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How Toronto’s Tool Library Lets You Share Rather than Own

Toronto Tool Library

Lawrence Alvarez (yellow hat) and the Toronto Tool Library Team celebrate the opening of their Parkdale location. (Image: Toronto Tool Library)

In March 2013, the first Tool Library in Toronto was born. We were a group of environmental activists jaded with street actions and lectures, and hungry to create something exampling the saner world we imagined. Our  goal was to present an easy parallel that would challenge the notion of ‘ownership’ and allow people to explore their hobbies, or the improvement of their homes and gardens without the economic barrier.

We looked ahead to what kinds of structures our civilization would need on Earth to live comfortably and in concert with nature – and made the pretty concrete assumption that wanton consumption as it exists today would have no place!

Sharing is the Most Beautiful Way to Reduce Waste

We asked questions like: What if, instead of 150 drills and saws arriving in boxes, wrapped in plastic, packed onto wood, and thundered up the highways of the world, the existing drills and saws were shared amongst people in the community? Maybe instead of 300 tents spun from cotton in South East Asia, sewn into shape, and stretched on aluminum skeletons, those already made were shared? Perhaps the same can be said of baseball bats, popcorn machines, and disco lights?

Ryan Dyment, co-founder of the Toronto Tool Library, holds board games from the Sharing Depot's Games Section. (Image: The Sharing Depot)

Ryan Dyment, co-founder of the Toronto Tool Library, holds board games from the Sharing Depot’s Games Section. (Image: The Sharing Depot)

Explosive Growth, Now a Sharing Depot, Too!

We had no idea it would explode as it has. 3 years later, we have 4 locations, a makerspace, and one of our Tool Libraries recently converted into the Sharing Depot  – Canada’s first Library of Things.

At this new space we pioneer where we believe this sharing revolution must go. Not just tools, but toys, board games, sports equipment, house party supplies, and camping gear. Share it all! For the Earth cannot afford for all of us to own it.

Redefining the ‘Public Library’

These projects have stretched the concept of a Public Library. It is already so easy to imagine the value of borrowing books, and we have learned that this is a normal part of our society. Our goal is to make the concept of borrowing ‘things’ just as commonplace.

We at the Institute for a Resource-Based Economy envision a strategy for cities that includes shared resource hubs — spaces of access over ownership where city residents can have experiences without clutter, waste, and needless consumption. A strategy that takes into account how we are not the final song on the set-list; the concert will continue after we’re gone. This world deserves to be shared with our future generations, they need these resources on which to build their world of tomorrow — and we owe them at least that much.

How You Can Start a Tool Library in Your Community

The primary users of the tool library have been home renovators – families who’ve bought a home in an expensive city whose pockets cannot stretch much farther to redo the counters, extend the deck, fix the roof leak, etc. They walk in with $50 and leave with pressure washers, concrete mixers, and table saws. They leave with the potential to maximize their homes.

For more information on how to start a tool library, check out this article.

The Toronto Tool Library has workshops where members can learn the art of upcycling.

The Toronto Tool Library has workshops where members learn new skills. Here workshop instructor Jennifer Rong teaches the art of upcycling. (Image: Toronto Tool Library)

We Welcome Hobbyists to the Toronto Tool Library

We also welcome hobbyists experimenting with screen-printing, or 3D printing. Whether it be sewing your own clothes, or making that little meditation stool (as yours-truly did just last week, and upon which my enlightened bottom will now rest), we want these spaces to be learning centres. Bring your ideas and we’ll help you realize them.

Tools Will Come Flying in to Your Tool Library

Despite what you may think, it’s not that difficult to start a tool library in your own community! Once you have a location (arguably the hardest aspect), the tools will come flying in – of the 5,000 currently in stock in Toronto’s 4 tool libraries, 97% were donated. For insurance, policies, waivers, reach out to the growing network of lending libraries across North America and the world. And if you have a question, call me! We’ll give you all the info and support you need.

Access Over Ownership: Concepts for the Future

As much as Toronto residents can benefit from our Tool Library and Sharing Depot, we at the IRBE know that future generations will benefit even more from projects of ‘access’ over ‘ownership’. When working together on these projects, we are motivated by the longevity of our species, and the part we play in it today. This one’s for the great, great, great, great grandchildren. Or for me, this is for my new niece Aviana – I promise, we’ll get this right for you, buttercup. And when you’ve formed words and ask what I did during the great Climate Crisis – I can say, “I shared things, and it felt great.”

Which of these items would you 'check-out' of a tool library or sharing depot if there was one in your community? (check all that apply)

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Editor’s Note: Save the date! Toronto Tool Library will be hosting the Second Annual International Lending Library Symposium from June 1st-4th, 2017. Details to come at www.TorontoToolLibrary.com. In the meantime, check out last year’s schedule HERE.

Posting Guidelines – This and other stories published on WeHateToWaste.com are intended to prompt productive conversation about practical solutions for preventing waste. Opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors and WeHateToWaste implies no endorsement of the products or organizations mentioned.

About the Author
Lawrence Alvarez is the President of IRBE, and co-founder of the Toronto Tool Library. He was born and raised in Zimbabwe and he has lived in Botswana, Canada, South Africa, and Argentina. His passion lies in travel, exploring human relationships and our shared experience, and finding the connections between us. Lawrence is also a public speaker, and has delivered talks on new technology and education, and on the sharing economy and how it will define our future. For more info visit: www.LawrenceAlvarez.com.
  1. Kimberly Cionca Reply

    Might I add this is the perfect mindset–buy less, share/borrow more– for someone who intends to move out of their parents home and cannot fathom how they are supposed to build a home from Step 1. Great job guys!

  2. Uzair Iqbal Reply

    This is a great concept that needs to utilized within the United States. House owners (mostly males) usually pride themselves with owning large amount of tools. However, with this cheap membership deal, I do not see anyone refusing to use this service.
    This idea could be utilized in a way that revives another aspect of our societies which is underutilized: the libraries. Reading from Sharing Depot’s website, I found out that they are under the branch of public library systems at one of their locations. However, if libraries themselves starting renting out tools, boards games, etc. it would become the community hub that it used to be. This would also take away the problem of buying a space to create a Sharing Depot and utilize the already built libraries in existence.

  3. Jacquie Ottman Reply

    I’m excited about the potential of local libraries to become community hub myself, Uzair. I am excited that in my city of New York, Queens Public Library allows men to borrow ties for interviews. Think of how much more the New York Public Library system could lend — and the benefits to society it would bring!

  4. Veronica Nitkin Reply

    This is such an exciting example of collaborative consumption in Toronto! The average drill only gets about three hours of use throughout its entire life, so it simply doesn’t make sense for each household to own one. Altanta has just started looking for sponsorship for a tool bank project, and I hope that it is able to take root there as well! Have you considered an online component to the Tool Library? Delivering goods to households, even for an additional price, may make consumers even more compelled to participate in the Tool Library.

  5. Charles Reply

    This was a very intriguing read. Like Uzair, I agree that this is a trend that needs to catch on within the United States, and that existing libraries are, in theory, a perfect, pre-made home for these “sharing depots.” However, a potential roadblock I can foresee is the paid membership issue. Right now, library cards for checking out books are free of charge to anyone within the community. If we were to add extra services to libraries, such as the tool sharing, board game sharing, musical instrument sharing, libraries may consider charging a fee, even if it is just a general cost fee for proving a place were this item sharing can take place. Further, by adding these services we also start to deviate away from what a library actually is; a place dedicated to providing a space where one can freely explore literature and educate themselves without disruption or hassle. I’m not saying adding sharing depots to libraries wouldn’t work, or is not a good idea. Only that there may be some pushback in using libraries as a home for sharing depots.

  6. Jenna Zimmerman Reply

    The success and growth you have already seen gives me a lot of hope. I think these programs are a wonderful model for how sharing culture can work efficiently and create opportunities for low-budget homeowners. I wonder how technology might be used to further expand these programs. Many apps and websites have begun to venture into sharing and DIY culture. I wonder how these networks could learn from your ‘on the ground’ experience. I also wonder to what degree these libraries also provide a watering hole for exchanging project tips and how-tos. Thanks so much for the work that you do!

  7. Lydia Cap Reply

    Thanks for sharing such a great idea! It is so interesting to see that many eco-friendly ideas not only help reduce burdens placed on the planet, but also promote the growth of local communities.

  8. Marina Reply

    This is awesome and reminds me of something I saw during my visit at NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory); they have a bike maintenance area with all tools one could possibly need to repair bike issues to encourage employees to bike to work! Similar to the concept discussed in this post, shared resources like these will encourage people to embrace a community mindset — sharing rather than feeling the need to own everything oneself. This should perhaps be explored on college campuses… I’m sure it would be a hit since most of us are short on funds anyways! 🙂

  9. Pamela G Reply

    I love this concept! If communities are sharing tools and space to use them, the tiny home dwellers (or apartment dwellers) are given new opportunities. Common areas give people access to a community that can teach them how to use the tools, and the concept of sharing is contagious. This not only encourages waste reduction, but also allows the community to build trust in one-another.

  10. Emma Archard Reply

    With consumers’ spiked interest in sharing, as seen in services like Uber or AirBnB, now is the time to implement ideas that rethink the way we look at consumption and product life cycles. I love the idea of a Tool Library that grants members access to what they would rarely need without owning it. Communal goods are more economically feasible, promote social interaction, and offer access and opportunities that some otherwise would not have. Thank you for your inspiring work!

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