Library of Things in the news: March-June 2022

This month, I’m introducing a new quarterly series: Library of Things in the news. Week-to-week, I’ll review articles featuring library of things collections around the country (and the world) for interesting ideas. Then, I’ll round up what I find. Take a look, there might be something that would work for your library!

Inspiration for… logistics

Do you have to call your collection of stuff a Library of Things? Not necessarily. Draw inspiration from these names: call it a Community Toolbox (Australia), Lend and Mend (Scotland), or Share Shop (Australia)! Or for a local vibe, call it Borrow Your Town Name or Lend Your Town Name, inspired by Benthyg Monmouth (Wales).

What do you do with very expensive items? Or items that might be a bit dangerous? The Mansfield-Richland County Public Library (Ohio) uses borrowing agreements to include power tools and telescopes in library of things.

Ask your local history librarian! Library of things… aren’t new? Aviva Kane, director of the Franklin Square Public Library (New York) said that tools, everyday objects, and new technologies were all part of library rentals during the 1960s and 1970s. See if your community has a history of lending stuff.

As you’re thinking about the goals of your tool library, consider the mission of PVD Things (Providence, Rhode Island): eliminating the barrier to entry. I don’t think this works for every activity ever, but if the only barrier to trying out a new activity is one durable object, I think it’s a great candidate for the library of things. (See: musical instruments.)

Lending libraries can be independent entities. The Durango Tool Library (Colorado) is a public benefit corporation. Sharetribe (Finland) uses a steward ownership business model. When I studied makerspaces, I saw a lot of advantages for independent ones – the ability to assume more risky activities, allow member access longer hours, and support business-level production. I suspect that independent tool libraries might benefit in similar ways, with the same shared drawback – a fee to participate.

Inspiration for… promotion

Choose a niche and market your library of things with related events! Richland Library (South Carolina) has leaned into a gardening focus. They circulate gardening implements, host a seed library, and offer public plant swaps. Each of these services is an opportunity to promote the other, in what seems to be a really virtuous cycle. I could see similar tie-ins working with crafting tools/supply swaps/craft programs and board games/swaps/meet-ups.

Inspiration for… stuff to buy

Movies, music, and more. The library of things doesn’t have to be about media, but it doesn’t have to not be about media.

Memorial Hall Library (Massachusetts) circulates Rokus that come pre-loaded with subscriptions to five major streaming services. I would’ve loved to have this as an option for community members seeking shows that don’t exist on DVD.

The outdoor movie-night kit from the Wood County District Public Library (Ohio) caught my attention. It contains a projector, foldable screen, and bluetooth speaker. This is a pandemic-robust resource that supports community-building. And a movie night is the type of spontaneous fun that can happen whenever people are able to borrow it. As you plan your movie kit, keep in mind that you can also get an inflatable screen, like the Medfield Public Library (Massachusetts).

For some nostalgic media, Rock Island Public Library (Illinois) helps foster intergenerational interaction with their “remembering the 50s” memory kit, which also includes realia and toys.

Hyperlocal choices. These libraries looked to their communities for what to circulate next:

Crook County Library (Oregon) now offers “new Curriculum Crates featuring the cultural heritage of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.” Is there a local tribal nation that your library can partner with to do something similar?

Summers County Public Library (West Virginia) started circulating collapsible utility wagons to help improve pedestrian access to the grocery store, as covered by American Libraries.

Back to the Medfield Public Library (Massachusetts) to check out a ghost meter! Would this pass your collection policy? How would you balance demand, entertainment, and accuracy?

Let’s do a quick review of some more stuff:

Wichita Public Library (Kansas) circulates radon detectors.

Berks County Public Library System (Pennsylvania) offers resin jewelry molds and a car dent puller.

The Tiverton Public Library (Rhode Island) encourage participation in citizen science with project kits. The instructions for creating citizen science kits are posted online at Scistarter.

Ipswich Public Library (Massachusetts) lends out induction cooktop sets. The goal is to promote a shift to induction ranges, which are more efficient than other conventional stoves.

Anything on this list that you’d consider for your library? My hope is that by highlighting trends in library of things I can do my part to make up for the lack of professional review publications. Because, while library of things might not be new, I think their newfound popularity is here to stay.

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