Chicago Tool Library fosters community with access to tools

Anthony Nicholson and his wife have embarked on a number of home improvement projects over the years, from fixing the family’s front porch to 3D-printing household items with their three children, all with the help of tools borrowed from Chicago Tool. from library.

“They have a 3D printer, which is really fun to borrow sometimes, and the kids have a lot of fun playing with it,” he said. “We have an old house with old-school locks … and the bathroom had no lock, but a small keyhole — and so we 3D-printed it for the bathroom.”

Opened in the fall of 2019, just before the pandemic, the Bridgeport-based Chicago Tool Library has become a resource for many residents who want to tackle home improvement projects for the first time but are short of tools. The mission of the library is “to provide equal access to tools, equipment, and information to allow all Chicagoans to learn, share, and create.”

In addition to basic home appliances, the library offers camping equipment, sewing machines, craft supplies, kitchen tools, folding tables, and more.

According to the co-founders, the library, which has grown into not only a resource center but a collaborative community, has a “pay what you can” annual membership model that allows members to borrow items per year. Doesn’t allow anything or $400 to be paid. and Executive Director Tessa Virk.

An ongoing constraint for the library has been funding, especially as it offers classes and finds another location on the south or west side.

Library member Maya Hillman said the library’s decision was to find locations in parts of the city that are right for its mission of access, rather than on the north side. “I think the North Side will often get a lot of resources, and people on the South and West Side will find shafts there,” she said. “So I appreciate it – they’re really trying. … They’re not just words. They also stand behind what they say.”

When Tool Library first announced the discovery of a new location last year, another tool lending program, Chicago Community Tools, decided it would shut down its own operations and Tool Library after struggling during the pandemic. will donate its entire inventory of approximately 5,000 tools to According to Virk, the donation tool will allow the library to launch a new lending program supporting community groups such as churches, schools, neighborhood associations and nonprofits.

Tool Library members can also donate to the library’s inventory. For example, Nicholson has donated items he needed that the library didn’t already have.

“It’s almost like they’re holding it for us, because if we ever need it again, we can borrow it,” he said.

Virk noted that in the wake of the pandemic and rising costs associated with inflation, the library saw “a huge ballooning in interest” as more and more people felt motivated to pursue their own home improvement projects.

“Lately a lot of people are taking on home improvement projects, especially because of supply chain issues and labor reliability and availability issues – people are repairing their home just like they are doing their own tile work. … There is definitely a lot of DIY going on,” she said.

Before the pandemic, the library had about 150 members. In a community survey before the pandemic, library leaders asked people why they hadn’t used the library yet and most said they didn’t have the time.

“And then of course during the pandemic, everyone had too much time,” Virk said.

The library now has 3,000 members and receives 30 to 70 visitors daily. Members of the Appliance Library cited several other reasons for joining the library, including rising costs of equipment purchases and home improvement projects, and a desire to reduce waste.

Nicholson first visited Tool Library in 2019, but didn’t sign up as a member until the pandemic broke out the following year.

“It was an interesting time to do things yourself if you don’t want people in the house,” he said.

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For Nicholson, the primary benefit of joining is to reduce unnecessary purchases and hoarding of appliances and other items in your home.

“I would put myself in this category where I could go to Home Depot and buy a bunch of stuff,” he said. “But philosophically, it’s really cool not to have another thing in the world when I can use it just one week a year and it shouldn’t be a thing that I own or that takes up space in our houses.” “

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While there are hundreds of similar resources in the world, the Chicago Tool Library is the first of its kind in Chicago, according to Virk. In addition to lending means, the library is expanding side events such as “repair fairs” organized in collaboration with the Chicago Public Library to help people with repairs at various library locations.

“In general, we are here to create more equitable access to the things that people want or need, help people lead more sustainable lives and encourage people to be more creative and curious and to be new throughout their lives. Skills encourage learning,” Virk said. , “You know, self-reliance and lifelong learning are a big part of what tool libraries help people with.”

Hillman, founder of Mac & Cheese Productions, a lifestyle business that seeks to help adults lead joyful lives, joined the library in its early days, becoming member number 8 in 2019, though her participation didn’t really last until the pandemic. Was up , when Hillman – like the rest of the city – found himself looking for a reason to “get away from the computer screen”.

In addition to finding tools and guidance to start remodeling and reselling furniture from your home and from thrift stores, Hillman eventually found a welcoming, inclusive community. She said that many of her clients feel like they lack community and that they are “floating in this big city and they don’t have enough connections.” The Tool Library became a hidden site of the community he discovered in the city.

“I wanted to learn through a real person, not through a screen, and the tool library had a reputation for being staffed by really open-minded, warm, helpful, knowledgeable people. … I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t make myself feel judged or stupid,” she said. “Every time I went to pick up the equipment or go back, I would just stand there as if it were my local bar.”

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