How To Set Up A Community “Lending Library”

by heather

Raise your hand if you have ever taken out a power tool on loan from your library. I can hear some of you from here: Power tools? From the library? What?

The concept of communal lending libraries isn’t new, but it’s certainly fallen out of favor over the past few decades as more and more people chose to buy their own “stuff”. But with the economy on shaky legs and all of us watching our pennies (and more of more of us trying to live a greener lifestyle), the concept of community lending libraries is certainly coming back with a bang.

The idea is simple: people in a community pool items they own to share with everyone. Some communities choose to set up the lending library in their local, book-based library, but other communities have set up lending libraries out of their own homes or community centers. Even more operate lending libraries entirely over the internet.

For instance, say you have a cordless drill, a pick-up truck, and an extension ladder you don’t use that often. Your neighbor might have an extensive set of woodworking tools from his past job, and the woman down the street might own a lot of gardening tools that you’d love to use in your own yard. All of these items could be pooled together for everyone to use. And thus, a lending library is born.

The Benefits of A Community Lending Library

1. Community Lending Libraries Save Money

One of the biggest benefits to setting up a communal lending library is that they save everyone money.

For example, if you’re installing tile and need a tile cutter and saw, you could spend $30 or more at Home Depot to buy these tools (which you’ll probably only use the one time). Renting them is probably not an option.

Or, imagine your basement has started flooding for no reason. You could go buy a shop vac for $90, or rent one for 6 hours for $25. Both options stink.

If, however, you had a community lending library set up, you could get both of these items for free.

2. Community Lending Libraries Cut Down On Consumption

Sharing resources through your lending library drastically cuts down on consumption. Think about it: instead of buying an item (which is often just used for a short time) and then storing it in your home, you simply borrow it from someone else.

This simple action just saved the resources used to make the item you would have bought, and prevented that item from going into a landfill years later when you got rid of it.

3. Community Lending Libraries Increase Our Sense Of “Community”

Most of us truly want to help others. The problem is that in many communities, we’re too cut off from each other. Lending libraries help connect all of us back together.

You help me, I help you, and we both benefit. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Setting Up A Community Lending Library

Although it may sound like a major project, setting up a community library doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. There are several ways to get started.

1. Join An Existing Online Group

If you want to get your feet wet on your own, then the easiest way to get started is to join is an online site that lets you list the items you want to make available for lending. Other people who have joined in your community can look at your items and decide if they need anything you have.

If you’re choosing to lend items that you really, really want back, then you can choose to join a Neighborrow-hood. This is an invitation-only group of people you know (like in your apartment complex or neighborhood). You can easily search the online database of everyone in your ‘hood, see what they have listed, and trade with each other in-person.

2. Start Your Own Online Group

If you’re not wild about joining, then check out

Here’s how it works: say you and a few of your friends just want to swap clothes or children’s toys with each other. But as anyone who has ever leant anything to a friend can tell you, a lot of times they forget to bring it back. is an easy (and free) way to track who owes you what. This ensures that you don’t lose your stuff, or your best friend.

3. Start A Local Neighborhood Lending Library

This option involves the most work, but if you don’t want to use the Internet it’s definitely the way to go.

You’ll first need to meet with others on your street, or in your neighborhood or community to decide what kind of library to start. You could even make it a little bit of everything if you want.

Next, anyone that wants to be a part of the library needs to list exactly what they want to make available for lending. Once you have everyone’s inventory list, you’ll need to create a type of “lending phone book”.

You’re going to list each person’s inventory, along with their name, phone number, and email address, and compile everything into a booklet. You can make a harder cover out of card stock, and give one copy to everyone in the library.

If you decide to go this route then it’s a good idea to decide on a code of ethics for people to follow. For instance, tools should come back clean and unbroken. Clothing needs to be washed and wrinkle-free. If there are damages, the borrow must pay to replace the loaned item.

Once everyone has an inventory list, it’s up to them to contact the lender directly and borrow the item.

What Can You Lend?

Now, the great thing about lending libraries is that you can lend anything. Need some inspiration?

  • Children’s toys and games
  • Infant supplies (cribs, bottles, ect.)
  • Auto-working tools
  • Maternity clothing
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Home-improvement tools
  • DVDs
  • Video games
  • Specialized books
  • Seasonal supplies (beach chairs, snow skis)
  • Business clothing
  • CDs
  • Computer supplies and accessories
  • Fine china for special occasions
  • Party supplies

One more thing: you can also lend your knowledge.

For instance, do you know how to make homemade jam? Crochet? Fix a computer? Restring a guitar? Change an oil filter?

Many of us have no idea what our neighbors know. But we all have specialized knowledge about something that we can share with someone else. If you know how to do something, then list it just like you would a tool or piece of clothing!

I promise: sharing your knowledge with someone else and teaching them to do something new will give you more gratification than lending anything else you have to give.

More Information

If you’d like some more detailed information about the ins and outs of setting up an actual lending system, then check out this great article. It’s a “how-to” about setting up a book lending libray, but it’s very informative and the concepts could easily be transferred to other things like tools or clothing.

If you happen to live out in California, you could check out The Santa Rosa Tool Library. Dustin Zuckerman, the founder, has put together a great site, so even if you don’t live on the West Coast, you can still learn a lot from his site about how to start your own.

Have any of you started a neighborhood lending library, or joined one? If so, I’d love to hear how it’s working out. What tips could you offer others who are interested in setting one up?

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Layla March 5, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Interesting idea!! 🙂

A neighbour & I (& my sister) already exchange romance books!! 🙂
It’s a start… 🙂

cehh November 27, 2009 at 1:03 am

brillliant! this is what i’m looking for. keep it up!

Tamara February 2, 2011 at 1:45 am

I’m in the process of starting a lending network in my neighborhood and I’m really excited to have found your article. Many of our ideas are the same, and your links have been super helpful for me…very excited to give them a try, esp. BillMonk and see if we can fit it into the idea that I have for our ‘hood. What I’m hoping to have is an umbrella site, which explains our project, and provides pages for users to take part in the lending process. I’m eager to have a resource map for our project as well, for neighbors to get to know each other than much better with a visual of who lives where and has what…
THANKS again!

KC in ATX September 22, 2013 at 8:31 pm is now, and only manages money that is owed between friends.

I’m not sure because I don’t have a Twitter account, but appears to also have changed its format so that you make requests via tweets only.

I can’t find anything online that allows you to set up a local group, list the items you want to borrow, list the items you are willing to lend, and invite people to the group.

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