Until this month, if you wanted to do a DIY project in Tacoma and didn’t have the tools, you had three choices: borrow from a friend if you could, spend a lot of money renting or buying, or shelve your project. Now there’s a fourth option: the Tacoma Tool Library. In a newly-opened space on the Hilltop filled with green pegboard and upcycled worktables, Tacoma’s first tool borrowing library aims to build sustainable community by sharing tools and knowledge.
“It’s about tool access and sustainability, keeping things out of the waste stream,” sums up tool library co-founder Rebecca Solverson, “and access to knowledge. We’re really excited about where it’s going.”
Our main goal is to be community-driven and accessible.”
Rebecca Solverson, Tacoma Tool Library
It has taken a year to get this far. If the Tacoma Tool Library sounds kind of familiar for something that’s brand new, it’s because the organization has actually been growing since last January when what’s now the six-person steering committee began meeting to plan a library.
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After receiving a $1,500 SPARK grant in March and $15,000 in Innovative Grant money from two city of Tacoma neighborhoods, plus a successful Indiegogo fundraising campaign, the library took a room in Spaceworks’ 1120 Creative House on Pacific Avenue, collecting tool donations and members. It became a nonprofit and got fiscal sponsorship from Zero Waste Washington.
Finally, the committee (now a board) rented the space at 1314 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, in the former Second Cycle location near Fulcrum Gallery, did some renovation and officially opened doors March 9. Around 50 people showed up, including Christal VanEtten, the social media manager for Espionage Cosmetics on Pacific Avenue, who checked out some carpentry tools for a job at her salon’s storefront.
“It’s amazing,” says VanEtten, who found the library while browsing online for tools in the area. “I’d never heard of being able to borrow tools. We’ll definitely go back again. It’s close, and they have a lot of tools we’d benefit from as a small business. And it’s a way to help out other businesses downtown.”
It’s about tool access and sustainability. I own a house, and I want a resource like this that I can use.”
Rebecca Solverson, Tacoma Tool Library
On May 14, the Tacoma Tool Library will have its grand opening party, with entertainment, food and drink to celebrate how far it’s come.
Tool libraries might not be common in Tacoma, but they’re a community resource that pops up in cities across North America and Europe — dozens are listed at localtools.org. Around Puget Sound, the Phinney Ridge tool library goes back to the 1980s; others exist in northeast and southeast Seattle, downtown, Capitol Hill, West Seattle and Vashon, with one coming soon in Federal Way.
Sharestarter.org even offers a kit on how to create your own tool library. Many are run by neighborhood associations, some (like Toronto, Ontario) partner with the city book library system. They often include spin-off groups for makers and tinkerers. All run on the same concept: tools available for borrowing with a small annual fee.
“Our main goal is to be community-driven and accessible,” explains Solverson, who with the rest of the board visited a lot of other libraries, using their structures, waiver forms and so on as a model.
72 Tool libraries across the U.S. and Canada
The result is a friendly, practical space staffed with volunteers during the two current open sessions on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays. In the front room, green pegboards line the walls, and worktables made from salvaged plywood sit in the center — the board plans to hold DIY workshops beginning this summer on everything from tool maintenance to pruning. A small center room currently houses a vintage treadle sewing machine; the plan is to bring in more machines as they are donated and create an in-house sewing center. In the big room at the back are the tools, arranged neatly around the walls on shelves and hooks, the 28-foot ladders easily accommodated by the high ceilings.
As a member comes in to borrow a level (it’s Solverson’s father, Charles), co-founder Sharayah Kinney shows a volunteer how to use the checkout system on a tablet. It’s quick and easy, and sends a confirming email to the borrower, as well as a reminder of when the tool’s due back (one week). It also connects to the website, updating the tool inventory to show members what’s currently available.
Thanks to grants and generous donations, the tool library has an impressive inventory already, power tools, saws, axes, caulking guns. They also have two tall shelves filled with “consumables” — extra items like nails, sandpaper and tile that folks can help themselves to or donate to if they have extra at the end of a project.
But the tool list isn’t complete, and the library’s still looking for donations.
“Electric lawn tools, with summer coming,” says co-founder Harlan Foster. “We don’t have any wheelbarrows or power washers. Anything specialty. Scaffolding.”
The only thing the library can’t take is gas-powered tools, for insurance reasons. But they’re happy to take anything else in good condition — and they’re actively looking for more volunteers and members.
They’re also looking for anyone with skills to share.
On the front noticeboard is a member wish-list for workshops, but these depend on someone in the community willing to teach and money raised through a just-launched online campaign. Other ideas include “Ask a Contractor” evenings, which would give DIY-ers the chance to get expert advice on projects, and maybe a fixer evening for mending small appliances.
The tool library concept relies on community goodwill and does have the potential for misuse. On the whole, though, Solverson and her crew aren’t too worried about theft. The tool space is lockable, members who borrow and don’t return are trackable (and not that common in other tool libraries). If you break a tool, you pay for its value, either second-hand or new.
Foster thinks Tacoma’s ripe for a tool library.
“The Northwest is a progressive place,” he says. “Twenty years ago you’d be ticketed for owning chickens. Now the city encourages them. It feels like a good place to be doing this.”
Tacoma Tool Library
Hours: 5-8 p.m. Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays.
Grand opening: 7-10 p.m. May 14 ($15 tickets).
Where: 1314 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma.
Membership: $40 adult; $30 senior, student; $20 low-income per year (suggested). Other tiers include $100 founding member, $150 business and $250 life member.
Fundraising: Donate money for the summer workshop series at ioby.org/project/Tacoma-tool-library-2016-summer-workshop-series.
Information: 954-866-5253, tacomatoollibrary.com.