Rent-a-Tool: Sharing is Sometimes Better Than Owning

Ever borrow a hedge trimmer from a neighbor? Find yourself tripping over infrequently used tools in your garage or basement? Think there has to be a better way of having access to equipment when you need it but without the high purchase price or hassle of storage and upkeep? The Vancouver Tool Library might be the solution for you.

As part of the NAIOP Research Foundation’s whitepaper “Exploring the New Sharing Economy,”  author John Madden, director of sustainability and engineering at the University of British Columbia, examined how libraries are being redefined as places where consumers can borrow everything from tools to sports equipment.

Read on to see how the Vancouver Tool Library is meeting the needs of the community by creating a place where sharing is caring.

The concept for the Vancouver Tool Library (VTL) arose when Chris Diplock and his girlfriend built a chicken coop in fall 2010 with tools borrowed from neighbors. This experience led Diplock and some friends to explore more structured tool lending arrangements. They discovered an array of tool lending libraries in the United States and, after further research and input from other organizations, incorporated the VTL in spring 2011. The cooperative tool lending library is located in the city’s Cedar Cottage neighborhood. Members, who pay a one-time “member share” and an annuaI maintenance fee, can borrow a wide variety of tools for home repair, gardening and bicycle maintenance. The library also offers affordable workshops on tool-related skills and projects.

“We are motivated by a vision of our community empowered by the tools and skills needed to transform their homes and communities into vibrant spaces that reflect a commitment to sustainability,” states the VTL website. “To get there, we are creating a community resource that will reduce the costs of improving and greening the places in which we live, work, and play.”

For its first year and a half, the VTL was run entirely by volunteers. It was self-financed and supported through community partnerships. Initial expenses were limited to the cost of purchasing tools. While it did receive a large amount of donated equipment, materials and tools, the VTL had to buy about half of its initial inventory of tools, in order to make the library convenient and relevant to members. Since the VTL’s inception, the organization has moved from a 50 percent donated tool inventory to one that is over 80 percent donated.

According to the VTL’s 2013-2014 annual report, the project, which was then entering its third year, “has become an established institution. The use of our services has grown across the board, from workshop attendance to membership renewal rates to inventory use. … Though operating at a loss for the fiscal year of 2014, our revenue has grown. The proportion of our operating revenue supplied by financial grants fell from 45% to less than 20%, indicating that the cooperative is well on its way to financial self-sustainability.”

The preceding text was an excerpt from “Exploring the New Sharing Economy,” published by the NAIOP Research Foundation in April 2015. It was adapted from an interview with Chris Diplock, cofounder of the Vancouver Tool Library and The Sharing Project in Vancouver, British Columbia, and material available on the library’s website.

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