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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Seed Libraries: Home

Guide to finding information on seed libraries.

Seed Libraries

The Seed Library Social Network provides the following definition of "seed libraries":

Seed libraries, often located in public libraries or other community gathering points, are institutions created for the purpose of sharing seeds. The idea is that a library patron can “check-out” seeds to grow themselves, let them “go-to-seed”, and then return seeds to the library to share with other community members. The seeds circulated at lending libraries are usually regionally-adapted and heirloom (unlike most commercial “hybrid” seeds, so that the next generation of seeds will produce plants similar to the parent plant). The purpose of most seed libraries is to provide an alternative to genetically modified seeds, increase biodiversity and plant resilience, and reconnect local people with their food systems. ("Why Seed Libraries?")

The first seed library was the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL), established in 2000 (New York Times, 6/10/10).  Since that time, seed libraries have been established at many locations Unites States and elsewhere (see this list of seed libraries).

Seed libraries are intended as an alternative to commercial methods of seed production and distribution that began in the eighteenth century and became predominant in European and American agriculture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see The Encyclopedia of Seeds, page 351).

The term "seed library" describes one form of community-based storing and exchanging of seeds. Related terms include "seed swaps" and "seed saving," which is the practice of retaining of seeds produced by plants. Seed libraries generally differ from "seed banks," a term that usually refers to larger facilities emphasizing the long-term protection of seed species.

Seed libraries face some challenges, such as: persuading seed library users to replace the seeds they borrow, maintaining a high quality and accurately identified seed collection, and legal challenges, since seed distribution is strongly regulated, and many seed varieties are considered patented intellectual property.

Seed library images


Seed Library at the San Jose Public Library, Barissa California. Uploaded by user sanjoselibrary under CC 2.0.

Meeting at the Portal-Rodeo Seed Library at the Myrtle Kraft Library in Portal, Arizona. Uploaded by user karenandbrademerson under CC 2.0.

Seed Library at the University of San Francisco. Uploaded by user davidsilver under CC 2.0.


Bean Seeds

The Olympia, WA Seed Exchange. Uploaded by user urbanfoodwarror in 2012. Used with permission under CC 2.0.

Guide responsiblity

This guide was created by Mark Dahlquist. 

If you have questions about seed libraries, or other environmental science topics, please contact
Susan Braxton, Prairie Research Institute Librarian
505 Funk ACES Library
1101 S. Goodwin
Urbana, IL 61801