June 15, 2021

Starting A Tool Library

I Love The Library

I love the library. Most people underutilize their local library and are unaware of the many items and services they can get for FREE from the library. In addition to books, most libraries offer board games, classes, video games, movies, kids groups, free passes to museums and other activities, and much, much more! Even if you only use the library for books, you can save hundreds of dollars or more every year by borrowing books instead of buying them.

Buying books has never made sense to me. There are only a few books that I would choose to own, and even those I know I can get from the library whenever I would want to reread them. Filling my house with books adds clutter to my world that I do not want and serves as a constant reminder of money I did not need to spend. The one downside to this approach is that I do not look as smart as everyone else on a Zoom call because I lack the filled bookcase as my backdrop.

What Is A Tool Library?

A friend and I talked the other day about all of the tools we own. Many of which we have not used in years. That conversation reminded me about my feeling towards books and how valuable the library is. Why purchase and store tools that I barely use? I have heard of tool libraries and exchanges before, but there were none in my immediate area. Also, borrowing and lending tools from strangers didn’t sit really well for me. What I never thought about was starting my own until now.

So what is it? A tool library allows a group of people to pool all of their tools into a common inventory. When someone has a project coming up, they can search the inventory for the tools they need that they do not own. If someone else owns the tool, they can borrow it like they do a book from the library and then return it when they are done. There is no cost to join or to borrow. It is an exchange of tools to limit unnecessary purchases and storage. In addition to saving money and storage for each person, it also has a positive environmental impact as fewer resources are needed to manufacture tools that can be shared.

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Why Start A Tool Library?

There are many reasons to start a tool library. Here are some that I can think of:

  • save money by not buying tools you may only use a few times
  • save resources (environmental impact)
  • share DIY ideas and skills with the people in your library
  • reduce barriers to DIY and encourage more learning and doing
  • promote community
  • it’s easy to do, and anyone can do it

Tools are not the only items that can be shared. If you only bake a few times a year, do you really need a $400 KitchenAid Mixer that sits in a closet 99% of the time? What about kid’s toys? The kids would constantly be getting “new” toys by sharing toys, while the “old” toys get more use than they normally would have. With a little work and organization, we can build sharing communities around the things we own and need.

Starting A Tool Library

The plan is to keep it very simple. I asked three friends that I work with if they would be interested in joining together to try this out. All three thought it was a great idea. Here are the steps we are taking:

Step 1: Create A Shared Google Sheet

For this to work, we all need a common place to see inventory and availability. Since this is new for us and we don’t yet know how it will work, I do not want to invest the time or money into a website. If it works great and expands to a larger group, then that my be in the future. Here is what the sheet currently looks like. This is a minimal viable product that I expect many iterations of:

The sheet will be sortable and searchable by item and/or category. The goal is to keep the sheet functional and basic so that everyone uses it. If it is to complicated, we won’t use it and we won’t be able to track inventory appropriately. The key to this working is proper inventory management so this sheet has to be low friction.

Step 2: Add Inventory

Each of our four members will add inventory to the sheet. The plan will be to focus on the items that we each have but the other members probably don’t have. Basic items like hammers and screw drivers are pretty common and probably do not need to be listed. However, any special attachments or versions of common items should be included. It is also important that each person only list the items they are comfortable lending out. This is purely voluntary. All tools do not have to be included.

Step 3: Establish Rules/Guidelines

Here are some basic rules that I have thought of. As a group, we will meet to discuss these and others before we start lending.

  1. Items must be returned in the condition they were borrowed in or better.
  2. Gas powered items should be loaned and returned with full tanks.
  3. Items will be borrowed in 2 week intervals.
  4. The shared sheet must be updated.
  5. If you break it, you must have it repaired or buy a new one.
  6. Exchanges will take place at the convenience of the lender (time and place).
Step 4: Start Borrowing

With the rules agreed upon, it’s time to start borrowing! I will also track how much money I save by not having to buy or rent tools any more. The other thing I hope to get out of this will be learning and sharing DIY ideas and knowledge.

Step 5: Re-Assess and Make Changes

We will all get together and talk about what is working and what is not after a few months of borrowing. The feedback we get from this meeting will guide future iterations of the shared sheet and our overall process. This is a very important step in any new venture.

I look forward to getting this started soon. Have you ever done something like this? If so, or if you have any other ideas/comments, please leave them below.

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