, recycling and minimizing waste.

Dinara Musabaev is a chemistry teacher and Deputy Director for Scientific and Methodological Work of the Specialized Lyceum for Gifted Children: “For our students and teachers, such cooperation with a library equipped with modern digital technologies is very beneficial. Young researchers have the opportunity in the library’s digital laboratory to conduct experiments to study the composition of air, soil and water in different parts of the city. Growing various types of plants using the hydroponics method, they study and monitor the process of seed germination and examine their composition,” she says. 

The library has created more than 50 environmental lessons and presentations to inform people about the planet’s environmental problems: climate change, depletion of the ecosystem, desertification, species extinction and waste, and what can be done to solve these problems. The lessons are available to all the city’s educational institutions via the library eco-centre’s website, and they are being replicated and used.

Children contribute to ‘Red Book’ of rare & endangered species

As they become more acquainted with fauna and flora in the region, schoolchildren are contributing to the electronic ‘Red Book of the East Kazakhstan Region’, which lists and tracks observations of rare and endangered species.

Library No. 2’s eco-centre and environmental campaigns have won recognition across the city and the East Kazakhstan region, attracting partnerships and cooperation with other agencies working on environmental issues. The work of the eco-centre has also been well covered in national media. 

In Ust-Kamenogorsk understanding of environmental issues has grown, and citizens are more united about what action needs to be taken to reduce pollution and waste.

With the support of the local administration, several events were held to clean up the city from garbage, in which citizens took an active part.

The library has more young volunteers who now lead and train newcomers to the eco-centre. “I am gaining additional experience in research experiments by volunteering in the library’s digital laboratory equipped with modern innovative technology. Together with young ecologists, we are trying to find practical applications for the results of our own environmental experiments and research,” says Dias Nurzhanuly, a 4th-year student at the Higher School of Information Technology and Natural Sciences. 

“We believe that the knowledge the children are acquiring about the integrity of the world around them has a beneficial effect on their intellectual development and contributes to the formation of a holistic eco-humanitarian worldview. Also, by arousing children’s interest in research and the ecology, we may be contributing to their future career choices,” says the librarian and the leader of this project Shaimova Bakhytkul.

More public and community libraries supporting climate action and protecting the environment.

Protecting the Environment: Innovation Award