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Environmental advocate Aaron Mair’s papers acquired by the Library of Congress

Aaron Mair at Brant Lake, NY
Nancie Battaglia
Adirondack Council
Aaron Mair at Brant Lake, NY

The largest library in the world has acquired the works of a New York environmental advocate.

The records from the current director of the Adirondack Council’s Forever Adirondacks Campaign will be added to a new environmental justice manuscript collection at the Library of Congress.

Aaron Mair has had a broad career in environmental advocacy including serving as the president of the Sierra Club and leading the Forever Adirondacks Campaign at the Adirondack Council. His work is considered so significant that the Library of Congress requested his records for a new environmental justice collection.

Mair says he began his advocacy when his Albany Arbor Hill neighborhood was contaminated by a state-run trash incinerator.

“And that direct action became a model for national direct action and behavior in poor communities and communities of color fighting against what would be called environmental racism," Mair said. "At that time little was known about the phenomenon. My direct action was part of the pioneering work that led to what is now the environmental justice movement.”

Mair is thrilled that his records will be part of an archive of primary source documents for scholars.

“My notes and records from being the 57th national president of the Sierra Club, my meetings with President Obama as well as other national leaders on wilderness protection, my work on climate action. Then I didn’t think it was history," Mair recalls. "Then I was just fighting for the life and survival and protection of people in poor communities but also for flora and fauna and nature and direct action to basically bring about a change.”

Staff from the Adirondack Council helped Mair fill a cargo van with boxes of papers documenting his life in environmental advocacy. Council spokesman John Sheehan says Mair’s work is diverse and extensive.

“This is paper records. It’s large scale maps. It’s office files. In some cases it’s an old floppy disc or some things that were downloaded from email," notes Sheehan. "It’s quite a collection and one that I think is going to take some time to sort through.”

Sheehan adds that they are thrilled that Mair has been singled out by the Library of Congress to receive national attention for his work in environmental justice.

“If you’re going to put an environmental justice collection together for posterity to view Aaron’s got to be an essential component of that," says Sheehan. "He’s not the only one but he is definitely a leader. Aaron has been involved in campaigns locally and regionally and nationally for almost forty years now, although he doesn’t want to admit it’s been that long! He’s been a driving force and I think this is a collection that’s going to put environmental justice on the map in the U.S. and really cement Aaron’s place as a pioneer in that field.”

Mair says news that the Library of Congress wanted his works came as a surprise.

“This is one of those things that totally came out of the blue. I was kind of floored," Mair laughs. "You get a call and you’re told that your life’s work and life’s contribution really matters to the country. All I can say is deeply humbling. You know you never think about the impact beyond the need for action that you’re immediately engaged in. So it’s humbling in that you feel that you’ve left a candle of light in the darkness so that anybody seeking that knowledge will be able to use it. But it’s a deep, deep honor.”

The documents include correspondence, lawsuit case files, maps and mapping data, field notes, photos, lectures and other materials.

The Library of Congress has not indicated when the collection will open to the public.