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Borrowing Brawn

Aug 26, 2009
By Sean Piazza

lawnmowerIn the Berkeley Public Library in Berkeley, Calif., readers can expand their minds free of charge with books by literary icons like Balzac, Faulkner and Shelley. But for those looking to expand their backyards, the works go by different names: Deere, Stihl and Husqvarna.

Celebrating 40 years in 2009, Berkeley’s Tool Lending Library allows all city taxpayers—or the do-it-yourselfers at least—access to one of the first collections of its kind in the country. As with the stacks of literary classics, over 2,500 tools can be searched, reserved and renewed in the Berkeley Library Catalog. But while fines for a late copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls will cost you $1.75 per week, keeping tools like the DeWalt belt sander run between $2 and $15 per day.

With creative ways of cutting costs combining with a rising interest in green practices, tool lending offers new opportunities to help people conserve both cash and energy. The Silicon Valley Tool Lending Library in nearby Santa Clara, Calif., allows people to check out a kilowatt meter to measure power usage on, say, an air conditioner, and then take a caulk gun home to seal the window leak that’s making it work so hard. The most important benefit of the four-year-old program, according to energy conservation coordinator Herb Marshall, is that the program’s tools help teach users how to change their energy use and lifestyle, with the added benefit of lowering costs in tough economic times.

The benefits of tool lending during this recession have also aided local nonprofit organizations, only 16 percent of which anticipate the ability to cover their expenses in the next two years.

Hands on Greater Portland, in Oregon, sustains a library specifically for volunteer organizations in need. In Buffalo, N.Y., a similar program in the park system makes it easier for individuals to volunteer to beautify their local public spaces, without tapping the lean funding from public coffers.

As the recession drags on, DIY enthusiasts are finding more and more reasons to borrow rather than buy the implements they need to plug the holes in their leaky ceilings. Thanks to tool-lending libraries, they should also be able to plug the holes in their wallets at the same time.

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