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Building community

Heartbeats: Victoria’s tool library opens itself up for lending

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From clamps to power drills, table saws to rasps, the Victoria Tool Library is open for lending, which means everyday-people can start building the world they dream of, or—perhaps more realistically—repair their doors and build planter boxes.

Stephanie Ferguson is a dreamer and a doer. She helped start the tool library.

She loves finding tables and chairs on the side of the road and giving them new life. But as a condo dweller who is low on space and limited on funds, she doesn’t own all the tools she needs to get the job done. To add to the challenge, her knowledge and skills with tools are limited.

Now a founding board member of Victoria’s first tool library, Ferguson says she’s learning a lot. She has plans to build custom shelves for her home and expand the community garden she’s part of.

The Victoria Tool Library is a membership-based non-profit. Members borrow tools and a low annual fee helps the library store, maintain and repair the tool collection. It’s making tools more accessible and shifting peoples’ ideas of what’s possible.

“Having the library there just actually changes your way of thinking and helps you to explore possibilities,” she says.

Sharing is caring
Ferguson is one of six volunteer board members of the tool library. With the help of dozens of volunteers over the past two years, the non-profit opened its doors in February. A grassroots project, it aims to empower community members by making tools and skills training more accessible.

“I love that we're using resources more efficiently by sharing tools, and we're also getting tools that are just sitting around idle and being wasted,” explains Ferguson. “And [we’re] getting those tools into the hands of people who need them and otherwise might not be able to afford them.”

For another board member, Cheryl DeWolfe, using tools is second nature.

Before the age of 12 she was using the table saw and drill press in her dad’s workshop. Today she’s a professional (book) librarian, and this past winter she spent many evenings at home, volunteering for the tool library.

"I bring a big crate of tools back to my house [from the tool library] and I catalogue them one by one. It only takes me four or five minutes to do a catalog entry, but I'm at 370 entries now so you can do the math.”

Like Ferguson, DeWolfe is passionate about sharing.

“The whole DIY concept isn’t always easy to accomplish if you don’t have cash to do it,” says DeWolfe. The library has more than 450 tools for rent (and more on the way). “Some of the things we've got are so focused and specialty that you might only need them once or twice in a lifetime,” she says.

Within reach
The tool library has been in the making for more than two years. In 2015 they raised about $8,000 through an online funding campaign. Then they spent months searching for a space. After checking out half a dozen different spots, in December 2016 the group found a shared space in a semi-industrial part of Esquimalt, next to Victoria.

While DeWolfe says finding a space was the biggest challenge, finding tools has been almost too easy. “What happened since we got a space has been kind of crazy because we updated our wishlist and then things just started coming in like gangbusters,” she says.

“We got to the point where we had to slow down on requests because we weren't able to keep up on cleaning and cataloguing [the tools as they came in].”

Getting the library up and running has required a broad set of skills. Ferguson has a strong history of community organizing and of helping community members build “little libraries” (the tiny, weather-proofed public book exchanges seen sprinkled throughout Victoria and Vancouver). DeWolfe brings her background as a professional librarian and former tradesperson. When she was younger, she studied plumbing in college.

“I have a certain background in understanding various tools and various processes and that comes in handy and as tools come in and everyone pulls things out and holds things up and says, ‘What this?’ And usually, I can figure out what it is, occasionally I've had to do some research.”

The Victoria Tool Library is but one of a growing number of tool libraries popping up across the continent. These little libraries with big impact are the product of hard work by dedicated residents united by the belief that sharing tools is common sense.

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