Why we need a community ‘library of things’

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The Sharing Depot

By Sabrina Almeida

As community libraries struggle to stay relevant, it is well worth exploring the ‘borrow-anything or everything’ concept which has great potential in a country with seasonal needs. Imagine the money and space savings if you could just rent tools and other equipment for a nominal fee when you needed them.

For me the big bonus would be parking my car in the garage which mostly houses tools, snow cleaning and gardening equipment. (Many homeowners face a similar situation.) To make space for my car now, I would have to consider investing in a shed for my backyard.

Just procuring all these items on-demand would save us hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, as well as maintenance effort and time.

Currently we have an arrangement with our neighbours where we lend each other tools rather than waste money buying them individually. Judging from how well this has worked over the past couple of years, a community library of things would be welcomed.

I also remember how friends lent us many items including a lawn mower and exercise cycle when we first immigrated so that we didn’t have to rush out and buy them. Ever since we have tried to do the same. A community sharing or recycling service of sorts, but on a more personal level!

Granted a library of tools is not new idea as the first one emerged in Berkeley, California almost 40 years ago. It has however been surprisingly slow to catch on despite its tremendous advantages. Toronto only launched its first tool library around 2012 and based on its success, others sprang up in major cities around the country. While big box stores like Home Depot offer tool rentals, community tool libraries could be a more cost-effective and encouraging place to visit.

As tools are not the only things that we need, the tool library in Toronto grew into The Sharing Depot where members had access to a wider range of items, freeing them from the burden of owning and storing them. A point I’m trying to make.

With community centres becoming integral places for newcomer integration, having access to other essentials (for a fee of course) would ease the financial burdens of setting up home, improve quality of life and give your local library a big boost. The fact that you could check out a book and some gardening tools while your kids are at swimming class is likely to increase patronage of community facilities and consequently their funding. Not to mention generate more employment as demand for them rises.

Also with most of the outdoor equipment and tools we invest in being used for less than six months in a year, being able to rent them from your local library instead makes both financial and environmental sense.

With a full-range of items now available for rent or trading—sports equipment, camping and hiking gear, children’s toys and board games are among the most in demand and great items to start with.

Interestingly, Denmark’s 2002 living library project which caught on in the United States later in 2008, allows you to borrow human books—people on loan for a chat about specific publications. Considering how a technology and social media obsessed society is at high risk for depression and other mental illnesses because of waning personal interactions, it might not be too long before this becomes an essential service that is not restricted to conversations about books.

As I scoured Google to find out what could be shared, borrowed, traded or rented, the possibilities were only limited by your imagination. From baking dishes to musical instruments, Karaoke kits, knitting needles, bicycles and even umbrellas, the most unusual things were available on loan in libraries around the world.

While local authorities might be concerned about the funds required for a community project of such scope, donations of “gently-used” items helped supply much of the inventory in these already established libraries.

Would it work? Given the fact that most of the community facilities in Canada and around the world rely on the integrity and honesty of their members to stay in business, a library of things would be based on the same philosophy. Including selling older items at huge discounts to generate money for new ones.

Having community library of things is also a great way to encourage community spirit. It could also help change the materialistic culture which has caused us to obsessed with the acquisition of things.

I’m all for it, what about you!

Comments: 1

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  1. Sabrina’s article ‘Library of things’ is one of the most useful I’ve come across.. I think the concept is great, especially in Canada where people don’t know how to get rid if articles/equipment that are in good condition, and they just want to upgrade, but feel bad about throwing them away. Sabrina, I’m ready to support you in starting a ‘Library of things’. Well done, you’ve put into words what many of us think!