Advice for new sharing libraries

Edinburgh Tool Library

So… you’re thinking of setting up a sharing library?

That’s a brilliant idea! Probably the best one you’ve had this week at the very least 🙂

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Simple, not easy

 It’s a brilliant and simple idea. Chris had the same one in early 2014. But simple doesn’t mean easy. And that’s why it’s good you’re reading this. We have lots of advice to share and want to encourage you as much as possible.

The Edinburgh Tool Library was the first sharing library in the UK, but we leaned heavily on our more experienced brothers and sisters in the USA and Canada.  We visited Toronto and Berlin to see similar operations before even starting out in Edinburgh, and at this point we want to be as encouraging as possible, but we want to be real with you too.  IT IS NOT EASY!

You will need:

  • strong negotiating skills
  • the ability to build relationships and trust
  • great perseverance
  • moral support
  • a community that needs and wants it too
  • other people to share the load
  • the drive to keep going when the chips are down
  • a sense of humour
  • enthusiasm
  • to be prepared to volunteer your time

Still reading on?  Not been discouraged?  Good, you’re the kind of determined, tenacious person that should run a sharing library.  The good news is that sharing libraries are amazing, fun, ingenious communities of lovely people, and the place you live is going to be better off for your efforts.  There is also an incredible global community of over 400 libraries now, and given that we are all into sharing, the resources that you need are out there already.

Reading List

As you can imagine, we get lots of enquiries regarding setting up new libraries, so we thought we would share a list of resources that will give you a solid introduction to the world of sharing libraries. Soak it up all!

Firstly, check out this great Shareable article which may answer a lot of your questions about initial set up.

There was also a really handy article on the Moneycrashers website which looks at some top tips, and what you’ll need to get going to start a tool library.

The Ellen McArthur Foundation are big news in the circular economy, and do a lot of research relevant to sharing libraries. They came up with the ‘butterfly diagram’ which you will start to see a lot of, and there is an excellent article on their website about our pals at the Toronto Tool Library.

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MyTurn is the platform of choice for most sharing libraries’ inventories, and is what we use at ETL. They’re responsive, have been super nimble during the covid pandemic, and their CEO, Gene, is a former tool librarian, so he knows what we all need. They also support libraries with updates, regular newsletter and help section on their website to demonstrate new innovations on the platform.

Common Questions

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At this point, you probably still haven’t had all your questions answered… Who is your insurance with? Should I buy new tools? What if they don’t come back? What tools don’t you lend out? Annual membership or pay per loan?

We get these all the time and we say:

  • Keegan & Pennykid
  • You can, but it’s not really the point is it?  You will have more than you need very quickly.  If you have a small tool budget, use it to plug gaps or buy high use items (drills, circular saws, jigsaws)
  • Occasionally they don’t come back.  This is part of the risk, but is very unusual (4 times for ETL in 22,000 loans) 
  • Chainsaws, Stihl saws, anything you would need a qualification to use in a job
  • Annual membership and all loans are free

More support

Another great resource is the ‘National Tool Library Group’ on Google Groups.  It’s a forum of over 1000 tool librarians and has an archive of all the questions previously asked.  

To avoid duplication of work for sharing libraries who all receive similar requests, we have been working alongside the Oxford Library of Things and Borrow Don’t Buy in Plymouth to do FAQ Zoom sessions every couple of months with several start up libraries at a time. Get in touch if you want to be invited.

Scotland/UK Network and contact details

ETL is part of a working group collating a list of UK sharing libraries so we can develop a network of support to help start-ups and promote sharing as a way to address the social and environmental crises we are facing.  If you decide to take this idea further, please drop us an email (chris@edinburghtoollibrary.org.uk) and say hi, with your location, contact details and what stage you are at. You can also ask to be added to our Zoom FAQ then too.

If you live in Scotland, and would like to arrange a visit, you can apply to the Scottish Community Alliance for funding to visit (and cover the cost of our time too).

Or there is the possibility of virtual meetings by applying through a different fund from the same organisation.


There are probably versions for other parts of the UK and/or world, but we can’t do all the work for you – get your Google on!

Above all, bear in mind that we have to focus on our own tool library. Chris has limited availability, but he will help as much as he is able. 

Good luck on this amazing journey, it’s not an easy one but it’s definitely worth it!