Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Library of Things

Once in a while, someone comes up with an idea, and you wonder why it wasn't thought of earlier. The Library of Things is one such example, a community membership based resource where you can borrow everything from a hammer to a lawn mower, a waffle maker to a gazebo, or even a ukulele. Up until now, the choice has been, borrowing from a friend or neighbour, and who knows how reliable that old drill at the back of their shed is? Or one of the commercial tool hire companies, where you will pay a much higher rate, and as far as I know, they don't tend to stock ukuleles.
The wizard idea for the Library of Things, was hatched by 3 friends: Rebecca Trevalyan, Sophia Wyatt, and Emma Shaw, who were inspired by a borrowing shop in Berlin, called Leila. And elsewhere, tool libraries have been set up in cities from Edinburgh to Toronto. Initially, Rebecca, Sophia and Emma set up a pilot scheme in West Norwood, funded by Lambeth. It worked on the basis of items donated by the community, much as its predecessor in Berlin does. This then led to a community shop created in shipping containers in Vale Street, West Norwood. It was run by volunteers, and had a total of 800 members, and 350 'things'. After this successful test run, it was decided to find the first site for a permanent Library of Things, and at this point the operation became a three way partnership between the Library of Things, Upper Norwood Library Hub, where the project was to be housed, and Crystal Palace Transition Town, which already had a proven track record in setting up local community based ventures, in particular the flourishing weekly food market in Haynes Lane.
One difference with the project's forbears, is that it was decided that rather than stocking donated goods, whose quality couldn't be guaranteed, the library should buy high quality new items with warranties in order to ensure successful repeat lending. Technical people on the team, ensure that everything is in good working order, and as well as lending things, the library even holds DIY classes, and mending sessions. So a crowdfunding campaign was started, which was enthusiastically backed not only by locals, but also by London's Mayor who chipped in £3,000 out of a total of £9300. The money went on purchasing all the 'things', and on building the display shelving and desk. On the library floor many of the staff members are volunteers, while behind the scenes, a paid core of staff, are developing the Library of Things as a platform, which could be rolled out in communities across London and beyond.
Only up and running since April, there are already 586 members, who pay £1 to join. The cost of borrowing an item ranges from £1 up to £20 a day, with the income helping to cover overhead costs, support the volunteers, with the the long term goal of being totally self-sufficient, and able to purchase new items for the library. Items come fully equipped with everything they need. For example, a carpet cleaner comes with enough cleaning tablets to do the whole job. 'How to' guides and videos are also available. You can either pop in to reserve items or book online. And it's proving popular, with almost everything having been borrowed at least once.
Such a simple idea, but it took the strength of local community organisations, and the input of key players, such as Joe Duggan of Transition Town, and members of the Upper Norwood Library Hub in support of Rebecca, Sophia, and Emma, to make it all happen. But from my experience of this little triangle in southeast London, it's the least I'd expect. So long may it thrive. Get up to the library on Westow Hill, and get borrowing!

The Library of Things is situated on the ground floor of the Upper Norwood Library building on Westow Hill

Volunteer, John Findlay

Community Director, Rebecca Trevalyan

Margaret Adjaye, Upper Norwood Library Hub

Chris Neath, Upper Norwood Library Hub

Alys Penfold, Community Activator

Emily Jewell, Upper Norwood Library Hub

Joe Duggan, Crystal Palace Transition Town

Go on! You know you've always wanted to play the ukulele!