The Library of Things Movement—Cutting Waste, Reclaiming Local Economies and Community

by Vins

Gone are the days when libraries lent out books and little else. Imagine going into a library that, in addition to books, also offers power tools, kitchen appliances, camping gear, party supplies, sports equipment, musical instruments, and more. You wouldn’t have to buy, repair or store infrequently used items. You’d have access to a much wider variety of goods than you could ever own, and you could easily share things with neighbors. This is the idea behind “Library of Things,” as described in a December 2021 article by Cat Johnson for Shareable.

In the age of COVID policies and politics, Libraries of Things are one solution to a world fragmented by economic hardship, social division, and a diminishing sense of community. More than just access to stuff, Libraries of Things foster community, relationship building, and local empowerment by offering classes and spaces where people can share not just things, but also ideas and skills. The best Libraries of Things start out building a place to borrow and share things—and end up become a place for community, from workshops, events, public forums, to game nights.

It’s not just in a few communities doing it for the environmental impact; it’s all of society, with governments getting on board, and growth in Europe that’s even faster than in United States and Canada. The Sharing Depot in Toronto recently moved from a basement space to ground-floor retail that allows people just walking down the block to see, and covet, the things they can borrow. Co-locating in community centers, public libraries, or even in schools or universities can provide a way to tap into existing foot traffic as well. The Missoula Urban Development project runs a Tool and Kitchen Library out of multiple shipping containers, the London Library of Things also just opened in a reclaimed shipping container. DeDeelkelder in Utrect, Netherlands allows you to paddle right up to the Library of Things as they operate out of what used to be wharf storage space that has been converted into a community resource, and more recently, out of a pop-up shop.

Libraries of Things are part of the sharing economy that supports a cleaner, cheaper, and more sustainable future. In a sharing economy, goods and services are traded among individuals, helping reduce consumption and waste, while providing access to items many people cannot afford to purchase.

Despite the potential for Libraries of Things to catalyze social connection and economic reform across the country, especially in during COVID, this story has only been covered by a few local news sites and not by any corporate news platform. In April 2019 the Guardian ran an in-depth article on the topic.

Source: Cat Johnson, “How to Start a Library of Things,” Shareable, December 16, 2021.

Student Researcher: Jayda Flenory (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)