Eden Library of Things

Do you think we should set up a Library of Things / Tool Library / Share Shop eg in Penrith?

Can we share the world's resources?
Can we share the world's resources?

I started thinking about this as a group I help run (PACT - Penrith Action for Community Transition) has various things that could be shared: some of these are things we've bought – others are things we've been given (to share with Freegle and others):

  • digital projector
  • projector screen
  • display boards
  • gazebo
  • two tables
  • pallet splitter

I also know that PACT has previously borrowed a video camera long-term from CAfS - very gratefully made use of. And banners and other publicity have been shared between Freegle groups and between organisations.

What's the best way of making best use of our resources? Sharing things so that we each don't need to own one makes sense, both in terms of reducing the number of things that are made and reducing the overall cost for those involved. With shared things, perhaps a better quality and longer lasting item can be bought – and which could be repaired rather than recycled or thrown away when broken.

PACT still wants to make use of these items from time to time but certainly not every day, so it would be great if we could make those available to others – and we have done this occasionally – and we've sometimes had a donation to say thanks. But what happens if the projector gets lost or broken say. It's unlikely but it's bound to happen at some point. A replacement bulb isn't too pricey (whoever pays for it) but replacing the whole thing will cost hundreds of pounds. Obviously PACT can't expect something like this to last forever and it could be us that breaks it. We're not sufficiently sophisticated to set aside a sum each year to fund its replacement.

Freegle help us make the most of things, but items are handed on to someone else when we are done with it. Freegle doesn't allow people to borrow or loan things – so as to avoid the problems if it goes wrong – and we wouldn't want Freegle itself to have to bear the replacement cost and it would be a fuss for local volunteers to sort out.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to share more - and there are various existing ways that do this, everything from public libraries, renting out a spare room to many online tools. Borrowing a book from a library is free, but they will usually charge the replacement cost for a lost book. It's usually fairly clear who's responsible for what when you rent a flat, but I know of cases where the landlord has been reluctant to fix things that they should.

New online systems drive this “sharing economy” or collaborative consumption.  Often online tools undercut existing ways of doing things, eg making it cheaper to get places and enabling you to earn something from a spare room, though often with the concern that the workers get a raw deal or things aren't as safe. It could be said that all human development has been about sharing out the jobs – it makes sense for me to do some IT, you be a nurse and someone else to empty the bins, with much stuff manufactured by machines and by people elsewhere in the world. It could be said that we've become too successful and that we are using up the world's resources and polluting the natural world – and sooner or later this is going to hurt us as we run out of energy or our crops don't get pollinated – as well as impoverish the natural world.

The pressure to have the latest TV or phone adds to the pressure on resources. If you do feel the need to upgrade, please make sure someone else can use your old device. I'm writing this piece on a reconditioned laptop that has served me well. And don't forget that phones can sometimes be repaired – and manufacturers such as FairPhone are making it easier to replace parts.

Online tools for sharing have been around for a while: both sharing our own items and organisations that have a “library” of items to borrow, usually for a fee like a hire shop. Some such as StreetBank and NextDoor build a community in a very local area, so sharing should happen between neighbours who can hopefully sort out any problems face to face. I'm also told that LETS has been successfully used to borrow items.

There are various non-for-profit organisations across the world that have a stock of items for community use, eg a tool library. These are usually more than just a hire shop as they have a community ethos and perhaps train apprentices.

Would you use a tool library?
Would you use a tool library?

So would a library of things work eg in Penrith? Would you use it? Would you help run it? How and how much would it charge – a membership fee or a cost per item?

The good news is that there is some free software from lend-engine.com in Bristol that can be added to a website to record users, items and transactions. This sounds like a massive help to get us started.

We would need some premises to store our stuff, though this could simply be a lockable space in a shared building. The premises would probably need to be free or pretty cheap as we wouldn't have vast finances to start with. It would also need to be within easy reach of potential users – so an existing community building would be ideal.

We would need to work out when to open, both when users would want to borrow and return items, and also when we can get staff or volunteers to run it. Using volunteers sounds a great way to get started – we'd have to offer something nice to encourage people to help out.

We would need to get a stock of items to lend – which could cost a lot – though could ask for donations from individuals or businesses.

What money do we need to get started? There may be some grants to get started, but will that be enough?

Similar ventures often have other aspects to their offering such as apprenticeship scheme, community repair or upcycling workshops. Could we work alongside an existing scheme?

There would be other tricky things to sort out, such as what to do if an item breaks, what insurance cover to have, electrical safety testing and what organisation or legal structure will run it. We'd need a core group of people to make it happen, both engaging with the local community and handling the nitty gritty to get it set up. What's crucial buzz that's going to make this work?

More information:

Images from openclipart - thanks!


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