A library of things

We’ve all heard of libraries.  Most people, I imagine, associate them with books.  Book libraries have been in existence to some extent ever since records began.  From the mid-19th century in Britain, community libraries funded by the state came into existence.  However, the principle of lending and borrowing has recently started to include other items.  Toy libraries are more common, and now we are seeing a proliferation of a library of things.

What is a library of things?

drill, an example of a tool available through a library of things

Instead of a place where you can borrow books, a library of things offers lending on a range of items. These include household appliances (carpet cleaner), gardening equipment (hedge trimmer), tools (drill) and camping gear. Rather than buying things you rarely use, you can borrow them at a fraction of the price. As Mirella Ferraz aptly said on the podcast, do you need a hole in the wall or a drill? From our conversation, I discovered how it works and the experience of the Share Shed, one such library of things in Devon.

How Share Shed began

Share Shed started in 2017 in Totnes, Devon.  Initially, they operated out of a garage, courtesy of the council.  They raised funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and ran a consultation meeting for local people.  Within about a month, they accumulated about 160 items.  The model of lending-borrowing has evolved as the team, mainly volunteers, refined the process.  Individuals wishing to borrow items join as members and pay £5-50 per year.  Each item is rented weekly at a much-reduced price compared to the purchase price.

The first mobile library of things

Share Shed, a mobile library of things

Over time, they realised people were coming from other places outside of Totnes to access their library of things.  They decided to switch their process of delivery.  They bought a van and converted it into the first beautiful, mobile library of things.  It gave them the ability to access more people.  They now operate in 6 communities within rural Devon.  Each location is different in where and when they offer their service. 

For example, in Dartington, they park near a school between 2-4 pm, enabling pickups to coincide with either side of the school run.  In South Brent, they have acquired a cupboard in a community hub where they drop off reserved items for collection. 

Why use a library of things?

There are multiple reasons for using a library of things:

  • The environment – every item we buy has a carbon footprint; buying less lowers carbon emissions.  We need to lower emissions to reduce the impact of climate change.  Less stuff means less waste too.
  • Money – borrowing items is cheaper than buying them.
  • Storage – Stuff takes up space, and even if we have space, why clutter it up with things that only get used infrequently?
  • Community connection – sharing fosters relationships and brings people together.

A growing movement

It’s hard to know how many libraries of things there are, but it is a growing movement.  In Scotland and Wales, the devolved governments are financially supporting growth.  In London, A Library of Things offers a borrowing service in 7 boroughs and uses a high-tech model with kiosks and a user card system.  Beyond the UK, you can find libraries across the globe, including North America and Australia

Resources are not infinite, so it makes sense to find ways to move away from ownership.  Anything that reduces clutter and the number of items in my home requiring dusting gets my approval!