Start a Tool Library in Your Community

by Lisa Mastny   |   May 9, 2011

Tool Library 2

Ever had to borrow a power drill from your neighbor, or wished that your local rental store had a better selection of sledgehammers or tile saws? 

More and more communities are setting up tool-lending libraries that allow members to borrow tools, equipment, and "how-to" materials, either for free or for a modest fee. While some tool libraries are open to individual homeowners or tenants, others are reserved for use by community-based organizations that engage in volunteer and facility-maintenance projects.

One of the first tool libraries was the Berkeley Tool Lending Library, which started in 1979 with a $30,000 community block grant. Some tool libraries, like the West Seattle Tool Library, provide tools and resources to encourage sustainable urban living. 

Others lend out equipment for home energy auditing, sell low-cost recycled building materials, offer seminars on DIY projects, and provide community woodworking facilities that can be rented for classes and activities. Many tool libraries also welcome donations of useful, working tools by community members.

Looking for a model to use in your community? Check out...

Berkeley Tool Lending Library
The Berkeley Tool Lending Library offers thousands of tools for free to city residents and property owners. Borrowers must be over the age of 18, and no more than 10 items may be borrowed at any one time. First-time borrowers must present photo ID, a Berkeley Public Library card, and a recent utility bill in their name.

Rebuilding Together Central Ohio Tool Library
Originally run by the City of Columbus, the RTCO Tool Library is now operated by a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and revitalize homes and communities in Central Ohio. The library makes available over 200 different types of hand and power tools—4,500 tools in total—free of charge to both individuals and nonprofit organizations. Tools are loaned for periods of 1, 3, or 7 days, depending on the item. Read a useful list of specific policies.

West Seattle Tool Library
The West Seattle Tool Library is a project of Sustainable West Seattle and was made possible by a neighborhood grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The community-led project provides "pay-what-you-can" community access to a wide range of tools, training, and relevant advice. Serving as a green alternative to individual tool ownership, the tool library aims to inspire members to participate in community efforts such as park restoration and to pursue sustainability through projects like backyard gardens, home energy improvements, and water harvesting.

Silicon Valley Power’s Tool Lending Library
Hosted by the local utility in the City of Santa Clara, the tool library focuses specifically on tools that can help residents save energy and track their power usage. For example, borrowers can learn how much it costs to run their refrigerators, track lighting usage in a given room, reduce drafts, and more.

Additional Resources

New Dream Video: Berkeley Tool Lending Library

New Dream Webinar: How to Start a Tool Library

The Next American Dream: Library Puts Tools in People's Hands (American Public Media)

Tool Libraries Lend DIYers a Hand
(Chicago Tribune)

Library Dispenses Tools and Home-Repair Advice
(Berkeley Daily Planet)