Creating a Library of Things
Though libraries will likely always be primarily associated with checking out books, a concept of loaning other items has started to gain popularity. Using a service known as the Library of Things (or LoT for short), community members can borrow household items, tools, appliances, bicycles, and more. Setting up a LoT is an example of participatory service that engages the community and brings more users to the library system.
Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:
The LoT service gives users an environmentally-friendly alternative to buying and maintaining more stuff that is costly and bulky. Community members can also donate items they no longer need and prevent more things from ending up in landfills. It is an opportunity for providing community classes on building, gardening, bike repair, cooking, and more. Libraries can facilitate partnerships with community groups and non-profits to provide outreach to low-income individuals and families to be able to borrow items they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.
Description of Community you wish to engage:
Every member of the local community should be able to find something of interest at the LoT. Individuals who don’t want to spend money on a tool that they’ll only use once will be able to check it out from a tool library. A family hosting a cook-out can borrow dishes and other kitchen items. Community gardeners could get seeds from a seed library to plant some new crops. The LoT service would be aimed at fostering a do-it-yourself mentality among community members, and would aim for a broad reach across all groups.
Action Brief Statement:
Convince members of the local community that by borrowing “things” from the library they will save money, de-clutter their homes, and connect with their neighbors which will strengthen their engagement with library services because the library is a community resources for all.
Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service:
The Library of Things concept has been gaining momentum as more people explore alternatives to consumerism and looking to reduce their environmental impact. The libraries are widely used by community members and provide expanded services that users are excited about. Loaning items that are not traditional library materials helps increase users’ engagement with library services, strengthening the libraries’ ties to the communities they serve.
Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:
The mission for establishing a Library of Things is to expand the library’s reach to engage all members of the community and provide free alternatives to often costly and bulky items. To establish guidelines and policies, the library should bring in existing community groups that already provide these services, as well as open meetings to the public in search of volunteers and donors. Guidelines for borrowing traditional library items (books, CDs, DVDs) can be transposed onto borrowing other items. Working with community members will help staff establish specific guidelines for the types of items borrowed. Good examples for developing policies are the City of Hillsboro’s Library of Things and the Sacramento Library of Things.
Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service:
One funding source could be a grant through Library Services and Technology Act, which is how the Sacramento Library of Things received some funding.
The LoT could implement specific late fees or cleaning fees for certain items, that could be tailored to correspond with the expense and time of maintaining the item. Additionally, in-kind contributions of items from the community could help to bolster the number of items available for loan. The library could send out a list of requested items and ask community for gently-used items or newly purchased items for donation to the library.
Action Steps & Timeline:
Start small! For example, here in Portland, OR there are several neighborhood-based tool libraries, which are volunteer run non-profits. Use community groups as a model or opportunity for partnership. That can be a prototype for setting up a LoT in a library space. Ask the public via email, social media, or in-person surveys what kind of items they would want available to borrow, providing different options to select from. Plan on creating a library of the top selected category. If the top category is unrealistic due to budget concerns or other issues, the second-most popular item/category can be used as Plan B.
Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service:
As a new service, it would require additional staff time to implement and set up the LoT. However, it could be a great opportunity to find volunteers in the community with knowledge and expertise to help manage the service. For example, a bike library would be a great volunteer opportunity for a cycling enthusiast. Reach out to local community groups for potential volunteers.
Training for this Technology or Service:
The LoT could primarily be volunteer staffed, so the library’s volunteer coordinator would take the lead on finding volunteers to train.
Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:
To promote the LoT service, it would be shared from the earliest planning stage via intra-staff communications and during staff meetings. During the planning, the LoT service will be promoted via email lists, social media, and signage in the library. As mentioned before, users can vote on what items they want to be able to borrow, and the library can set up a social media campaign with “behind the scenes” updates as the opening date approaches. Also, reaching out to organizations in the community of hobbyists, members of the DIY (do-it-yourself) community, and organizations that work with low-income populations who could utilize the service.
The goals would be to increase the overall library usage, which could be evaluated alongside the number of members who check out items from the LoT. It should be relatively straightforward to see how many library members are checking out items from the LoT on a weekly or monthly basis, and plan on expanding accordingly. For example, if there’s a high demand for checking out sewing machines the library could put out a call asking for donations or allocate funds for purchase. The library should seek out community members to tell their stories about using the LoT to learn a new skill, or to utilize items they would otherwise not have been able to afford, or to put on a special event using borrowed items. There’s a substantial opportunity for member stories around community engagement and library access.
Balch, O. (2016) Is the Library of Things an answer to our peak stuff problem?.
Brown, P. L. (2015) These Public Libraries Are for Snowshoes and Ukuleles.
City of Hillsboro, OR : Library of Things https://www.hillsboro-oregon.gov/libraryofthings
Clarke, S. (2015) Bike Library scheme looks to extend across Yorkshire.
Garrison, E. (2015). Borrow a sewing machine? Sacramento Public Library to start loaning more than books.
Hillsboro Libraries Library of Things YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcJy2k9jTPdIAw8e-g64RC5h53702G2F_
Michaelson, E. (2013). Toronto’s Kitchen Library Brings Appliances to All.