A few years ago I took part in a half day workshop to build outdoor furniture from pallets and it inspired me to get creative. After the workshop I was eager to get home and get creating, but there was a problem - I had no tools. If I wanted to buy all the tools I needed for my DIY projects, I'd be set back hundreds of dollars. And being realistic, I knew I'd only really use those tools a few times a year. So I started looking at other ways I could access tools.
I came across the concept of a tool library. A tool library is just like a book library, but loans out tools and other useful equipment.
They have all of the expected items like hammers, drills, circular saws, angle grinders. The idea isn't new, with dozens already running across North America and Europe. When I first discovered them, there were only two in Australia, and none in Sydney where I live, so I started my own tool library for my community. It's called the Inner West Tool Library and it also has extra items like camping gear, a marquee and go-pro style waterproof camera!
I love explaining the concept to people who have never heard of tool libraries - that light bulb moment when they finally get it. The amount of times I've heard "oh, that's SUCH a good idea! I don't need to have a [insert almost any item here], I only use it once a year"
Why are tool libraries so good?
If everyone in Sydney buys one less thing this year - a drill, a tent, a vacuum cleaner - and is able to share the ones that already exist, that is five million fewer things that need to be produced. Tool libraries form part of the sharing economy, a way to make the most of the available resources - reducing greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to social equity and creating more connected and resilient communities.
Did you know that the average power drill is used for only 13 minutes in its lifetime?. We can change this by sharing the things that already exist, meaning less resources needed to make new things and less waste going to landfill. That's a big tick for the environment!
Tool libraries are also a great way to meet your neighbours and learn new skills. Last year the Inner West Tool library was highly commended for a state Community Spirit award, which really shows that community and borrowing go hand in hand. It's so great to see volunteers and members hanging out at the library on a Saturday morning, sharing stories on their newest project and learning from each other.
There are also the obvious economic benefits for the community too. By joining the library, members pay less than $1.50 a week and have access to hundreds of things, saving them money by borrowing rather than buying. Throughout everything we do though, the underlying message is about behaviour change – to help people understand the concept of sharing, working together and rethinking how they consume, "I do not need a drill, I need a hole in the wall."
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This is going straight to the pool room. Or the garage.. We were Highly commended for Community Spirit and Inclusion at the @kab_nsw awards! 🥳 The spirit in this community is pretty amazing 💜 . . . #toollibrary #borrowdontbuy #community #iwtl #award #sharingeconomy #innerwestisbest
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How I set up the Inner West Tool Library with my community
We've certainly had our fair share of challenges setting up the tool library. We all work full time and volunteer in the evenings and weekends to keep the library open. It's well known that volunteers burn out, keeping a strong and dedicated team can be hard. Finding somewhere to house the Inner West Tool Library was also difficult - space in the inner city is not easy to come by. It took well over a year of speaking to different spaces and organisations around the inner west suburbs of Sydney to finally connect with the Petersham Bowling Club where we are located, and we couldn't be happier! They are a fantastic community run organisation and 'get' what we are about.
Money to set up the tool library was another hurdle but thanks to our local council, we received a small grant to help set up. This went towards getting some of our volunteers qualified to test and tag electrical items, to keep our library safe, as well as buying some good quality key tools. Ongoing funding for day to day operations can still be a struggle. The government at local and state levels is certainly starting to understand the importance of these local initiatives, as they are a key part of the circular economy and a great service to the local community, but the needed support is not quite there yet.
Despite these challenges, the Inner West Tool Library has made a significant positive local impact! We recently celebrated our first year in operation and have wildly exceeded our own expectations with nearly 200 members,1100 completed loans and a highly engaged and supportive community. We have saved our members $500 each, on average, by enabling them to borrow tools and equipment rather than buying. Our top borrower saved a massive $2,200. The more than 250 items donated to the tool library by the community equates to one tonne of waste saved from landfill, and four tonnes of new products that did not have to be manufactured.
Organisations like tool libraries are key to building resilient communities. During the recent bushfires, I was contacted by a small community that was heavily affected. With the help of various community members, we were able to donate a bunch of excess tools we had to help them rebuild. I am also speaking with a couple of locals from Nymboida, which was badly impacted by the bushfires, helping advise them on how to set up a tool library in their community. Sharing goes far beyond physical things. I want to share the knowledge of how to set up and run libraries like this - every community should have access to one. One thing I'm looking into now is which tools and equipment women should share with each other and why, if you have any great ideas please leave them in the comments below!
How to get involved with the Inner West Tool Library
- Become a member. Yearly membership for the IWTL is $75, or $50 for concession, allowing you access to everything in the library. You can check out our full inventory online.
- Volunteer with us! Learn new skills, meet awesome people and help keep the library running for the community.
- Donate tools and equipment. If you have good quality things gathering dust in the corner of your shed, think of donating them to the library so the whole community can make use of them.
The sharing movement is growing, with libraries from Melbourne to Brisbane. If there isn't one already in your community, why not start one!
There are enough 'things' in this world already - lets share the things that already exist.
Written by Amy Croucher
Often described as having infectious energy, Amy is highly motivated to get things done! During the week she works in sustainability, with a particular interest in waste prevention through sharing and reuse. She loves connecting with engaged communities and thrives on seeing connections made and the amazing ideas, projects and collaborations that result.
Header image by Angela Padovan