Tool Library

Susan Carey, chair of the Urban Food Working Group at Transition Guelph, holds some of the hand tools, kitchen tools and seed packs soon to be available as part of the organization’s latest projects.

Originally published in the Guelph Mercury at
By Doug Coxson

Susan Carey wants you to take a moment to consider the inch of dust collecting on the mitre saw in your basement.

While you’re at it, ponder the waste-of-space wheelbarrow in your garden shed; or the rototiller you’ve always wanted but couldn’t justify buying.

By the way, did you to know the average lifetime use for a power drill is only 13 minutes?

In other words — you don’t need a drill, you need a hole in the wall.

Carey, who chairs the Urban Food Working Group at
Transition Guelph, thought about these and other realities as she and co-conspirator John Dennis discussed the possibility of launching a tool library over the last year.

What’s a tool library, you ask?

It’s a library where you borrow tools instead of books.

Instead of forking out $200 for a reciprocating saw that will end up gathering dust between uses, you could join a tool library and get the tools you need, when you need them, at a fraction of the cost.

Many who buy into the concept end up donating tools to free up space in their homes.

“It’s such a good fit for this town,” says Carey, who was inspired by Transition Guelph’s mandate to build a resilient and sustainable community.

It’s also a good fit for Transition Guelph — the eight-year-old, not-for-profit organization that has spawned innovative projects like urban farm tours, a seed exchange, a community orchard and the Urban Sugaring Project, which loans out buckets and taps for residents to collect sap and participate in a communal boil-down of maple syrup.

The tool library concept grew from Guelph’s backyard-sharing program, created to expand the inventory of backyard space available for community gardens, and the tools needed to maintain them.

It sparked the idea to create a system where residents could pay a small, annual fee for the opportunity to reserve agricultural tools through an easy-to-use website, then pick them up and return them to a central location.

But it’s not a new concept. The first tool library opened in Berkeley, Calif., in 1979. Today, there are close to 120 tool libraries around the world, Toronto having the second one in Canada.

In Guelph, the push to launch a tool library really began to take off when Transition Guelph received a $5,000 wellness grant from the city and a $500 donation from the Rotary Club. Today, it’s nearing reality as a summer launch date approaches and donations of tools and equipment continue to roll in.

“The mayor and council have been very supportive,” Carey says. “They see this as a benefit to the community.”

Last fall, a community survey about what the Guelph tool library should include gathered 127 responses that named everything from post hole diggers to pressure canners. Since then, some of the big items added to the inventory are four wheelbarrows, a cider press and a rototiller.

JD Engines has offered to donate maintenance service for the entire tool library inventory as it grows.

Other parts of the project are still in the works, including securing a location, launching the website and the possibility of offering delivery for some of the bigger tools.

One site being considered is the former Acker’s Furniture space on Carden Street. Other ideas have the tool inventory stored in a shipping container stationed in a parking lot donated by a local business.

Guelph’s Tool Library wouldn’t have happened without help from the Toronto Tool Library and its co-founder Lawrence Alvarez, who provided guidance that included access to the lending software developed by the Berkeley Tool Library.

Alvarez helped establish Toronto’s Tool Library in March 2013. It now has four locations, including an expanded location on Danforth Avenue called The Sharing Depot, which opened last week to give members access to a selection of camping and outdoor equipment, toys and games.

Alvarez is unapologetic about how the idea grew from efforts around reducing consumption and reducing our carbon footprint.

“We’ve had people say that this would disrupt existing business, but for me I’m always trying to look at what the world needs in 50 years,” he says.

“It’s always been about the disruption of the needless consumption of these things. It’s a waste of money, a waste of space and it’s a tremendous waste of the earth’s resources”

“We can’t continue to use the earth in disposable, single-use fashion anymore.”

Carey says the concept has gained traction as the sharing economy grew and people looked for ways to simplify their lives.

“Western society has brought capitalism to a stage in development where there is simply too much stuff,” she says, citing her own experience with the local clothing closet where they’re often overwhelmed with donations.

But she doesn’t see a project like this hurting local businesses, mainly because the concept isn’t for everyone and those who use it will still have a disposable income to spend on other stuff.

“People are still shopping, they’re just shopping differently.”

Carey also sees the tool library as a way to bolster community connectedness and sees complementary goals between the tool library and places like the Diyode community workshop.

The Wyndham Street maker space offers a place for its paying members to use various equipment including electronics, woodworking and metalworking tools. It’s a space where Carey says collaboration could happen — perhaps a “repair café” where people could drop by, enjoy a coffee and have experts offer quick fixes for things like broken zippers, dead cellphones or “the lamp the dog chewed the cord on.”

Another offshoot of the tool library is a plan to develop a kitchen library. That concept offers shared kitchen equipment, from stand mixers to bread ovens.

Just last week, Guelph’s Urban Food Working Group hosted a roundtable at the former Acker’s building, where plans are coming together to develop a shared commercial community kitchen.

“Those plans would complement the kitchen equipment we aspire to make available to the community,” Carey says.

Carey hopes it becomes a “runaway project,” and sees a day when collaboration happens between Transition Guelph and the Guelph Public Library, giving every library patron access to the tool library at little to no cost.

The ultimate goal of any tool library is to eliminate the economic barrier to access.

So far the community has embraced the idea, and Carey’s eager to hear from even more Guelphites who want to become members.

More information is available by emailing