Successful gadget lending libraries force us to rethink what the public wants to share

Written by Eric Sleeper, a freelance journalist, his work, which covers topics including work, drug reform, food, and more, has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications local to California’s Central Coast. This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

As the old saying goes, there’s a right tool for every job—but what happens when a big tree branch falls in someone’s driveway after a big storm and the person doesn’t own a chainsaw and the extra cash to rush out to buy a new one? Or maybe a student with a small apartment doesn’t have tool storage and suddenly needs a drill to fix a sagging cabinet door in the kitchen but has never used it and doesn’t know how.

For all those moments when the right tool for the job is out of reach, there are lending libraries popping up all over the country, which offer more than just books.

According to a 2021 study by an alumnus of San Jose State University (SJSU), tool libraries were first documented in the United States in the 1940s. These unique establishments offer appliances such as power and hand tools, yard and garden tools, and even kitchen appliances to those who need the right tool, but without the means to own or store it.

According to a San Jose State University study, there were more than 50 instrument libraries operating in the United States as of May 2021. There was a boom in the number of instrument lending libraries in the late 1970s with these libraries being established in places like Berkeley. , California, which opened in 1979 with one employee in a trailer-mounted vehicle, according to the study. After more than 40 years of development, the current Berkeley Public Library (BPL) Instrument Lending Library is now accessible through the BPL website.

The study, which compiles “news clippings, peer-reviewed articles, blog posts, and websites,” according to the author, noted that researchers on the subject had traditionally believed that instrument-lending libraries originated in the late 1970s. However, earlier examples date back to the 1940s when the Grosse Pointe, Michigan Public Library opened its first instrument lending library.

At the end of World War II, there was a shortage of household items such as kitchen and patio items as the raw materials normally used in their production were diverted to support the war effort.

Informal tool-lending within communities was common at the time, according to the study, and in 1943 the Grosse Pointe Public Library established its first tool-lending library, which is still in operation and can also be accessed online like its cousin in Berkeley.

The first stock of about 25 tools was donated to the Grosse Pointe Public Library by the Boys’ Action Committee of the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club, who, according to the study, donated the tools to the community in order to “encourage manual dexterity in the younger generation.”

Today, the Grosse Pointe Public Library’s tool collection includes more than 150 tools and devices ranging from bolt cutters to birdwatching binoculars, and even includes yard games such as bocce ball and croquet sets. All games, hardware and gadgets borrowed from the institution come with an instructional information booklet.

The local Rotary Club has taken on responsibility for maintaining and repairing a diverse catalog of items, and continues to do so today. The study’s author stated that the survival and growth of the Grosse Pointe Public Library’s tool collection might not have been possible without the Rotary Club’s involvement, and that it was the only tool library in the country until the mid-1970s.

The second known tool lending library in the United States was formed in Columbus, Ohio, in 1976. The tool lending library was established by the local city government and provided free tools and gadgets to inner-city homeowners and renters, the study said. Columbus’ tool library was built into a warehouse that now contains more than 5,000 tools such as hammers, drills, and ladders, which can be borrowed for periods ranging from a day to a week.

In 2009, the nonprofit ModCon Living acquired operations of the Columbus-based tool library from local government and now funds the endeavor through membership fees and donations.

Another tool library was set up in Seattle, Washington in the late 1970s by a professor at the University of Washington who used tools and paraphernalia donated by students after the school year and graduation. When the collection grew too large for the professor to maintain alone, the Phinney Neighborhood Association took over the operations of maintaining these instruments.

The Phinney Tool Library is still in operation and carries around 3,000 items including a range of power and hand tools as well as unique items such as apple pickers and a cider press. According to the study, the tools in Phinney’s library that are beyond repair are donated to local artists where they find a second life as a component in a craft piece or art installation.

The largest increase in tool-lending libraries in the United States came around 2008 during the Great Recession, according to the study, when institutions such as the Sacramento Object Library in California and the Chicago Object Library in Illinois opened as part of “tool-lending.” movement.” Another organization that provides tools to charitable groups rather than individuals, called ToolBank USA, was also founded at that time in 2008. The study’s author attributes advances in technology such as cloud-based software to the continued boom in tool-lending libraries across the United States. .

The study reported that overseas instrument lending libraries were also set up in the UK. The Library of Edinburgh was set up in Scotland in 2015, which has inspired similar institutions in areas such as Leith and Portobello in Edinburgh, and in 2018 the Library of Things was created in London, England, run by volunteers who help interested organizations and municipalities create their own tool libraries.

With the proliferation of audio and digital books and inflation increasing the cost of gadgets and gadgets everywhere, public libraries in the United States and around the world may adopt instrument-lending precedents established by pioneers such as Grosse Pointe and Berkley Public Libraries, who have instrument-lending models that have been used successfully for decades.

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