Library of Things: borrow power tools, ukuleles, and ice cream makers alongside books

A library in south London is believed to be the first in the UK to be hosting a ‘library of things’, a project that loans items such as drills, pressure washers and ukuleles at affordable rates

After a crowdfunding campaign supported by almost 300 local residents, a library in Crystal Palace, south London, has launched a ‘library of things’: a collection of 50 items that people can borrow at affordable, daily rates.

The collection of items – which is open now following a launch party at the weekend – is on display at Upper Norwood Library Hub. An ice cream maker, carpet cleaner, lawn mower, pressure washer and a ukulele are among the items proving most popular so far.

It is a project by Library of Things, a social enterprise based around the so-called sharing economy, which started in nearby West Norwood in 2014. Prices range from £1 per day for hand tools and £5 per day for a bread machine, to £20 per day for a carpet cleaner, with discounts available for regular borrowers and people who are less able to pay.

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Robert, a dad who lives nearby, said: “I’m going to borrow the hand sander to do up an old chest of drawers over the weekend, and the kids can borrow a kite and ukulele. It’s great – we don’t have space to store this stuff at home.”

Borrowers can also attend practical skill-sharing events including mending meet-ups, repair parties and DIY classes. People can volunteer their time to become a ‘host’, ‘thing fixer’, ‘ambassador’ or ‘skill sharer’, receiving discounted borrowing and training sessions in exchange.

It’s great – we don’t have space to store this stuff at home

Volunteer Stef, who is on a sabbatical from a career in healthcare, said: “I’m volunteering here because I want to get involved in my community and make new connections.”

The team behind Crystal Palace Library of Things crowdfunded £9,375 from 291 people and organisations, including the Mayor of London and local and national businesses, as well as would-be local borrowers.

The project is being delivered by three partner organisations: Crystal Palace Transition Town, a grassroots network that works on local sustainable projects; Upper Norwood Library Hub; and the Library of Things social enterprise.

Library of Things co-director Rebecca Trevalyan. Image: David Altabev

“I can already see how this has the potential to become part of people’s lives,” said Joe Duggan, co-chair of Crystal Palace Transition Town. “People can pop into the library for a cuppa, borrow a book, use the computer, and now hire all sorts of useful things at affordable rates.”

Margaret Adjaye, co-director of Upper Norwood Library Hub, noted that the Library of Things had already attracted more visitors and activity to the library. “It will complement the other activities we’ve started here,” she said. “A bike rental project, a programme of learning and wellbeing events for local people young and old, a coffee shop, and an upcoming fortnight of community theatre and comedy called Attic Arts Club.”

People can pop into the library for a cuppa, borrow a book, use the computer, and now hire all sorts of useful things at affordable rates

The Library of Things social enterprise, which is led by an all-women director team, recently completed an 18-month ‘demonstrator’ site in nearby West Norwood. They sourced high-quality items at a discount from manufacturers such as Bosch and cleaning technology company Karcher and loaned the items more than 2,500 times to 850 borrowers. Crystal Palace is the first of 10 borrowing sites planned for shared spaces across the capital over the next three years.

“We’ve had interest from libraries, makerspaces, cafes, shared workspaces, housing associations and property developers looking to make London life more affordable and socially rewarding for people,” said co-director Rebecca Trevalyan. “We plan to adapt Library of Things to all sorts of communities – and a library, as an open, inclusive space on a high street – is a great place to start.”

In photos: the Crystal Palace Library of Things launch

Featured image: Dylan Lowe. Launch party images: Rob Wilson Jnr – Fluid4sight


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