Sharing Sledgehammers

By Elle O’Casey

Over the weekend, I attempted to make a set of window boxes for my place. I had no tools to speak of save for a small hammer and no experience to lean upon. With two strikes against me, the task seemed a bit herculean.

Staring at a few pieces of lumber and a lone hammer, I began to realize I was woefully underprepared. I needed a hammer, a saw, screws, brackets, and a friend to help me navigate this DIY project gone awry. Calling up said friend, he mentioned a phrase I hadn’t heard before: tool library. “What’s that?” I asked aloud. He went on to tell me that a tool library functions a lot like a conventional library in that it allows patrons to essentially check out tools, manuals and other equipment at no charge or for a small fee. Tool libraries are just one type of lending library. These libraries not only allow patrons to borrow a variety of things, but they also contribute to community apprenticeship opportunities, local skill building classes, mentorship opportunities, and space to work on projects.

One of the most famous tool libraries is Rebuilding Together Central Ohio. Billed as one of the nation’s first tool library in the country, it was started in 1976 by the city and is now run by a local nonprofit helping to restore homes and communities in Ohio. This tool library has 5,000 tools available to borrow at no cost.

Two well known examples of lending libraries in New England include Port City Makerspace, located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Onion River Exchange in Montpelier, Vermont. Port City Makerspace operates as a member-based organization. Members are allowed to take community classes, access apprenticeship opportunities, borrow tools and other materials, and work in a shared space. Port City Makerspace was founded by a group of Green Mountain College students looking to provide a community workshop space for Portsmouth residents. The founders recognized the need for a makerspace/tool library as many residents lived in small apartments without workspaces and garages to start projects in.

Closer to home is the Onion River Exchange. Located in Montpelier, The Onion River Exchange (ORE) began in April 2008. The exchange focuses on “sharing services with each other using the currency of time not dollars.” In a nutshell, ORE members give and receive services for Time Credits, a time-based currency. In 2015, ORE started a tool library. All tools can be used for free and can be borrowed for 7 days at a time. You can even browse their inventory online.

There is no question that sharing goods is much easier on the environment. At present, American consumption is obscene. There really is no other word to describe it. The average American uses their car just 8 percent of the time. A drill is only used, on average, 6-13 minutes over the course of its lifetime. We spend $22 billion each year on storage units (NewDream.org). Added to this, our consumption style current supports ‘planned obsolescence’, or the idea that consumer goods rapidly become obsolete, requiring us to purchase new products and trash the old. Given this, the concept of tool libraries, and more broadly, a sharing economy, could revolutionize the way we buy, borrow, and build.

The concept of tool libraries feeds into a broader conversation about the sharing economy, a collaborative consumption model that has been gaining traction in recent years. Rachel Botsman popularized the concept in her 2010 book The Rise of Collaborative Consumption and her TED talk describing how technology can help accelerate the sharing economy.

For more information on lending libraries and to find out how to start one in your community, visit New Dream’s Guide to Sharing and check out Sharestarter.com to access their great toolkit for starting a lending library.

Do Just One Thing: Ask to borrow something from your neighbor rather than buying the needed item and offer to share something you have with a neighbor.

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