The Library of Things: no books, but plenty of sewing machines and saws

Borrowing an item. Pic: Eddie Hamilton, Seymourpowell

Two lending libraries stocked with everything from karaoke sets to circular saws will open next year in Hackney, as part of one start-up’s vision to encourage sharing, not shopping.

The Library of Things will let anyone borrow its tools and equipment at a low cost. Borrowers will be able to click and collect items from self-serve lockers at the Old Baths in Hackney Wick from January 2021. A second branch at Dalston’s CLR James Library will follow later in the year.

Co-founder Rebecca Trevalyan told Eastlondonlines she hopes the social enterprise will help young people and families squeezed for space, as well as those on low incomes, access items they otherwise could not store or afford. “The larger trend is towards access rather than ownership. Particularly post-pandemic, it’s going to make more and more financial sense… We can’t just keep buying and throwing away more stuff.”

Rebecca Trevalyan. Pic: Library of Things

Community groups Sustainable Hackney and Stour Space invited the Library to the borough after seeing its success in South London. Hackney Council is also an eager partner and contributed towards the £30,000 set-up fund.

Hackney residents can request items through the Library’s website before it opens. Unsurprisingly for London’s most cycling-friendly borough, bike repair kit tops the list. But requests have been diverse as laser cutters, specialist cake pans and electric knife sharpeners. Trevalyan said: “It’s important that we stock things people actually want to use.”

Treyalan and co-founders Emma Shaw and Sophie Wyatt came up with the concept while living in a tiny house share. “We were annoyed … that we were buying, storing and ultimately throwing away all sorts of items that we only use occasionally.  

“If everyone in the world consumed in the way that the UK does, we’d need three and a half planets to sustain us… We could see retail wasn’t serving our high street, either. Just buying more stuff had to come to dominate.”

The Library says it has already saved 23 tonnes of waste from landfill. But Trevalyan told ELL that borrowing needs to be as easy as buying to make a difference: “Our big competitor is Amazon, which sounds ridiculous. But people can press two buttons and have an item arrive at their door the next day, which is pretty bloody convenient.”

To achieve that, borrowing rates are low: a gazebo costs £12 per day, a hand saw just £1. Classes will help people gain skills, meet neighbours and overcome the “confidence barrier” to using complicated tools.

Once the Hackney branches are up and running, the model can be easily replicated across the UK. Trevalyan said: “We would love to see a Library of Things in every neighbourhood that wants one.”


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