We know how a library works. But how about a library of things? And how about setting one up?
We’re always on the hunt for new, practical, concrete ways for citizens to empower themselves immediately and locally, in a planet-friendly way. But sometimes the great new idea is right under your nose.
What would a library of things look like? A place where you could go to freely borrow, or cheaply rent, a range of tools or objects that you temporarily need - for making something, doing something, enjoying something?
We were intrigued by this article from Shareable, the US website, on 15 amazing things you can check out from the library
Canada’s Kitchen Library, where citizens can check out kitchen appliances like juicers, crockpots, food dehydrators and other gadgets
New Hampshire’s Telescope Library, for interested would-be stargazers
Louisiana’s Tent Library
Florida’s Broward County library in Florida loans out fitness trackers, jump ropes, pedometers and frisbees for patrons.
California’s robots and circuit kit library, for schools and educators
Most of these are extra services that book and media libraries provide - but what would a library of things look like if designed from scratch?
On a very brief web search, we actually landed on this brand-new service UK, called… Library of Things. Their strapline is, “why buy when you can borrow? Borrow useful things for your home, projects & adventures”. Here’s their longer explanation:
Library of things is on a mission to make borrowing better than buying.
More affordable and convenient: 90% of borrowers say they now have more money to spend on things important to them.
More socially rewarding: 75% of borrowers feel better connected to their community because of Library of Things.
Kinder to the planet: Having used Library of Things, borrowers are 60% more likely to repair or recycle items.
In a nutshell, consumerism isn’t working…
For individuals – incomes & living spaces are squeezed, especially in urban areas.
For the planet – if everyone in the world consumed resources at the rate we do in the UK, we would need 3.5 planets to sustain us!
For communities – 1 in 5 people in the UK are sometimes or always lonely. High streets are struggling, and community spaces like libraries are increasingly asked to do more with less.
We were 3 close friends when we started Library of Things. We tested the idea for 2 years+ in our South London neighbourhood, inspired by similar ventures in Berlin & Toronto. We put in 000s of hours between us, unpaid, because we saw how powerful it was when neighbours became friends & local spaces became home. When a shared collection of high quality Things unlocked experiences for everyone.
In conjunction with Crystal Palace Transition Town & Upper Norwood Library Hub they have now developed “a replicable version of Library of Things – a self-serve kiosk with the ongoing Thing management taken care of, which ‘plugs in’ to any community space”.
This last point is really interesting. With their grants and support, Library of Things are concentrating their expertise and time on building a platform that provides organisation and services for any locality wanting to set up their own library of things. See this page, and the graphic below, for the process:
When we talk in A/UK about citizen action networks, we can imagine opportunities for this kind of “civic service” (yes, that’s a riff on civil service) - bringing soft and available infrastructure to self-organising communities, providing them with real solutions. We will watch Library of Things with great interest.
UPDATE: Our Facebook page has just informed us - via that great localist Pam Barrett from Buckfastleigh - that Totnes has been running Share Shed (“a library of things”) for a while now. See video below: