What is a Library of Things?
A Library of Things is a treasure box of useful and joyful Things in your local library, housing block, cafe or workspace. There, you can:
–> Borrow Things like drills, steam cleaners, strimmers, gazebos & GoPros by the day or week
–> Join practical events like DIY classes & Mending Meet-ups
–> Volunteer & get to know your neighbours: organise events, fix Things & spread the word
Our mission is to connect people to each other and to their neighbourhood through sharing.
We've learned that, by providing an affordable, convenient and socially rewarding way to share Things and skills, Library of Things can bring a whole mix of people into community spaces. Spaces where we can slowly get to know each other and find inspiration to join in with whatever's happening nearby – perhaps helping out with a monthly market or neighbourhood orchard, or trying out a DIY or sewing class, or even starting a whole new project with some friends and neighbours. That's how we got started after all.
What's the story?
We were cash-strapped students living in tiny box rooms in London. We said to ourselves, 'Why do we all buy and own things like drills, sewing machines and steam cleaners when we could just share them?'
Inspired by lending libraries in Berlin and Toronto, we started an experiment...
With a motley collection of neighbours in West Norwood, we salvaged furniture, collected old Things and opened our 'shop' for 3 months, announcing that Library of Things was open for borrowing.
We learned that
- People were excited about borrowing!
- People specifically want to borrow high cost, low use items like DIY tools, gardening things, cleaning things, events equipment and some hobby items.
- People want to donate their old things – but these are rarely the things other people actually want to borrow...
The London Demonstrator
After crowdfunding £15k from 250 backers, we designed and installed 2 shipping containers on a South London carpark for 18 months, next to social supermarket Community Shop CIC.
We sourced 350 Things from the likes of Bosch, Karcher, Berghaus, Patagonia and our local B&Q. We priced them, catalogued them, tagged them, photographed them and held our breath. Would people pay to borrow?
They did! 850 of them in fact. Here's what we learned:
- Relying exclusively on volunteers to maintain a space and run a borrowing service is not an enjoyable experience for volunteers – or borrowers
- Just having a high quality Thing doesn't make it borrowable. It needs bespoke packaging (standard cardboard boxes break after a few uses), how-to guides (have you ever tried to read a manual?), and flexible pricing that accounts for retail price, usage, seasonality etc.
Smart Borrowing Kiosk: Site #1: Crystal Palace
We developed a shiny new version of Library of Things in response to the challenges we faced in the Demonstrator.
We streamlined the stock base to 50 product lines, and 100 Things overall. We developed a 'smart lock', so borrowers could help themselves to Things as you would a Santander bike or a Zipcar. We improved the volunteer and events offer.
Led by Joe from Crystal Palace Transition Town, the Crystal Palace Library of Things team crowdfunded £9,000 to get started in the community library, Upper Norwood Library Hub.
Smart Borrowing Kiosk: Sites #2-10: Across London
We are now building partnerships with libraries, community trusts, councils, regeneration charities, workspaces and housing associations across London to launch a Library of Things in 9 more locations (1 is already underway).
We're looking for high potential partners with:
- Access to 20sqm in a low to no-rent host space with some existing footfall – like the entrance to a library, community cafe or shared space in a housing block
- A mixed community, where there is high demand for borrowing, events and volunteering
- A group of 3-5 well-respected local leaders able to give at least 20 days of their time over 6 months
Get in touch to register your interest.