What if there were a place you could go, right in your neighborhood, where – for a small annual membership fee – tools would be stored for community use, maintained by an awesome volunteer staff, and available for checkout by little old YOU whenever you need them?
What if your neighborhood had a TOOL LIBRARY?
Tacoma gets tools
Well, Tacoma, Washington just hit the jackpot. Their brand new tool library, which opened its doors in March, was started when a group of volunteers like Rebecca Solverson got involved. Solverson, a public art specialist, was a new homeowner and had started thinking about how much she and her neighbors had to gain from sharing tools with each other. She knew that Seattle and Portland both had tool libraries already, and wanted to fill the gap in between.
“I’m a homeowner,” says Solverson, “so that’s why I got involved in this. I’m sick of buying tools. And as a woman, I’m excited to have a place where I can learn and build my own skill set. We’re not motivated by selling any product, so we can give good advice and just be a place to tinker and learn.” The library’s steering committee board members, she says, come from a wide range of backgrounds. That diversity was important to her and to the founding team; they want to be truly accessible to all parts of their community.
“We have a good mix of people who are in apartments and don’t want to have to store tools, and also we’re signing up a lot of new homeowners who are fixing up houses, and then folks who have been in the neighborhood a long time,” explains Solverson of the membership so far. “Almost all of our tool bank is donated, and we have a great collection of tools. We have some tall ladders, some compressors, which are expensive to buy or rent, we have a chainsaw, lawnmowers, all kinds of hand tools, a bunch of clamps – which you may only need for one job, but when you need ’em, you need ’em.”
On the library wish list are: a safe set of scaffolding, some sturdy wheelbarrows, portable sewing machines, and a commercial-grade plumbing snake for sink and shower drains.
“Imagine,” says Solverson, “if you could save several hundred dollars by being able to borrow a commercial grade plumbing snake, and avoid having to bring your plumber out.” Not to mention avoiding dumping corrosive chemicals down your drain, to burn out the hair and grime. “When you don’t do preventative stuff,” says Solverson, “and you get to a point where you can’t use your drain, it’s easy to have a weak moment and dump a bunch of poison down.” The tool library is all about providing members with not only the tools they need, but also the knowledge and enthusiasm to get in there and use them.
Don’t write a check – check out a tool!
So how much do members save? “I think if you’re using the library,” says Solverson, “you’ll save thousands of dollars in a year. And it’s a $40 suggested donation to join. You don’t actually have to donate if you can’t afford it. Just a safe new ladder is going to cost upwards of $300 on its own. Tools are very expensive, and sometimes you only need them once. We had someone come in on Saturday who’d just signed on a house the day before. They’re strapped for cash right now, because they just signed their life away on a mortgage, and they’re like ‘I don’t know how we would have done this if didn’t have this resource.’”
One early member was an owner of a small, homegrown cosmetics company called Espionage. Wild colors are their thing. They’d just moved to a new storefront space, and knew they were going to have to get a little DIY about things. “I never thought that we would be serving businesses,” says Solverson, “and certainly not a cosmetics company. But it’s been great, and because we existed, they were able to save that money and do the work themselves, and they’re holding a little tool drive for us, in gratitude.”
You’ve got the tools. Now what?
Now the library’s board is thrilled to be offering a range of awesome classes and workshops to members. Last week they pulled in a professional who installs rain barrels, to teach a workshop on rain collection. Coming up are a regular series of “Ask A Contractor Nights” and “Drop In Nights” as well as one-off workshops on things like rebuilding soggy stairs, basic woodworking skills, sewing, and even earthquake-proofing your home.
“There’s some things you can look out for that are pretty quick to do and easy to do, and could be lifesavers,” explains Solverson. “Make sure your water heater is secure, so that if there’s an earthquake, you have a source of fresh water. You want to make sure your house is strapped to your foundation correctly, and make sure your bookshelves are anchored to the wall.” Sounds to us like info worth having!
The team is open to collaboration in almost any form you can think of, so if you live in the area, get your ideas flowing. “We’re starting with folks who are experts,” says Solverson, “and then getting our system down for how to accept suggestions for classes. We also have the space that other organizations can come in and use as needed. However we can be resourceful and resilient and save money and learn to do things ourselves is what we’re about. Just going to Home Depot and asking the guy – you’re not going to get out of there with much more knowledge or with the same amount of money in your pocket.”
What you can do
- Donate to the Tacoma Tool Library’s ioby campaign! They’ve got 17 days left to raise $1,000 more towards keeping the cost of summer series workshops low, hiring contractors for Ask A Contractor Nights, keeping the lights on in the space, and buying materials.
- This one is easy. Join the library team and community for a grand opening party on May 14 – details here.
- Become a Tacoma Tool Library member.
- Volunteer at the library.
- Start your own. This one is the whole enchilada. It took the Tacoma team one year to organize, mobilize, create their starter tool collection, and secure their space. Sounds to us like they had some pretty major fun doing it. You up to the challenge?
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.
Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news:
Last year, we challenged people just like you to dream up ways that their towns’ and cities’ public transportation systems could be better, greener, and more fun – and then raise the money to do it! You would not believe the awesome projects they came up with. Check out this short video about an Atlanta resident who teamed up with MARTA to spruce up local bus stops. And then tell us your idea to improve transit (we have match fund$): ioby.org/trip!