Library of Things

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= borrowing shop in West Norwood, London, UK: "a friendly space that lends out useful items and teaches you how to use them".


Part of the Open Works project.


Athlyn Cathcart-Keays writes about Rebecca Trevalyan and the Library of Things:

"Initially a pilot project under the Open Works banner, Library of Things launched as a borrowing shop that loans out household items – from hammers to waffle-toasters – in a bid to reduce waste, connect the community and provide an alternative local economy based on peer-to-peer exchange, rather than unnecessary consumption.

“What is powerful is that we’re not just another app or website,” says Rebecca Trevalyan, who co-founded the borrowing shop with friends Emma Shaw and James Tattersfield. “You could do this project purely online, but then you’d lose the warm, fluffy feeling that you get from the human interaction of sharing.”

Library of Things was originally located in a spare room of West Norwood’s library; Trevalyan and her team scoured the streets of London in search of chests and shelves to create the shop fittings. “Fifteen people showed up, and within a day we created the furniture for the shop,” she recalls. “It was also a chance for people to shape what it would look and feel like, and to discuss ideas. These people effectively became our community champions and were involved throughout the lifecycle of the project, spreading the word within the area.”

In the Library of Things, members can borrow anything from pasta-makers to tents, tools to suitcases (on average, an electric drill is used only 13 minutes in its entire lifetime, so it really does make sense). But this is not just about access to goods: members are also encouraged to interact, and a community wishlist was created to help visually map the needs of the area – thereby informing donations to the shop."

“People would realise that other members they were chatting to about the easiest way to put up a shelf, or other household DIY, lived on their own street but they had never met before,” Trevalyan says. “It just goes to show the value of a bit of shared community space.”

As well as assisting individual members of the West Norwood community with various DIY jobs, Library of Things acted as a base for other community projects to flourish – including other Open Works projects (when the Bzz Garage, see below, needed 20 shovels for a planting day one weekend, they were quickly sourced and lent out by the Library). Equally, the large, networked community that was blooming in West Norwood was crucial in getting the borrowing shop off the ground.

Since the pilot ended, Library of Things has been searching for a new space – an impossible task in an increasingly commercialising city, says Trevalyan, but they hope to remain in the borough. “We have a loyal group of members in Lambeth. This was developed in collaboration with the people of the area; it wasn’t formed by a group of individuals behind closed doors. This community involvement gave it legitimacy”." (