Tool library aims to build community, sustainability

Ben Harper and Kara Sweeney at the Asheville Tool Library. Photo by Leah Shapiro courtesy of Asheville Tool Library.

The long-awaited Asheville Tool Library will hold its grand opening Saturday, April 9. The collaborative effort has been several years and a couple of false starts in the making, beginning with a crowdfunding campaign and a series of community meetings in the spring of 2013.

“We couldn’t be more pleased to have finally found a home on the South Slope, among other locally owned, do-it-yourself, creative startup businesses,” says coordinator Kara Sweeney. “The community-driven project aims to empower individuals and the community at large through affordable access to resources that encourage rehabilitation, creativity, entrepreneurship, livability and community development in Western N.C.”

Located at 133 Church St. in Asheville, the library will give area residents low- or no-cost access to a wide variety of tools obtained via a series of donation drives. Annual memberships are offered on a sliding scale of $50 to $100 based on income, with scholarships available to those who qualify. Members can borrow tools for up to a week at no additional charge.

“I look at the tool library as an integral part of transitioning to a more sustainable, equitable future where everyone has access to resources, not just those with a lot of money,” core team member Ben Harper explains.

In nearly 70 communities around the United States, tool libraries provide a way to share items that would otherwise be sitting idle most of the time. The Asheville project is operating under the umbrella of Empowerment WORKS, a California-based nonprofit that supports community-based initiatives worldwide. Local businesses and groups such as the French Broad Food Co-op, Groundswell International and Asheville Business Arts have provided funding or in-kind support, and the library is actively seeking additional local partners.

Inside the Asheville Tool Library. Photo courtesy Asheville Tool Library
Inside the Asheville Tool Library. Photo courtesy Asheville Tool Library

While working on a community garden project in 2012, co-founders Nick Letts and Julian Dominic realized their own need for tools and heard similar stories from others. Launching a tool library here had been in the back of Letts’ mind since 2007, but the community garden experience helped him understand the connection between a community need and an equitable community solution.

Tom Llewellyn and Harper came to the project after co-founding the REAL Cooperative and organizing the Sustainable Living Roadshow, a mobile environmental education project. Llewellyn contributed his extensive knowledge of the sharing economy; Harper helped secure the facility’s current space and took the lead on the design and renovation.

Sweeney’s experience with community organizing and home rehabilitation efforts shores up the library’s ability to coordinate programs and volunteers and engage the community and media. In addition, a growing team of dedicated volunteers bring diverse skills and knowledge to support the project’s growth.

On Sunday, March 20, the library will host another tool drive (see box). The organizers urge those considering making tax-deductible tool donations to keep in mind that by becoming a library member they’ll still have access to the donated items, plus hundreds of others. “Not everyone has to own one of everything that they use once a year,” notes Harper.

Ultimately, says Letts, “The biggest tool we’ll ever have is the ability to build community. The Asheville Tool Library is one tool in that toolbox.”

Want to get involved? Contact the Asheville Tool Library at librarian@ashevilletoollibrary.org. The project can also be found on Facebook (facebook.com/ashevilletoollibrary) and at ashevilletoollibrary.org.

 

 

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About Josh O'Conner
Josh O’Conner is an urban/land use planner with a passion for urban agriculture. He can be reached at @kalepiracy or @joshoconner on Twitter or e-mailed at josh.oconner@gmail.com.

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One thought on “Tool library aims to build community, sustainability

  1. boatrocker

    In reading some of the downright greedy, self centered and far right wacko comments here on almost a daily basis, I’ve generated quite the mental list of tools I’d love to see featured in said library.

    But seriously, interesting idea. Will a hydrospanner or a skyhook be included?

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