Hello and welcome! Thanks for your interest in starting some kind of lending or rental initiative.
Here you’ll find our answers to some of the main questions we get asked by those interested in the movement.
In the spirit of sharing and building the movement, we’re opening up much of what we’ve learned over 4 years of testing and developing Library of Things.
Lots of this learning has been hard-won - through blood, sweat, tears and broken carpet cleaners - so:
- Do contribute what you can by donating here or joining a tour (these are currently on hiatus due to COVID-19 but we hope to be offering virtual ones soon)
- Be mindful when getting in touch that we get lots of requests and have a small team with limited resources. If you have a slightly larger request and would like a series of phone calls or other support, then we’re very happy to work with you on a consultancy basis.
1. How to get started!
You have two broad options for kickstarting some kind of lending or rental project:
- If you’re based in the UK, particularly in an urban area, you can partner with us to make it happen. We bring our technology, knowhow, model, and partnerships with Bosch, Karcher and co
- You can Do It Yourself, just like we did. There are hundreds of tool libraries and libraries of things around the world that have been started by small groups of citizens with some time on their hands.
1) To partner with us, you’ll need:
- Space - Affordable, secure, suitable space eg. libraries, community centres that have 10sqm+ publicly accessible space and are open at least 40 hours per week
- Budget - A set-up budget of £30,000
- Community - Evidence of demand for lending/renting from local community
Read more about how to partner with us here: http://libraryofthings.co.uk/new-sites
2) To do it yourself, you’ll need
All of the above - plus a dedicated, practical group of local people with time to spare.
2. What have we learned as we’ve tested and developed Library of Things?
Since our first tiny shoestring test in 2014 we’ve learnt a whole lot about what does and doesn’t work when it comes to how we run the borrowing service.
The headline is that user experience and convenience are king. In an era of Amazon, sadly not many people will change their behaviour for good unless the alternative is even more convenient - and more affordable / rewarding.
To develop a new element of our service, we start with what we’ve heard users want, then test, get feedback and adapt. We’ve brought in lots of experienced designers and developers to help us create an effortless and joyful borrowing service. In an era of retail giants like Amazon, we’ve learnt we can’t afford to cut corners with design and technology.
Some more specific lessons we’ve had include:
- Donated items cause headaches - both for borrowers and for the team. More on why under ‘Things and Technology’ below.
- The independent ‘shop’ version of Library of Things is difficult to make viable, for two reasons:
- Borrowers generally need flexibility in terms of collection and return times - the more hours you can be open, the better it is for borrowers. But longer opening hours means higher staff or volunteer costs.
- The revenue generated from borrowing doesn’t cover all of the costs involved with maintaining, staffing and paying rent / bills for a space. Some Tool Libraries receive grant funding, offers of space at peppercorn rent (ie. no rent) and/or start makerspaces to supplement income and make this version viable.
3. Item theft and damage is not as big an issue as you might think. Of over 4000 loans of items we’ve done, only 3 items have not come back. Only 4% of loans require some kind of maintenance (though that’s largely because we source the highest quality items).
1. How many people use each kiosk, and what’s the annual income?
For each Library of Things kiosk, each year, 1000 local people borrow on average twice each. They pay an average of £10 per borrow. There’s also a little extra income from loyalty memberships, late fees, consumables etc. So in total, each kiosk can earn up to £25,000 per year. This is dependent on lots of local and digital marketing - it wouldn’t just happen on its own!
2. What is the Library of Things staffing model?
Library of Things is a platform that operates multiple borrowing kiosks, meaning we have a small paid core team doing everything from customer service to software development to digital marketing - plus paid local staff and volunteers who make sure each kiosk is loved and cared for by its host community.
- Core team: You can see our smiling faces here: http://libraryofthings.co.uk/team
- Local team: Each kiosk has a:
- paid Community Activator who does local marketing, outreach and coordinates the skill-sharing programme
- paid Thing Technician who does ongoing item maintenance
- committed group of volunteers who do the fun bits like sharing their skills at events, supporting the Thing Technician to do item maintenance, and signposting the service to their friends and neighbours
3. How is Library of Things funded?
We are funded by a combination of impact investment and grants - but our aim is to become self-sustaining as soon as possible.
We have carefully chosen a group of mission-aligned angel investors and a social investment institution to provide finance in exchange for a small stake in Library of Things Limited.
You can read more about our governance structure and funding decisions on our blog here: https://content.libraryofthings.co.uk/blog-2/profit-with-purpose
What is a suitable space to host a Library of Things?
The Host Space for a Library of Things should be affordable, secure and accessible - think libraries or community centres. Places which have high footfall are best - it means you won’t have to draw your community to somewhere new, and you can reach people you might not usually.
If you partner with us on a Library of Things, our criteria asks for:
❏ High footfall – minimum 10,000 visitors per month
❏ Minimum 10sqm of space to host the kiosk (see image on p2), which is:
❏ Ground floor level
❏ Publicly accessible (can’t be within a room bookable for private use)
❏ Along a wall where power points and ethernet internet can be installed
❏ Minimum opening hours of 40 hours per week
❏ Minimum of 10 of these hours over Saturday & Sunday, to maximise peak
❏ Staffed during opening hours
❏ Staff able to do occasional ad-hoc signposting for borrowers
❏ Safe & secure, for example locked & alarmed overnight
❏ Car park available within a 2 minute walk, so borrowers can transport bulky items
❏ Space for kiosk visible from a window
❏ Event space – access to low-cost event space for practical skill-sharing events
like DIY classes and repair cafes, and volunteer meetings & training sessions
❏ Approx 3sqm of storage space elsewhere in the space for ‘back-up’ items
How does the kiosk work?
Our self-service kiosk is made up of lockers designed to fit the Things we lend out. Each locker has a combination lock.
- Borrowers make a reservation on our website: www.libraryofthings.co.uk
- On the day of their reservation they come to their local kiosk, and use the self-serve screen to check out the Thing and ensure they have all the parts they need. They’re given a code, which they enter on the locker and then retrieve their Thing
- Borrower takes the Thing home for a day, a few days or a week
- They repeat step two on return!
The LoT self-serve borrowing kiosk is:
✔ Adaptable for different Spaces (eg. varying sizes & configurations)
✔ Adaptable for different combinations of items (eg. mix of DIY, gardening, cleaning)
✔ Attractive – made from sustainably sourced wood
✔ Compact – only requires 10 square metres
✔ Self-service & user-friendly, so staff don’t need to be on-hand around the clock
✔ Serviced weekly (along with all items) by trained LoT staff
✔ Supported by the LoT remote customer service team, who handle all technical queries
✔ Locally manufactured
Things & technology
Where and how do you source your Things?
We want to encourage more and more people to borrow so we lend out the best Things we can source. We build relationships directly with manufacturers like Bosch and Kärcher. We also receive warranties, and share feedback to make products better. We make sure we test everything before we make it available to borrowers to make sure it's suitable for borrowing.
We learnt early on in our journey that donations don’t work because:
- What people want to donate often isn’t what others want to borrow - there’s a supply and demand challenge
- Donated items don’t come with warranties and generally break more easily. Often when they’re broken beyond simple repairs, they’re broken for good.
- We’re trying to make borrowing better than buying. For many people that’s only attractive if the Things are in great condition.
What are the most popular/most requested Things?
Our top 10 most borrowed Things are: Carpet Cleaners, Pressure Washers, Cordless Drills, Projector, Sanders, Steam Cleaners, Gazebo, Hedge Trimmers, Sewing Machines and Strimmers.
We imagine these will differ slightly depending on the community - it’s a good idea to ask your potential borrowers what they want to borrow and/or get them to vote on Things that you can offer.
We find that peak borrowing season is between April-July, with the gardening Things and pressure washer being very popular during these months. The Carpet Cleaner is consistently #1 though!
Smaller hand tools, like the hammer for example, aren't borrowed as much as a lot of people already own these but that’s not to say they shouldn’t be included in your catalogue of Things.
What software do you use?
We’ve previously used both Lend Engine and MyTurn - which are both platforms that are used by lending libraries all over the world. However we decided to build our own software a) so that we were able to prioritise and respond directly to the needs of and feedback our borrowers and our team at our own pace and b) so that we could integrate it with our self-serve kiosk.
We’re hoping to make our technology available to other lending libraries via licensing in the near future. For now, the software is included in the £30k set-up fee if you partner with us in setting up a Library of Things in your community.
Healthy & safety and Insurance
What legal documents, terms and conditions and insurance do we need?
We have the following insurance cover:
- Contents insurance - covers any theft of items, or damage to our kiosks or materials
- Public liability insurance - covers any injury or damage caused by our items to borrowers - both at the kiosk and at home
- Employee liability insurance - covers any major injury of our team, including volunteers
We are currently insured by Zurich.
How do you ensure people respect and return the items?
We say our best insurance policy is putting our time and energy into building a community. It’s not just about plonking random Things onto street corners - but about asking local people which Things they need in the first place, and putting those Things into much-loved and visited local homes - such as libraries and community spaces. Making sure the Things are high quality and well-maintained makes it much more likely that people will continue to return items in a similar condition.
If an item is damaged, this is nearly always down to ordinary wear and tear or because someone didn’t understand how to use or maintain an item. So we provide user-friendly how-to guides and videos, and send out lots of reminders about bringing back all the parts!
In the worst case scenario, if an item comes back damaged or isn’t returned at all, in our User Agreement, you’ll see we do also have the right to charge users for up to the full repair or replacement value of an item.
How do you make sure the items are safe for borrowing?
We ask borrowers to report any damage or faulty items immediately. Those items are then flagged as unavailable on our system.
To minimise the risk of items being faulty, we do regular servicing events on all items that have been borrowed. Twice per week, a local, paid ‘Thing Technician’ does a Thing Fixing session with a small group of local volunteers, to check through and do basic maintenance of the items.
What is the ShareFest network and how do I join?
ShareFest Network is an informal network of established UK-based Libraries of Things and Tool Libraries. We have an annual gathering, and in the meantime we collaborate via online calls and Slack.
Have you got an established UK-based Tool Library or Library of Things and want to join? Contact Rebecca on email@example.com.
Do you want to establish a Tool Library or Library of Things in the UK? We are still working out how best to support those wanting to start a community lending initiative, and will publicise via newsletter any support we are able to announce.
Firstly, check out this great Shareable article which may answer a lot of your questions: https://www.shareable.net/how-to-start-a-tool-library/
And this is also quite handy: https://www.moneycrashers.com/tool-lending-library/
And here is an article on the Ellen McArthur Foundation website about our pals at the Toronto Tool Library: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/case-studies/how-tool-sharing-could-become-a-public-utility
Here are also some resources from MyTurn who run many of the online tool library inventories around the world: https://myturn.com/resource/starting-a-tool-library/
Once you're in the process of setting up, you might also want to join this Global Tool Libraries & LoT Facebook groups: https://www.facebook.com/groups/416470378721657
If you found this useful, please consider making a donation. All donations go towards the continued development of Library of Things as a service for everyone.