Q&A: Edmonton Tool Library

While do-it-yourself projects can be good for the ol’ self-esteem, they can sometimes be tough on the pocketbook — especially when it comes to tools. Large tools like table saws may be too expensive or too big for the average handyman to have at home. Other tools may be cheaper but extremely specialized — they may be very necessary for one particular job, but not really worthwhile to purchase.

This is where the Edmonton Tool Library hopes to fill a void. With a space at the Bellevue Community League and a growing number of tools available to loan out, the folks behind the library are helping aspiring DIYers access the tools they need without breaking the bank.

Recently, I chatted with Edmonton Tool Library board member Stacey Cann about where the initiative is now and where she hopes it will go in the future:

GLENN COOK: Can you tell me a little bit about the Tool Library itself? What’s the basic idea behind it?
STACEY CANN: The basic idea behind tool libraries is very similar to a book library in that you can borrow tools, and you bring them back within a certain amount of time. One of the reasons why we wanted to start a tool library was because Edmonton was one of the only major cities in Canada that didn’t already have one. And there are lots of tools that have really specific uses, but they’re expensive to rent and you really only need them once per task. Like a tile cutter — you redo your bathroom floor, then what do you do with it? It sits and collects dust. You can try to sell it, but it’s really not being utilized. The idea behind the tool library is to take tools that are maybe being underutilized or just stored in people homes and making them accessible to people who either don’t have the money or the storage to be able to have those tools themselves.

GC: Well, you mention something like a tile cutter. That’s something that someone can take home and work with and bring back. What about larger tools — table saws and things like that? Is that something you’re looking at, and something that may have to stay in one place and have people come to it to use it?
SC: We have two band saws and one mitre saw, and a small table saw. We currently don’t have the space to have people use tools inside the tool library. But we’re hoping to have those tools so people can borrow them and bring them back. If you don’t have a vehicle, it’s difficult to do that. But it is possible with a vehicle to move them and bring them back.

GC: How did the idea come about? When did it all get set in motion to bring a tool library to Edmonton?
SC: There were a bunch of people who sort of knew each other who were all having the same idea at the same time. Someone I know was one of the founders of the tool library in Calgary. I worked at a non-profit, and one of our other board members worked at a non-profit. We were walking to a coffee meeting one day, and I can’t remember who brought it up, but it was like, “I’m thinking about that too! We should actually do that!” I’m also a visual artist, and I mentioned it to one of my studio mates, and she was like, “Someone I know is also thinking about starting one of those!” I think it was in the collective consciousness, I guess, at the time.

GC: Do it see tool libraries being sort of an extension of the sharing economy that has developed, with Uber and Airbnb and things like that?
SC: Yes and no. Uber and Airbnb are both for-profit companies. I don’t know that I would include them in the “sharing economy” in that way. Looking at car shares and co-operatives like that would be more analogous. But I think it’s part of a changing culture where people don’t feel like they need to necessarily own things to be able to access them.

GC: How are you envisioning membership in the library working?
SC: Our membership is going to be $50 per individual per year, but we’re trying to figure out if we would have a monthly membership for people who might just use it once. And we’re still trying to figure out a model where everyone can access, so maybe part of the membership fees can be worked off as volunteer hours. We’re trying to figure out what an equitable way of doing that would be.

GC: How is the collecting of tools going so far? I’ve seen on Facebook you’ve had a couple of drop-off events already.
SC: We’re open until mid-December on Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. for people to drop off tools at the Bellevue Community League. But if people don’t have access to a car or can’t bring things to us themselves for whatever reason, they can contact us by email or Facebook and we’ll arrange for someone to come get them — as long as its not too far [laughs].

GC: And the number of tools so far is about what you were expecting?
SC: Actually we were expecting a lot more hammers and smaller tools. But what we’ve actually ended up getting is a lot of larger tools like routers, band saws, mitre saws, circular saws — mid-sized power tools. We’ll take any tool in working conditions, but we especially need smaller tools like hammers. Probably in the next couple of weeks, we’re going to post a list of things that we’re especially looking for on Facebook.

GC: I also saw on Facebook about the Fundrazr crowdfunding campaign that you did, and it mentioned working toward a physical space. How is that coming along? Where would that space be located?
SC: We have a physical space at Bellevue Community League (7308 112 Avenue N.W.), which is right by Northlands and Borden Park. They’ve been very generous with their space because they feel this is an initiative that benefits their community, and they happened to have space. It has worked out really well. Originally we were thinking about a space downtown, but it’s really expensive.

GC: You have your fall fundraiser coming up on Nov. 25. What have you got planned for that?
SC: We’re actually having the fundraiser at the Bellevue Community League, and we’re having two local bands: The Good Goodbyes and The Brunch Club. There will also be an opportunity to see the tool library space in between the two bands. There will be beers and music and popcorn, because who doesn’t like popcorn?

GC: Do you have plans for other fundraisers along those same lines in the future?
SC: Yeah, I think we’ll have to do ongoing fundraising to pay for tool repair and sharpening, as well as the space itself. We are hoping to do a larger spring fundraiser at Bellevue Community Hall — there’s a large parking lot, and we’re hoping to have people out for a barbecue!

Cann also mentioned that the Tool Library hopes to start lending out tools in January 2017.

Is there a tool library in your city? Have you ever used it? Would you ever consider using one? Let me know in the comments below.

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