By Patrick Dunn
SWS Board Member & West Seattle Tool Library Founder
It might seem a little risky to lend out a bunch of power tools to those who probably don’t know how to use them. After all, tools can be dangerous, people can be idiots, and we live in an exceptionally litigious society. For some strange but very understandable reason, those concerns alone have been more than enough to effectively end many community tool libraries before they even start.
As the sharing economy continues to blossom, however, more communities are overcoming that inherent fear and establishing lending libraries to embrace the beautiful benefits of sharing with neighbors. Through Google groups, starter kits, and incubator workshops, new tool libraries now have the ability to overcome their inherent concerns by learning from the experiences of many who have come before them.
Though it seems like a relatively unique idea, around 40 community tool libraries already exist throughout the United States, from Philadelphia to Seattle and south to Oakland and New Orleans. Each has its own unique flavor but most operate roughly the same way by accepting tool donations from the community and then lending those tools out for free—or nearly free—to anyone capable of presenting an ID and signing a waiver. Through that basic setup, some tool libraries have been happily participating in the sharing economy for over 20 years.
While most tool libraries are more than willing to share whatever they’ve learned, a handful of libraries have recently led the charge towards making it increasingly easy for even the most cautious and underfunded communities to take up the challenge. Strangely enough, these libraries happen to be some of the youngest.
In like fashion, the founders of The West Seattle Tool Library, myself included, also felt compelled to share everything we were learning in the planning and management of our own tool library. Since the first day we starting planning the project, our hope was to develop The West Seattle Tool Library into an easily replicable model for any individuals and organizations interested in starting their own version.
“The biggest reward for me is being a part of the amazing community of tool libraries, as well as all the makers, fixers, artisans, and neighbor s who use them,” says Gene Homicki, one of The West Seattle Tool Library’s founders, “I wanted to encourage that community’s growth by making sure that everyone who is interested in tool libraries has access to all the resources they needed.”
With that in mind, The West Seattle Tool Library set about creating a tool library starter kit. Our hope was that this kit would effectively comfort the worrisome souls who were either intimidated by the numerous details of the planning process or quite appropriately concerned about safety, liability, and security. The result of those efforts recently became its very own project, Share Starter, which has now hosted a handful of tool library incubator sessions as well as developed a free starter kit.