Tool libraries are about repairing communities
The United States is in desperate need of expanded social infrastructure. The country’s growing network of tool-sharing libraries are just the thing we need to repair our communities.
When Josh Epstein decided to renovate his garage, converting it into a so-called “accessory dwelling unit” or ADU, he found himself in sudden need of a wide range of construction tools, but being a new homeowner he knew renovation could be costly.
Having moved into a new home with his wife and newborn just north of Seattle, Epstein found his way to the Northeast Seattle Tool Library (NESTL). Using the organization’s services, he was able to borrow tools that he needed at a fixed low cost - saving him thousands of dollars that would be needed to purchase the tools just to complete a single construction job.
We just needed a lot of heavier duty tools than we had. The main tool that was the most useful was a huge 20-foot scaffolding, which would be hundreds if not thousands of dollars. We also got a cement mixer and some serious roto-hammers. And I was just amazed by the place. It was so cool.
Being fond of the community and sharing associated with the tool library, Epstein began working with the organization and now runs the nonprofit that governs it.
I love the community of it. I love all the values of it, the sustainability on so many different levels: environmental, economic, and social.
Tool Libraries, or Libraries of Things (lending object rather than books), are a proof point of repair’s benefits to society. No matter who you are or where you live, something in your life is certain to break down from time to time. And, like the vast majority of people, you probably can’t pay to simply replace every item you rely on that stops working.
Repair, facilitated by tool libraries, are one answer. There are 60+ tool sharing organizations across the U.S. lending everything from hand tools to table saws. According to Local Tools there are ten tool sharing locations across the Seattle metro area, with the State of Washington offering grants to some for their waste-reduction activities.
After his experience finishing his garage, Epstein became a Program Manager at NESTL, where he helps coordinate more than 100 volunteers to maintain a community hub that allows its members to tap into a deep catalog of tools and other useful items. When I asked him if there was anything I ought to know about tool libraries he said:
“Tool libraries are a secret that shouldn't be a secret. They need more community and government support so that they are as commonplace as book libraries.”
Investing in our social infrastructure
That’s a good analogy. There are over 16,000 public libraries in the United States. Libraries are spaces that are open to everyone and free to access. Beyond books, they often provide Internet access, information for job seekers and public meeting spaces. Libraries serve as hosts for all manner of community programming.
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