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 The project can also be found on Facebook ( and at




Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

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

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

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?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.