Everyone has one item in their home that they’ve bought, used once, and then collects dust in the basement. Now there’s a place for those items to live; where not just one, but many people can put those things to good use.
The KW Library of Things opened in February 2018, co-founded by Devon Fernandes, Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region and Sustainable Societies Consulting Group. The Library of Things is just like its book-centric counterpart where members can borrow tools, kitchen items, and camping gear.
The project stemmed from Felix Munger, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, who was inspired by a pilot project he saw while travelling in Berlin. He approached Fernandes, who was studying his master’s degree at Laurier, and was seeking a project for his community practicum.
Fernandes loved the concept and took the ball and ran with it. He scouted similar initiatives, including the Toronto Tool Library, and laid the groundwork for the Kitchener-based communal resource.
The project checked all the boxes as a place where people could borrow items for a low-cost membership. It also reduces waste and involves community by employing people with disabilities through Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region.
“Waterloo Region’s landfill is going to reach capacity in 2030, so there’s all these really pressing environmental outcomes that we need to address, but there are also social ones,” Fernandes said. “Extend-A-Family is really engaged in making sure that people with disabilities have good opportunities to show their gifts and obtain proper compensation for it.
“When we designed the library, it was how can we address a lot of these goals at the same time, and that’s how the library came to be.”
In February 2018, they started with 350 items available to borrow, and they’ve since doubled their inventory to offer over 700 items. Members pay a $50 yearly membership fee with subsidized memberships available, and they can borrow up to 10 items per week.
The KW Library of Things carries most of the typical items you’d find in a tool rental shop, like a table saw, air compressor and cordless drills, to more extravagant items like an ice cream maker, bread maker and a chocolate fountain.
“At the time, the first time we got the chocolate fountain, I was like: ‘I can never imagine myself owning a chocolate fountain,’” Fernandes said. “But the idea of borrowing this for a nice occasion. Especially during COVID, we’re all looking at the same four walls all the time. It gives us a really good outlet to try new things.”
Over the years, Fernandes has heard nothing but positive response from the community. One of the initial interactions he had was with someone at a community supported agricultural day, and he explained the concept of the library to visitors.
That person handed Fernandes a $20 dollar bill and said: “make it a reality”. That first reaction was indicative of what was to come, as the KW Library of Things team saw the community rally behind the cause.
“Whenever I’ve talked about the library previously, I’ve never felt like I’ve had to sell the library,” Fernandes said. “If I tell people, either the environmental angle, the social angle, the community angle, all three of them is going to appeal to some person because we’re all interested in these forms in Kitchener-Waterloo.”
Sara Wilbur-Collins is the librarian at the KW Library of Things, and she noticed members are using items from the library to keep themselves busy during the pandemic. Carpet cleaners are a hot commodity these days, as people prepare for spring cleaning.
“There’s always a hook,” Wilbur-Collins said. “If you’re not doing a woodworking project, or a landscaping project, you might be wanting to cook something. But depending on how the recipe goes, you might only want to do it once. But we’ve got the tools for that.”
When Fernandes tells family, friends or community members about the KW Library of Things, they often wish they found out about the library sooner. As any do-it-yourself enthusiast can attest to, some tools or items are purchased and used once, never to see the light of day again.
Although Waterloo Region exited the lockdown phase, people are still looking for ways to occupy their time during these periods where many are working from home and isolated away from friends and family.
Fernandes said he’s seen plenty of people posting on social media about starting new projects to keep themselves occupied as we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic. They now have the incentive to finish that at-home project, or to borrow an item for fun.
“The main thing that I’m hearing from a lot of folks is that it’s just the ability to have something new and interesting, engaging you continually,” Fernandes said. “It could be that telescope, or it could be an ice cream maker. The idea that there are a lot of fun experiences people can have temporarily.”
Whether it’s helping reduce waste and saving the environment, saving its members money, or helping support inclusive employment, the KW Library of Things touches all aspects of community through its unique initiative.
“If you’re starting a household in Waterloo Region, we can really help you,” Wilbur-Collins said. “You can find your own place in the community; whether it’s saving money, being environmental or supporting a broader community socially.”