Special to Going Green
Ever buy a tool for a specific repair job and then never, ever use it again? Well, thanks to an ingenious collaboration between the town of Southwick’s department of public works and its public library, residents of that Hampden County town can now use their library cards to borrow from a communal selection of tools, rather than having to buy.
This green idea happened when the DPW shared a purchasing grant for handy tools residents might need. The library cataloged the items and now circulates them for loan.
“The library’s not just books,” Southwick Public Library Director Lynn Blair said. “We have tools. We have fun stuff like an ice cream maker. We have digital resources. We’re moving from the traditional to keeping up with trends and seeing what people want.”
This particular trend – cultivating a collection of unique, wildly practical items available for public loan – has been spreading to local libraries across Western Massachusetts. They’re calling these quirky caches their “Library of Things.”
Basically, a Library of Things is a grassroots rewrite of our consumer economy. Rather than buying everything we use, communities now have an organized system for lending, instead. A Library of Things works something like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement. When a library cardholder needs, say, a posthole digger, they magically (well, almost) find one at their public library. The patron uses it, then returns it for the next good neighbor who wants to build a fence.
“Instead of going out and buying something, you can borrow it for a week and bring it back. If you need it again, it’s still here,” Blair said. “We have these items people can use. Hopefully, it reduces waste.”
“Sharing is a big part of this,” Blair continued. “It’s reducing the number of things people have to buy. It’s less clutter for the house; it’s less clutter everywhere. And there’s a lot of sharing that goes on between libraries, too.”
Not all Library of Things items are available through interlibrary loan, but many are so it’s always worth inquiring.
Common Library of Things items include children’s games, learning kits, DVDs and audiobooks. But individual Libraries of Things also accumulate objects reflecting the interests of each community. For example, Southwick’s Library of Things is a helpful hodgepodge that includes an electric sander, a ratchet wrench set, a dinosaur-shaped cake pan, a heavy-duty tarp, a digital soil pH reader, and an absolutely awesome Orion Starblast 4.5 Altazimuth Reflector tabletop telescope.
None of that’s traditional library fare, but really, who needs their own plastic pipe cutter (yes, they have that too) if they’re only going to use it once?
Forbes Library of Things in Northampton catalogs 18 different musical instruments including bongo drums, a mountain dulcimer, and a choice of acoustic, electric-acoustic, or electric guitars. They loan synthesizers and audio recording equipment for would-be podcasters, and patrons can receive free or reduced-price admission to 20 different museums. NoHo’s Library of Things also includes Hoopla and Kanopy streaming services, free with a library card.
Meanwhile, Greenfield Public Library loans a “Kill-a-Watt” device so patrons can measure how much energy each appliance in their house uses. They also circulate “Book Club in a Box” kits, and they offer free tech assistance whenever they can.
Chicopee Public Library lends out Wi-Fi hot spots, and they have an alphabetized seed library that their patrons add to, or take from, at will. Meanwhile, Deerfield’s Tilton Library offers a sewing machine for loan, and Shutesbury’s Spear Memorial Library keeps kayaks – with accessories – so residents can paddle on Lake Wyola.
“Libraries of Things benefit all of us,” Leverett Library Director Natane Halasz said. “They are good for our planet by decreasing waste and landfill. They are good for our personal finances by allowing us to borrow rather than purchase an item we use infrequently [or want] to ‘try before we buy.’ And, by providing access to items that may be out of reach for some people, they help strengthen our communities.”
“One of our reasons for being is sharing materials. We have these shared resources for the entire community,” Agawam Public Library Director Nancy Siegel said. Among other things, her library lends out artwork that patrons hang at home until its time to swap for something else.
Over the last two decades, Pioneer Valley libraries have reinvented themselves for continued relevance in a digital world. They make technology publically accessible. They lead classes and bring arts and education programs to the communities they serve. They’ve become community centers and communal office spaces. In the light-speed start to this millennium, they’ve shed their whispering, stodgy persona to create a culture where residents borrow, share, contribute, and commune rather than voraciously consume.
In short, Blair said, “We do it all!”
Though her library’s services are constantly evolving, she emphasized one thing likely to remain the same.
“We’re a library. We love our books,” Blair said. “We’re never going to give up our books.”
By the way, you can borrow those at your library, too.