How to set up a library of things

Charlotte Cassedanne 4 October 2021

Instead of cluttering our homes, garages and the planet, setting up a library of things allows neighbours to borrow and share bulky, pricey goods

Affordable, convenient and good for the environment, sharing libraries are popping up around the UK. But instead of borrowing books, local people are borrowing drills, pasta makers and guitars for an affordable fee.

For example, Library of Things in London offers an ice cream maker for £6 for that one summer day you decide to make your own gelato; a paper shredder for your quarterly shredding frenzy for £3 a day; or a tile cutter for £16 a week for that bathroom DIY project. Profits are reinvested to maintain the items and kiosks, marketing, and technical support.

And sharing libraries reduce waste. For example, borrowing a gazebo rather than buying a new one saves 41kg of waste from landfill, which adds up. Over four years, a Library of Things diverts 44 tonnes of waste from landfill.

Here’s how to start your own:

Talk to your neighbours

Find out if local people need a sharing library. Do they feel their home is too cluttered? Do they want to do their bit for the environment and spend less money? Link into local networks and Facebook groups, and ask people to vote on a “wish list” of items they could borrow.

Find a space

Start small in someone’s garage or local market to see what items are most popular. Then find space in buildings in densely populated areas with high footfall such as libraries or community hubs. In rural areas, a mobile sharing library or telephone box for swapping items could work.

Raise some money

You’ll need some money to set up your sharing library to cover the cost of new items, kiosks and some staff time. Contact your local Council to see if they have any grants available and run a Crowdfunding campaign so local people can support your project.

Celebrate and borrow!

A grand opening party for your sharing library is a great way to raise awareness about it locally. Add labels to each object so people can see how much it would cost them to rent them for a day or a week and show off the tools, gadgets and instruments in action.

Expert Q&A: Rebecca Trevalyan, Co-Founder and Partnerships Director, Library of Things

Why did you start Library of Things?
I was living with a couple of friends in a small house and we needed some tools to put up shelves and speakers for a party. We didn’t want to own the tools and hiring them was expensive—hire fees are pricey, not to mention the deposits! We were also getting annoyed about mountains of waste we were collectively creating.

Inspired by tool libraries in the US and lending libraries in Berlin, we started a small Library of Things locally and seven years later we’re running five Library of Things locations across London. Each of them lends around 40 items to 120 local borrowers a month, or 2000 loans a year. We make it easy for people to borrow an affordable carpet cleaner, tent or ukulele, which ultimately leads to a better quality of life.

 

What are your top tips to set up a successful sharing library?

Firstly, speak to others who have done it before—there’s lots of remakeries, wood recycling and tool libraries out there who are willing to share their knowledge. We’re also starting a Library of Things franchise in 2022 so more places in England can start their own—do get in touch if you’d like to partner with us. Though it’s a simple idea, it takes a lot of work to make it a success!

And secondly, find good partners. We’ve partnered with organisations deeply rooted in the community like mutual aid groups and Transition Town to find local financial supporters and borrowers. We’ve also partnered with manufacturers like Bosch and Karcher to access high quality tools at no or low cost to us.

What other impact has the Library of Things had on the local area?

We’ve run very successful events led by borrowers such as mending meetups, sewing classes, DIY classes which have attracted a mix of people, old and young. It has a multiplier effect locally.

Borrowers have previously tested out new food businesses at the market by using our gazebos and hotplates, the local laptop repair business has gained more customers through our repair events, and one volunteer even went on to set up his own award-winning social enterprise at the library. And for every £10 someone spends on borrowing, £8 stays locally, creating local jobs and supporting the local community spaces where our kiosks live.

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