Library becomes a tool for the handy


Working as a librarian has taught former blacksmith and Vietnam veteran Walter Rave that the public often acts like a spoiled brat and that real librarians are servants possessed of virtue and valor.

In a field that typically demands a master's degree, Mr. Rave has never taken a course in library science. And, though the public library he runs in Takoma Park has more than a few books, it really exists to lend tools -- belt sanders, drain snakes, lawn mowers, electric drills and long-handled spades.

"People get so short-tempered when you try to tell them how to use the tool before they take it home," says Mr. Rave, 49. "I'm just trying to make sure the tools last and are used properly. What I get in return is: 'Just give it to me so I can get out of here.'

"That hurts," says Mr. Rave. an artisan whose self-confessed naivete about human behavior causes him frequent pain. "It's not every city that has a tool library."

He's right. If Mr. Rave visits the Takoma Park Public Library to sing the professional blues to librarians there and does research on special libraries, he'd find there are public tool lending libraries in Berkeley, Calif.; Chicago; and New York. Other cities let residents to borrow fishing rods, prom dresses and, in Quincy, Mass., a hamster.

"Just serving the public," explains Linda K. Wallace, spokeswoman for the American Library Association.

The 16,700 residents of Takoma Park have been served by the city's tool library since 1979, when a citizens committee recommended that a federal grant be used to establish it. Only Takoma Park residents and property owners are permitted to use it.

The tool library is a low-budget operation. It's housed in a trailer behind the municipal building at 7500 Maple Ave. In addition to Mr. Rave's $10.50-an-hour salary for a 12-hour week, the city spends $300 to $600 a year on tool replacement. "The tools are lasting longer because I fix them so they last longer," says Mr. Rave. "At home, I buy or make top-of-the-line tools and treat them gently. That's not the reality of people who use the tool library. I guess that anything you don't sweat for isn't valued."

Mr. Rave, who maintains that the upper middle class has less regard for public property than other people, knows he can get sympathy at the public library across the street.

"They tell me that the minute they check out certain books, they know they'll never see them again," says Mr. Rave. "I couldn't believe that they have the most trouble getting people to return maternity books. It's just another example of naive, stupid Walter being shown the way the world really is."


The Takoma Park Tool Library, at 7500 Maple Ave., is open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Friday and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Phone: (301) 589-8274.

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