Two ways to imagine time differently that could influence your work sustainability practices

Image description: an hourglass leaning on a slight angle on a rocky ground. Blue sand is falling, half in the top chamber and half in the bottom chamber.

Let’s start with linear time

Time in the English language is usually thought of as a line. We are in the middle of the line, behind us are things that happened in the past, and ahead are future events yet to happen. This way of thinking can be useful for the coordination of day-to-day activities information professionals need to do. It’s good to know there’ll be a point where you’ll be in the same place (or Zoom room!) as someone else for a meeting! Conceptualising time differently, though, might help with how we consider, approach and implement our sustainability practices in our workplaces. This blog post introduces two ways of thinking of time you might want to have a thought-experiment with: spiral time and deep time.

Image description: dark green leaves with a tendril poking out that is curling into a spiral shape.

1. Spiral time

Spiral time combines linear time with a nod to the cyclical nature of life – the turning of the seasons, night following day. It is a useful metaphor, because it makes clear that the same or similar challenges will be faced again and again while we are aiming for a linear progression of changes made. When planning for sustainability practices in our organisation, we might acknowledge that some hurdles and boons will come up cyclically. When acknowledged, we can prepare better for these events. For example, when we know there will be a lull in staff resourcing at the same point in each year, we can make good use of the collective power of people while we have them at hand.

Image description: an overcast sunset from the perspective of the cliff overlooking tall upright rock formations jutting out in a rough ocean. (The ‘Twelve Apostles’ on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. )

2. Deep time

One way to consider time differently is to learn more about Indigenous knowledge of time, what is often colloquially referred to as deep time. One way to begin to engage with deep time is to consider today, this month, this year or even your lifetime in the scale of many, many millennia. To begin to imagine time in this way, you might imagine bedrocks morphing, or rivers carving a different course in the landscape, for instance. This practice of stretching our way of engaging with time and the land we live on has the potential to shift our perspective. It might lead us to re-consider what materials we allow ourselves to work with, for example, as they become part of the next iteration of Earth’s unfolding environment.

– Cassandra Smith, ALIA Sustainable Libraries Committee member.

Cassandra is part of a sustainability working group at her home branch in the City of Melbourne Libraries, where she currently serves as a Library Technician.

Images by Aron Visuals, Bogomil Mihaylov and Riccardo Trimeloni.

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