After the launch of Crystal Palace Library of Things, Parvati Nair – Crystal Palace resident and volunteer bloggers for the initiative – explores the power of Things to connect us to each other & to the place we live.

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at a sewing machine or at playing a ukulele, but never got around to it?  No worries – Crystal Palace Library of Things (CPLoT) at Upper Norwood Library Hub can lend you one for a day or two.  

On Saturday April 21st, CPLoT opened to the public for the first time. Set up right by Norville's Coffee Shop at the entrance level, we see curious passers-by peering in through the window from the street, marvelling at the glittering wall of power tools, sewing machines, sound systems and more.

Once you’re inside, the instructions are clear: browse the online catalogue, open an account and membership, borrow if what you want is available or else reserve for a future date, and then step into the community – join a sewing class or repair party, or become a volunteer.

Because, really, Library of Things is as much about community as it is about Things. Of course, borrowers must act responsibly. They must bring things back clean, on time, and use them properly. If anything gets damaged, it is important to alert these to LoT to ensure everyone's safety.

But that is a starting point, not an end one. In fact, when it comes to initiatives such as CPLoT, there is no end point. CPLoT is proof of the dynamic potential of a hub – one that fosters interests, conversations and shared benefits through the kind of Things that people use  sometimes, and perhaps not every day. And such hubs have a way of gaining momentum through community engagements and through neighbourhood connections. These things are the extraordinary ordinary, the everyday Things whose uses may be special, that turn a wall or shelf of storage space into a space of action and of community formation. This particular hub is the fruit of a three-way effort: between Library of Things, the Upper Norwood Library Hub and Crystal Palace Transition Town.

That, however, is not all. The act of borrowing a Thing, using it, enjoying it or learning from it, returning it, joining an event to learn more about it – all form a set of connected actions that weave invisible threads between people and the neighbourhood around the Library, connecting borrowers to each other and to Crystal Palace. In so doing, there is something much larger that the one-off or the local that is taking place.

Things connect us. As humans, we have always found a way of building our lives, our communities, our wellbeing through things. Take, for example, the great forges of Brazil, where iron is turned into steel, and then the export of that steel to a ship-building company somewhere in northern Spain, where it is turned into a cargo ship, used then to sail the waters of the world to transport yet more things, and, when it ages beyond repair, is towed to the shores of Bangladesh to be broken down and reused, this time exported again, perhaps to Sheffield, where the steel is turned into the knives and forks that, perhaps, we in Crystal Palace eat our dinner with. And so on.

Things need storage too. And care. Libraries have always been both repositories and places from where books come and go, a contradictory place that is at once static, because it stores, and dynamic, because it allows for a flow of books from hand to hand. The stamped dates on the paper ledger tucked inside each book a physical sign of the neighbours who have gone before. So too with Things. CPLoT promises to be a place of common care and common concerns.

Things connect us, but this connection can only take place if there is a meeting point. Take the word 'hub' for example. It means the central part of a wheel, where spokes connect, cross and disperse, so that the wheel may be more than just a thing, so that it may be dynamic, so that it may travel and turn and lead the cart and those of us in it along.

This is why the idea of hubs – like Crystal Palace Library of Things, Upper Norwood Library Hub & Crystal Palace Transition Town – is so vital. It is hubs like these that help us organise ourselves as collectives and see how our roles as individuals contribute to a bigger picture. 

We all need things. But they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. It's the meeting points, the hubs, that help us find friends, share skills and ultimately feel connected to the place we live.  

– “Use things, love people. The opposite never works.”

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