Ideas for everyday living

How to start your own Library of Things

Borrowing, not buying, is one of the easiest routes to saving money. Welcome to the Library of Things.

We all know how to borrow books, but what about applying that to other everyday items? A Library of Things could be the answer. It’s a simple concept: you can rent all sorts of products donated by local people – from DIY equipment to sewing machines – for free or for a small fee, and just bring them back when you're done.

You could save money and space and reduce waste by renting useful stuff that you’d otherwise have to buy and store. And if there isn’t a Library of Things in your area, it's easy to start your own. All you need is some local support and a bit of backing to get you set up, and you could build a fantastic community resource.

Here are the simple steps to launching a Library of Things:

  • Start small. Talk to neighbours and people in the pub or corner shop – is there a demand for this, and what are the things they'd like to borrow? If you feel like this is something your community can get behind, find a small space where items can be stored and people can browse and borrow – perhaps a garage or garden shed, or a market stall. Starting with a small space can feel more manageable (and affordable).

  • Speak to others who’ve done it. Here’s a UK-wide directory. Figure out what you need to make your Library a success from those in the know. Seek out people who’ve set up tool libraries or charity donation schemes – they’ll have valuable tips around securing funding, finding products and drumming up local support.

  • Ask local organisations for help. Could the library offer space? Could shops put up posters, or sports clubs donate old equipment? Community support is invaluable, particularly when you’re starting up. Local charities and mutual-aid projects can also be an incredible resource and may be able to support you with finding financial backing.

  • Drum up funding. Launch an online crowdfunding campaign and promote it on community Facebook pages or neighbourhood WhatsApp groups. A little start-up money could help you build up a good base of things to borrow or even help you rent a larger storage area as your Library of Things takes off.

    Contact your local council to see if they have any grants available, or you can choose to partner with the Library of Things, which can help you create a campaign page similar to a petition, to persuade your council that there’s community demand for the service. Partnering up also means you get support in identifying host spaces and setting up remote payment systems, and even get great discounts on high-quality products for your Library.

    NatWest also sponsors a business support tool called Swoop to help you find grants you may be eligible for.

  • Find people who can help you. Starting up this project can be too much for one person to manage alone. Whether it’s promotion and marketing, developing a website and social media presence, or scouting for donations and storage space, you’ll need a core team of volunteers who can give up at least a few hours each week to help.

  • Get organised. It can be easy to get overwhelmed or lose track of your inventory once the donations start pouring in, so it’s important to be meticulous with your listings. Try a sophisticated cataloguing tool such as MyTurn or Lend Engine. These allow you to label each item and assign location codes to make it simple to keep track of stock, while users will be able to browse online to see what’s available easily.

  • Don’t forget the technical bits. Every electronic item that’s available for borrowing will need to be PAT tested to ensure its safety, so make sure you have at least one certified PAT tester. It’s also useful to have a team member who is skilled at fixing items that might need a little TLC before they make it onto the inventory list.

  • Launch with a bang! When you have your space, a good base of products and a solid level of local awareness, kick-start your new venture with a launch party. A fun event at a local café or bar will help spread the word and is the perfect opportunity to explain the concept of the Library of Things to people. Before you know it, you could be up and running, with the aim of your Library being awash with donations, borrowers and bags of community spirit. 

Natalie Morris

Natalie is a journalist covering lifestyle, culture, race and identity. She’s also the author of Mixed/Other. 

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