Springfield's Tool Library a Model for Other Towns or Neighborhoods

  • Published: Monday, Jan. 9, 2023

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The sharing economy has found its way to Springfield in the form of a tool library.

Generally, people think of Uber, Lyft and Airbnb when they hear the term "sharing economy." But thanks to easy-to-use software, dedicated volunteers, and direction from Community Partnership of the Ozarks, Springfield can lay claim to a tool-sharing library.

According to Hannah King, former Neighborhood Events Coordinator at CPO, there are tool libraries worldwide. "But the Springfield tool library here at the Community Partnership of the Ozarks is the only one of its kind in Missouri," said King.

There is a tool library in Joplin (run by Habitat for Humanity) and a few neighborhood examples in the Kansas City area. Still, among the official 146 registered tool libraries across the globe, the one in Springfield is unique to Missouri. (Find the one nearest you online at https://localtools.org/find).

"It gets its concept from a regular library, like a book library, except it is tools," said King. "There are also a lot of great benefits, especially when it comes to building community and being a good neighbor."

The benefits that CPO focuses on are affordability, accessibility, sustainability, and the community-building aspects of it.

Equipping an essential home toolkit can easily cost $250 with just regularly used items. That does not include specialty items often needed for home repair or maintenance projects.

Many times a new tool can also be an underused resource. In a tool library, that tool may get used several times. But also, with affordable homeownership comes affordable home maintenance, which is why the tool library came into existence.

"We have volunteers with time who can be there and support their neighbors who are accomplishing things in a community and making their house a place where they are happy. It is cool to see everyone coming together, being excited about what they're doing in their neighborhoods," said King.

According to Dylan Millikin, a new Community Development Specialist at CPO, the tool library in Springfield now includes 280 tools and 116 active users.

Millikin has taken over for King and works with all of the registered neighborhood associations in Springfield to create events, educational classes, neighborhood cleanups, and the tool library.

"We have shown continued growth this summer as word has gotten out," said Millikin. "We recently had a big tool donation from a foundation fixing company. Every donation that expands our collection is important."

HISTORY OF TOOL LIBRARIES

The Gross Pointe Rotary Club started the first known tool-lending library in Gross Pointe, Michigan, in 1943. The Grosse Pointe Public Library now operates this tool library.

Columbus, Ohio, is the site of the second tool library in the United States (1976), and ModCon Living still operates it. This nonprofit organization works to preserve and revitalize homes and communities in Central Ohio. That library has over 4,800 tools available.

Other early examples were the Phinney Tool Library (178) and The Berkeley Tool Library (1979), founded with community block grants.

In Springfield, the Urban Neighborhood Alliance (UNA) initially started the tool library. Community Partnership (CPO)  absorbed several of UNA's programs, including the Tool Library, when UNA dissolved.

The library was reorganized in 2013 by CPO employee Amanda Stadler. Stadler wrote a few small grants for tool purchases and did a lot of research on how other tool library programs functioned. She also focused on marketing the library through neighborhood and community events to get memberships and grow the program to where it is today.

GETTING STARTED IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD

Tool libraries can be expensive to begin and maintain even with dedicated volunteers. Most tool libraries in the United States currently serve a community, not just a neighborhood.

Theoretically, a tool library could be created by partnering with businesses or running it from a neighbor's garage or shed. Sometimes, a sharing library might be set up where the inventory is posted online and neighbors respond.

If you want to cast a wider net, you can set up a borrowing group with a larger number of neighbors. You might have all the participants list things they're willing to lend and keep a master document or set up an electronic group with Facebook or an email list.

Neighbors could also go together to purchase more expensive and necessary yard and garden equipment to loan out, just like the lending of the proverbial cup of sugar.

The National Tool Library Google group was set up to provide a nationwide forum where those interested in founding tool libraries can get questions answered.

Share Starter also has an impressive starter kit to help those trying to launch their own tool shares think through the process, including financing, staffing, outreach, and legal issues. Share Starter can be found online at https://sharestarter.org.

Tool lending can take place among immediate neighbors without a formal process. That is more of what I have experienced personally. But with some organization, tool lending can impact a larger number of neighbors.

LEARNING CURVE

A well-stocked tool-sharing library is a great community asset when resources and partners exist. However, the program admittedly comes with a learning curve.

"You learn as you go. You can survey the community you want to serve about needs and interests in that area. Then you begin by getting those tools from local businesses or garage sales or donations from members in your community," said Millikin.

The number of tools is a balancing act too. "You want to have accessibility to a lot of different tools, so you want to focus on buying the ones that are going to be the most used in your community," said Millikin. "It is easy to collect a lot of tools that people do not want."

Consider the length of checkout for popular tools (like a power washer) and waiver and liability forms. The group or individual operating the library will also need insurance or fall under the policy of a partner. That insurance is for any damage that happens to those tools.

"We also have a release of claim that people sign anytime they sign up as a member. We also have photo release waivers and stuff like that too, kind of more basic," said Millikin.

Tracking the inventory is another challenge. In Springfield, organizers use the popular myTurn software. That software is user-friendly. It does have a cost, but they often wave the fee for nonprofits.

The biggest challenge may be making sure tools get returned on time.

"We have found being kind and persistent in talking to people is the best approach. We try to understand the reasons and work with them. Even having volunteers who can pick up tools has been helpful. Because sometimes it's just transporting a tool is difficult for a community member," said Millikin.

THE DETAILS ON SPRINGFIELD TOOL LIBRARY

Millikin said it is exciting to see people find the tool library, see it as a great resource, and figure out how they could help by donating tools or volunteering.

"We're always in need of volunteers who are knowledgeable about tools, whether it's operating, maintaining, or repairing them, and also just volunteers who are a friendly face to check out towards the members," said Millikin.

The tool library is now in a new location, behind the O'Reilly Center for Hope at 1518 E. Dale St., Springfield. The annual membership is currently $20. A person can check out no more than five tools at once.

The Springfield tool library has walk-in hours: Monday from12:00-4:00 pm, Tuesday from 12:00-4:00 pm, and Wednesday from 12:00-4:00 pm. The Tool Library can also be opened by appointment by emailing [email protected] or calling 417-888-2020.

MORE INFORMATION

Neighboring is the art and skill of building relationships with the people who live in the closest proximity to you. Being a good neighbor offers tremendous health benefits, leads to reductions in crime, reduces loneliness, improves communities, and improves your quality of life.

University of Missouri Extension is at the forefront of a national movement that recognizes the importance of neighboring in community development. MU Extension is offering classes like "Neighboring 101" and "Neighborhood Labs" along with three annual neighboring events as a way to raise awareness and encourage others to focus on neighbors.

To learn more about our "Engaged Neighbor" program or the impact of neighboring, go online to https://extension.missouri.edu or contact David Burton by email [email protected] or telephone at (417) 881-8909. "Becoming an Engaged Neighbor" can also be found on Facebook.

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Writer: David Burton

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David Burton
417/881-8909

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