Tool library

Tools available for borrowing at Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, Vermont, United States
Tools available for borrowing at the Oakland Tool Lending Library in Oakland, California, United States

A tool library or shared workshop is an example of a library of things. Tool libraries allow patrons to check out or borrow tools, equipment and "how-to" instructional materials, functioning either as a rental shop, with a charge for borrowing the tools, or more commonly free of charge as a form of community sharing. A tool library performs the following main tasks:

  • Lending: all kinds of tools for use in volunteer projects, facility maintenance and improvement projects, community improvement events, and special events.
  • Advocacy: for the complete and timely return of all borrowed tools, to guarantee the long-term sustainability of available inventory. Staff also seeks compensation for lost tools and tools returned late.
  • Maintenance: performing routine maintenance and repairs on all equipment to ensure good condition and to extend the lifespan of the inventory. This function is typically performed by volunteers and community service workers.
  • Education: Some tool libraries also provide educational classes. Vancouver Tool Library and Community Access Center (VTLCAC) in Vancouver, Washington offers individual project support and classes on woodworking and basic car maintenance


The first known tool lending library was started by the Gross Pointe Rotary Club in Gross Pointe, Michigan in 1943.

Another early tool lending library was in Columbus, Ohio started in 1976. Originally run by the city, the tool library is now operated by ModCon Living, a non-profit organization that works to preserve and revitalize homes and communities in Central Ohio. The ModCon Living Tool Library makes available over 4,500 tools free of charge to both individuals and non-profit organizations. This tool library was among many in what could be considered the first generation of tool libraries - including The Phinney Tool Library in 1978 and The Berkeley Tool Library in 1979 - most of which were founded in the late 70s or early 80s. Many of these libraries were started with community block grants. A variation of the tool lending library model exists in Atlanta, Georgia. At the Atlanta Community ToolBank, the tools are reserved for use only by nonprofits and other community-based organizations who are performing volunteer and facility maintenance projects. The ToolBank tool inventory is not available to individuals.

In 2009, the community of West Seattle in Washington started the West Seattle Tool Library, which provides a wide variety of tools and resources for individuals and organizations while specifically encouraging sustainable urban living. In 2011, Popular Mechanics recognized "Building a Local Tool Library" as one of its top ten ways to change the world, while highlighting the West Seattle Tool Library.

In response to that recognition, "Share Starter" began to offer a free "Tool Library Starter Kit" to any community interested in starting a lending library of their own. The kit includes start up guidelines, frequently asked questions, and sample documents. Additionally, the Center for a New American Dream published a webinar which highlighted insights from a handful of tool libraries on how to get started.

Given their increasing popularity and proven history of success, tool libraries and tool banks are now playing a role in the sharing economy and can be found in local public libraries and makerspaces, for instance. There are software platforms for managing tool and other types of lending libraries.


Tool libraries also exist outside of the United States, with several in the UK, for example in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool, and in Norway. There also exists housing cooperatives with shared workshops, for example Kampen borettslag in Oslo.

Equipment and facilities

Basic furnishings

The basic equipment of a tool library or shared workshop can for example include worklighting, a workbench with vises, a woodworking bench, bicycle stand, bicycle pump, fire extinguishers, a vacuum cleaner, dustpans, brooms and a trash can.


Tools can be brought by the users or made available by the workshop. In some cases, the workshop is only equipped with simple hand tools, while more expensive special tools must be brought by the individual.

What kind of tools a tool library should have varies with the users' needs. One has to weigh up the need for tools that are useful for many people against tools that will be used little and take up valuable space. For example, garden tools can be useful if several of the users have gardens, but may be of little relevance if the users do not have gardens or are not interested in gardening.


Some power tools can be dangerous to use, and have an age limit or may require training. For example, table saws can be very dangerous since the operator holds the material being sawed instead of holding the saw, which makes it easy to accidentally move the fingers into the spinning saw blade. Table saws can also cause dangerous kickback where part of the workpiece is propelled back towards the operator at a high speed. A plunge saw with a track can, on the other hand, be a safer alternative that can achieve much of the same results for hobby use, and is therefore a much better candidate for a shared hobby workshop in terms of liability, risk of personal injury and training.

Rules of order

A well-functioning tool library has guidelines that users must follow.

Cleaning up after work

The users of a shared workshop are responsible for cleaning up after themselves. For example, it is expected that tools are put back in their place, and that one vacuums or sweeps up chips and dust before leaving, and that smells from paint, varnish and chemicals is aired out.

Marking of work

If work is left while in progress, it is good practice to mark it with ones name, address, mobile number and the date the work was started.

Storage and deadline

In the shared workshop of one housing association, it is expected that work should be able to be completed within 3-5 days, and that stored materials, objects and tools may be removed at the owner's risk. A shared workshop is not a place for storing personal belongings.


To ensure that the workshop is kept neat and orderly, there should also be a role of someone who enforces that rubbish is thrown away, that non-functioning equipment is either repaired or thrown away within a reasonable time, and that abandoned projects are disposed of.

Opening hours

Some self-service workshops are open 24/7, but one must still take into account of public holiday peace and quiet hours during night time, and in general to not be of unnecessary nuisance to neighbours. For example, the shop owners may demand that no noisy work can take place between 22:00 and 07:00.

See also

This page was last updated at 2024-01-14 03:44 UTC. Update now. View original page.

All our content comes from Wikipedia and under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.


If mathematical, chemical, physical and other formulas are not displayed correctly on this page, please useFirefox or Safari