Why Every City Should Have a Library of Things

library of things

What if a trip to the library meant borrowing camping equipment, power tools, or toys instead of books?

New library

A library of things or tool library is similar to the concept of a traditional library, but you don’t borrow books, you borrow a variety of technology, equipment, or toys. So instead of buying the ladder that sits unused in the garage, the board game that your kids got bored with after a week, or the tent you use only for your annual camping trip, you could check them out of the library of things and return them when you’re finished using them. In some libraries of things, such as the Sharing Depot in Toronto, Canada, objects are loaned out for a flat $50 annual fee. Other businesses, like the South London Library of Things, use a low-cost rental model, with a Ukulele going for 2 GBP (R33) and a DSLR Camera going for 4 GBP (R67) per week. Sharing is also facilitated publicly, such as through the Sacramento, California Public Library in the United States, which lends items for free to residents. Some libraries of things are even run through food banks.

Sharing economy

The library of things falls under the umbrella of the growing sharing economy, along with more commonly known and used services such as Airbnb and Uber. The library of things, however, stands apart from these companies as its purpose is to serve the community for low to no cost rather than focusing primarily on profit.

Why now?

Perhaps the most enticing incentive for borrowing is, of course, savings; even if a library of things charges a membership or rental fee, this pays for itself with even one use of pricy power tools, toys, or camping equipment that would otherwise lay unused. With more tools and equipment accessible, libraries of things have also helped some learn new skills or start businesses more affordably. In addition, libraries of things may be a solution to clutter and heightened consumerism. The most libraries of things and tool libraries of any country have been popping up in the United States, where one in ten people have so much stuff they need to rent storage outside of their home for it. Instead of buying and storing things you don’t use, borrow them.

How to start one

  • Check out Sharestarter for sample documents and contracts or advice on everything from social media to working with local residents and businesses.
  • Look to companies like myTurn, whose software has helped governments, nonprofits, universities, small businesses, and public libraries with inventory, membership, and rental management.
  • Find out what your community most needs or wants to borrow.
  • Contact your local library, fundraise, or look for donations from residents and businesses.

Cape Town perspective

So what is the local opinion on the library of things? On Facebook, Ben van der Merwe commented, “I love this idea. There are some great examples of this and workshops helping people to fix things rather than buying new. My favourite is community gardens. It does feel quite hard to get something like this going though”, while Lea Smit remarked, “Brilliant concept! So important to bring the free sharing idea back to communities. We become so unnecessarily possessive about our ‘stuff’”, specifying step ladders and trailers as library of things must-haves. Other Cape Town inventory suggestions include tools, especially drills, baking supplies like mixers or trays, handheld vacuum cleaners, books, toys, and baby goods.

Click through the gallery below to see what Capetonians had to say about the library of things when asked on the street, and check out an opinion from Twitter:

vox pops 4

“You said like kitchen appliances? I’m a good cook. I would like to borrow pots, a plate, a set of spoons, and I would like getting all of my kitchen appliances complete, because that’s when you can make magic on the fire.” – Ayoko Henry

Rudeya Hassen

“Challenges? Work. Basically work, a lot of people are out of work in Cape Town and you know, poverty is a high rate here. Even myself, I was  unemployed for two years, so basically me having a job is like Yay, I can buy new things again, I can go out.” – Rudeya Hassen

“I would own [the items], I won’t borrow them, the reason why is if it breaks or anything and it’s not mine…
Yes people would use it, if they need it yes.” – Shariefa

Werner la Roux

“Yeah I think I would use [a library of things] if it’s all in one place, because then you don’t have to find all of these different businesses where you have to rent different tools and stuff… [the challenge is] your advertisement, letting people know that there is actually something like that… word of mouth” – Werner le Roux

vox pops 6

“The first thing that you would borrow is probably a drill (laughs), in case you want to do your own work and stuff,  maybe a camera, maybe just tools and kitchen equipment and stuff like that, you know everything goes.” – Annchen van Grann (right)

For more information about the history of the sharing economy, read this article from Citylab 

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