Garden Resource Center Coordinator Jeremy Fleishman recently attended the First Annual Station North Tool Lending Library Symposium in Baltimore, MD! Read Jeremy’s report below.
IMG_20160319_110303_916Representatives from about 15 national or international libraries came together to discuss the beginnings of a sharing and tool-lending movement. Asheville, Baltimore, Denver, Hillsboro, Honolulu, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Richmond, Seattle, Edinburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec and Toronto were in attendance! Most libraries have some combination of tool rental and workshops/classes, and some are parts of other more traditional library systems. There was a full range of expertise present, from “haven’t opened yet” to places that had been open for more than 10 years or have over 6,000 members.

IMG_20160319_122557_430Station North Tool Lending (SNTL – our host) is an excellent model for what a library can be. What they do best is to foster a constructive environment that people want to join. They want to be “the coolest kids you’ve ever met, but also the kindest.” And it’s working.

Each library opened for a different reason: some because they had an over-abundance of tools, others because they saw a distinct need in their city, and a few as a direct response to social and environmental concerns (reducing CO2 emissions, reducing waste, the fractured nature of our society and communities). But all in all, it’s about sharing! This was a really passionate group of people who care deeply about their communities and want to bring people together. We all shared the basic assumption that people need access to tools and knowledge, and that sharing was the only way to achieve that for most people. “Get rich or try sharing,” if you will. Having everyone together like that felt like the beginning of a much larger and vibrant movement.

We talked about race and equity over the weekend as well. Almost all the libraries were managed by a majority white staff and volunteers. Even extensive outreach programs, like those in Baltimore and West Philadelphia, have lower People of Color numbers on their registries than are reflected by their neighborhoods. We all recognized there is still a lot of work to be done towards dismantling systematic racism.IMG_20160318_175400_913

Volunteers were integral to almost all of the libraries. Many of the smaller ones (open for one year or less) were run 100% by volunteers. Montreal had the most with over 100! We talked a lot about the spirit of volunteerism, how that benefits us all, and how to manage a sometimes chaotic workforce. The most successful libraries had adopted the policy, “what can the library do for its volunteers,” and not the other way around.

We have so much work to do! But this conference was a good reminder that the progress of most lending libraries is slow at first. It’s super inspiring to see the progress of the other libraries and invaluable to have a support network full of people who have done a lot of the heavy lifting already. Yay tool libraries! And thanks to Station North in Baltimore for a great weekend.