A neighborhood tool library is beneficial to everyone


My friend Victoria is pretty handy with a hammer. And she has acquired a reasonably large collection of tools over the years. There are gaps in her tool box, but these don't faze her. When she needs a piece of equipment she doesn't have -- an extension ladder, let's say, or a jigsaw -- she strolls over and checks it out at the library.

The tool library, that is.

You see, her Seattle neighborhood of Phinney Ridge has a tool-lending library. It was started some 15 years ago, and it has contributed to every kind of home repair and remodeling job since then.

The Phinney tool library is not the only one of its kind. Several similar programs exist around the United States. Many of these other tool libraries are actually run out of public libraries.

If you live in the struggling, mostly low-income community of Wyandanch, N.Y., or in wealthy Grosse Point, Mich., or in counter-cultural Berkeley, Calif., for example, you can use your library card to check out plumbing equipment while you're checking out reading material.

The tool-sharing idea is a winner any way you look at it. It saves people money. It allows people with no money to make repairs and keep up their homes. And, from an environmental standpoint, it can help us with that first imperative of the three Rs -- Reduce. (As in, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.)

The fewer objects we each have to buy, no matter how worthy they are, the fewer we will eventually have to throw away. And most tools aren't exactly recyclable.

I know that not everyone is so fortunate as to live in Seattle, Wyandanch, Grosse Point or Berkeley. This doesn't mean you can't join a tool bank, though. It just means you have to start one, first.

Your tool-lending library can be as modest or as ambitious as you like. For example:

You live on a block of bungalows on a quiet street. The neighbors are friendly and know each other well enough to say hi. Buy some sodas and chips and invite them over after dinner one night. Propose an informal tool-sharing cooperative. Outline some ways you think it could work, and be open to alternatives.

If neighbors are interested, make sure you run through all the details before you set it in motion. Will owners keep their own tools in their own storage places, or will you designate someone's garage as the tool bank? Will tool owners retain ownership, or donate them to the bank? Who is responsible for repairs and maintenance? What happens when a tool breaks? How is an owner of a power tool to know that a borrower will use it safely? Get these details down in writing, and circulate the agreement.

Perhaps you live in a large apartment building. Call a meeting of the tenants' association. Propose a tool bank. Ask the building owner or manager to donate space. Circulate a letter asking tenants to write down tools, if any, they would be willing to donate. Pricey, finicky things like slide projectors might be best left out.

Establish ground rules. You move away? You get to "undonate" your set of socket wrenches. The airless paint spray gun jams? No blame is assigned and everyone pitches in to pay for repairs. Do you have to pay dues? Rent the tools for a modest sum?

Roger Faris runs the Well Home Program of the Phinney Neighborhood Association and operates the tool library. If you want more information about the program he runs, or need advice about the program you're starting, send him a self-addressed, stamped envelope at 6532 Phinney Ave. North, Seattle, Wash. 98103, or call him at 206-789-4993.

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