A new tool library lets Torontonians borrow donated equipment for a small annual fee.
It seems surprising that Toronto is just getting its first tool library, but in an economy where bartering has increasing currency (so to speak), a place where people can cheaply borrow home-repair equipment is clearly an idea whose time has come.
Partners Lawrence Alvarez and Ryan Dyment launched the Toronto Tool Library on March 23, in the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (also known as PARC) at 1499 Queen Street West. They offer members access to an already sizeable library of tools that can be borrowed for a small annual membership fee.
The space is simple. It was put together over the course of a couple of months by about 50 volunteers who tore up the ceilings, fixed the floors, painted, labelled all the tools, and built the shelves and cabinets that hold them. The library features a mural by Al Runt (he did the mural on Lee’s Palace) that was painted live during the library’s opening on March 21. There’s also a wish list, where members can add items they’d like to see made available. Many of those early volunteers are now returning to man the library during its regular hours (Wednesday 4-8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.).
The place is already packed with tools. While it has received some corporate sponsorship—Canadian Tire donated a pressure washer, a lawnmower, a shop vac, and a generator—most of the stock has come from volunteers and community members.
“We have everything in here, from a simple but expensive and high-quality ratchet set to a scroll saw or a hammer drill,” Alvarez said.
The response has already been positive. “It’s been fantastic, really,” Alvarez said. “People just walk in and the first thing they say is, ‘This is great.’”
The library is a partnership with the Institute for a Resource-Based Economy, an educational non-profit that promotes sustainable and environmentally friendly living. As the IRBE says on its website, the average power drill is only used for 12 or 13 minutes in its lifetime. A library that lends that and similar items just makes sense, Alvarez said.
“We want to connect economy and environment, but in a sort of system-level way,” he explained. “We have a system right now of hyper-consumption and hyper-waste, and there’s economic barriers to people getting access to the things they need. They don’t need to own it, they just need access. So we wanted to set out and do projects that are very tangible and that are a pull factor as opposed to a push on people.”
One of the library’s goals is to provide tools to a user base that may otherwise find accessing them financially impossible. “Resource sharing like this is equalizing in this society we’re in,” Alvarez said. “It takes away the economic barrier in being able to do the things we love to do.”
The library signed up its 40th member on Sunday. The process of joining is simple: membership is $50 annually for access to everything from basic wrenches and screwdrivers to larger tools like a band saw or welding equipment—or even a newly donated kiln. Members sign out the tools they need and return them on an agreed-upon date. The whole process is managed by software that tracks both members and the tools themselves.
There are 40 similar libraries throughout the U.S., but only one other in Canada: it’s in Vancouver, with 500 members. Alvarez said that the other tool libraries in North America were helpful in getting the Toronto library set up. They provided everything from advice to software.
Alvarez and Dyment plan to expand the library’s offerings beyond just tools. They recently hosted their first speaker series with Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne, authors of Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity into Prosperity. A workshop space that not only provides access to tools but also has room for people to use them is another possibility for the future. And if things continue as they have so far, the Parkdale library may not be the only one in Toronto for long.
There are already plans to expand, Alvarez said. When he and Dyment were initially looking at setting up a tool library, they investigated options in Parkdale, the Annex, and Leslieville. Parkdale became the clear choice because the pair had an existing relationship with executive director Victor Willis of PARC. But the owners of three sites in the east end have already expressed interest in setting up similar libraries, Alvarez said.
“In the same way that we never looked for any media attention, it just came,” he said. “It seems like this idea is something that Toronto is just hungry for.”
Photos by Terri Coles/Torontoist.