General Purpose Tools

Tool Lending Libraries

Borrowable Tools

A decade ago some community librarians in California initiated a great idea: why not lend tools as well as books? The idea slowly spread to a couple of dozen other US towns, but the most active and well-stocked tool libraries are still in the Bay Area — one in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. The typical tool lending library offers basic hand tools, and a selection of garden, landscaping and construction tools. The hot items with waiting lists at the San Francisco Tool Lending Library (now in the middle of a move to a new location on Howard Street) are heavy duty power tools. The top four borrowings are: an electric jack hammer, a drain snake for clearing sewage lines, an electric weed wacker (the library only deals with electrical tools, no gas), and rotary impact drills. There are racks of shovels, rakes, stampers, crow bars, pliers, and the usual shop tools, but the Saws-alls, belt sanders, wet tile saws, and other not-so-often needed tools get the most rotation. Many of these occasional tools are what you might find at a tool rental shop; indeed anyone with a city library card — including contractors — can, and do, borrow tools for the maximum 3 days.

Lending tools, like planting trees, is unalloyed goodness. Tool Lending Libraries are a great idea that should be duplicated everywhere. The biggest cost is not the tools but the liability insurance for the power tools. Patrons are pretty good at returning things in good order — they want to be able to use ’em again.

Check your local system to see if they have one up and running. If they don’t, start one. If you live in the Bay Area head for one of the two below. [Thanks to Charlie Bremmer for the reminder.]

-- KK 06/17/04

(The San Francisco Tool Lending Library is no longer open, though there is some community support to bring it back. -cc — editors)

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