Libraries aren’t just for books
One of the great things about being a student is having the luxury of coming up with really fun ideas. Last semester, some classmates and I worked on a re-imagining of a Vancouver neighborhood around the Britannia Community Center (here’s a link to the project / sorry for the Flashtastrophe). One feature that we put into our design was the idea of a tool library.
Basically, a tool library is like a book library, except that rather than borrowing books, people can borrow ladders, lawn mowers, power tools, circular saws and other tools that people only use infrequently. Our group placed the hypothetical tool library in a light-industrial warehouse and paired it with a “Maker Shed” and a entrepreneurship incubation center. We also thought it would be good to set up an apprenticeship program with the local high school in areas such as welding or carpentry that could take place in the Maker Shed and business incubator. The Maker Shed is a co-working place where you can rent out a work bench and tools and just make stuff, which is great in a place like Vancouver where not many people have garages (or where the garages have been turned into laneway housing…).
We thought that tool libraries, combined with the Maker Shed and business incubator, would be an awesome way to build a local economy. The three facilities give people the skills to make and sell products with little capital investment. It also helps people keep the neighborhood attractive, by making it more affordable to do DIY repairs and improvements on homes. They also help with community-building, because the library is a great way to get to know one’s neighbors. Sustainability is another nice by-product, as a neighborhood might have just 5 ladders instead of 50.
As it turns out, there are some real life tool libraries. Portland is about to have three! The city started its first in 2004 and has 2,300 members. Most of the tools in the library were donated, too. Membership in a library is free – the only requirements are that a member live in the library’s area and have an identification and proof of address.
OregonLive.com reports that the first modern tool libraries started in the 1970s in Berkeley, CA, and Columbus, OH, and that there are about 25 tool libraries in the US, including five in California and one in Seattle. Hopefully we’ll start to see some more around!