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

Vice

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).

More support

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.  

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 via hello@edinburghtoollibrary.org.uk if you want to be invited.

Scotland/UK Network and contact details

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ETL is part of a working group that is 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’re in the process of starting a sharing library and would like more info, 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 (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).

There may be versions of this in other parts of the UK and/or world, but we can’t track them all – get your Google on!

Above all, please 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 to.


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