How to Start a Tool Library: Just Do It

portland tool library interview photo

Image credit: The Center for a New American Dream

When I posted a video about Portland's tool libraries, one commenter wished that he had something similar in Boise—and I am sure he was not alone. The idea of being able to borrow tools you rarely use, rather than fork out large amounts of cash and then have them sit around the house, is certainly an appealing one. But the encouraging thing about tool libraries and similar sharing infrastructure is that they don't take large amounts of capital or complicated expertise to get them going.

So how do you start a tool library?

The Center for a New American Dream—the same people who brought us an inspiring video on working less, playing more and the joy of Plenitude Economics—have an excellent interview with Jason M. Hatch, founder of the North Portland Tool Library.

Hatch is very open about the fact that he hasn't invented anything out of the ordinary and, most importantly, that anyone is able to borrow, replicate or adapt what he and his community have done and build on it elsewhere. In fact, the Portland library was inspired by a library in Oakland before it, and even that is not the beginning of the story:

Although we borrowed the concept from the good folks in Berkeley, we can be assured that the idea of tool sharing precedes that fine community resource. It's an old idea: sharing. When I told my grandmother about NPTL, she responded with her own story from living in western Pennsylvania: "Your grandfather was generous in lending his tools, but they wouldn't always come back. So, I painted them bright orange and put a clipboard on the garage door so friends would sign them in and out."

With all this exciting talk of technologically-enabled collaborative consumption and a sharing economy, it's easy to get carried away with the intricacies of online networks and new peer2peer lending schemes. But it's important to remember that sharing is really just about getting people together and finding out what each person has, and what each person needs.

That can be done online, it can be done in a basement of a firestation in Portland, or it can be done over the garden fence. How you do it is not as important as remembering that you can do it. And that people have been doing it for an awful long time.

More on Collaborative Consumption and a Sharing Economy
Roo Rogers on Collaborative Consumption
Work Less, Play More, and Stop Screwing the Planet: Plenitude Economics (Video)
How Portland's Tool Libraries Build Community (Video)

Related Content on