Advice for new sharing libraries

Members in the Workshop

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

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.

Simple, not easy

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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.

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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 all up!

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

2. 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 need. They also support libraries with updates, a regular newsletter, and they even have a resources page on their website for anyone thinking of starting a sharing library.

3. The Ellen McArthur Foundation has done a lot of research relevant to sharing libraries and is a big contributor to the circular economy world. They came up with the ‘butterfly diagram’ which you will start to see a lot of (it’s below), and there is an excellent article on their website about our pals at the Toronto Tool Library.

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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? Do you do annual memberships 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 likely have more than you need pretty quickly through donations or secondhand sources. If you do have a budget for new tools, use it to plug gaps or to buy high use items (for us those are drills, circular saws, and jigsaws).
  • Occasionally they don’t come back. This is part of the risk, but it is actually very unusual (4 times for ETL in 22,000 loans).
  • Chainsaws, Stihl saws – basically anything you would need a qualification for to use in a job.
  • Our members pay for an annual membership and then all loans are free (though we do charge a late fee for tools that aren’t returned on time).

Scottish Share and Repair Network

If you are based in Scotland, you should reach out to Emma Erwin, the Share And Repair Network Coordinator at and you’ll be invited to join any upcoming calls.

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

More support beyond Scotland

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If you are based in Wales, we recommend you to reach out to Benthyg, the Welsh national network or sharing libraries.

If you are based in England or Northern Ireland, please feel free to get in touch and we will pass your details on to the UK Sharing network that is in its early stages. Whilst ETL is an active part of the UK group, the Scottish Share & Repair Network funding is Scotland specific. We are pushing for a similar body to cover other areas of the UK too (Scottish and Welsh libraries are welcome to connect with the UK group).

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. If you’re in the process of starting a sharing library and would like more info, you can ask to be added to our Zoom FAQ then too. Please drop us an email ( and say hi, with your location, contact details and what stage you are at.

Another great resource is the National Tool Library Group on Google Groups. It’s an active forum where more than 1,000 tool librarians trade advice and they also have an archive of all the questions previously asked.

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