DIY and repurposing culture has exploded in recent years, fuelled by open-source websites such as Intructables and Thingiverse where people share knowledge and how-to guides on how to make everything – from crafting your own bunk bed (this one was made by one of our members!) to making a wallet out of a juice carton to 3D Printing your own fidget spinner. Online marketplaces such as Etsy and Instagram have even allowed some makers and crafters to take their DIY to the next level, fully supporting themselves on the income they generate from things they make.

Tool Libraries are a rapidly emerging and important branch of this DIY culture, enabling folks who could not otherwise afford the expensive tools needed for these projects to access them at a low cost annual membership fee. Unsurprisingly, tool library locations are popping up across the globe – particularly here in North America. Opening its doors in 1979, the Berkley Tool Library has been a leader in this movement with the Bay Area now boasting over five different locations. In 2011, the Vancouver Tool Library sparked the trend in Canada, with the Toronto Tool Library fanning the flames shortly after by launching in 2013 and since expanding into four locations, some including additional resources such as Maker Spaces, Sharing Depots and Repair Cafes.

After Toronto’s launch, the idea spread like wildfire: there are now tool libraries in Victoria, Calgary, Sudbury, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Halifax, just to name a few. The movement has become so popular that from June 9-11th, The Toronto Tool Library will be hosting lending libraries from all over the world for the 2nd Annual Lending Library Symposium. This conference has been designed to help librarians build their platforms through workshops covering volunteer engagement, governance models, expansion strategies and more – but anyone interested in the Alternative Library Movement is welcome to join us and mingle with thought-leaders:

Register: Lending Library Symposium

For some members, a Tool Library is simply a convenient means to access tools for projects around the home. But for others, (and certainly for the board that governs the Toronto Tool Library, called the Institute for a Resource Based Economy) these spaces are representative of a larger value system that stems from a long history. Concepts of lending and sharing have been shaped by communities that value reciprocity and the commons, who understand humans as only a small part of a larger system. These communities do not distinguish between economic growth and the impact it might have on our social and ecosystem health, but rather, they recognize that human wellbeing (and survival) is intrinsically dependent on how we protect the health of those systems.

These relationships have forever been fundamental to many Indigenous communities, as scholars such as Winonah Laduke, Leanne Simpson, Glen Coultard, Deb McGregor and countless others have worked tirelessly to remind the non-indigenous. The concept of the Commons is also protected through the likes of Elinor Ostrom and heterodox economists who have contradicted the theory of the Tragedy of the Commons by showcasing the common resource management strategies of groups around the globe, emphasizing the vitality that these systems have in bolstering community resilience and resource sustainability. For generations, these systems were able to sustain their communities’ environmental health, economic stability and social inclusion. Yet dominant exchange markets started to shift in support of values of ownership, economic growth, and expansion, thus warping, and often violently burying these sustainable systems.

Today we stand at a critical point in our human history, a crossroads where we have the opportunity to re-connect with the earth and with one another, to strengthen a human-earth connection for which many communities around the world never stopped fighting. Less consumption and less waste, increased accessibility for those who have been financially left out, and a community-led opposition to a seemingly indestructible economic system that obstructs the human-earth connection.

Using the library may come from a variety of personal interests and needs, but the overall impact is shared. Tool libraries are one way to contribute to this mission of detaching human needs from monetary value. Clearly, there’s a larger building project at stake here – and we’re sharing the tools with which to build it.

Molly Fremes is a proud new board member of IRBE (the nonprofit behind the Toronto Tool Library). A hopeless nerd, she hopes to share her passion of social economies and community-building through her research, blog posts, and volunteering at The Toronto Tool Library. She is a Master’s student at York University studying alternative economic models in food systems. She is known for terrible puns and always mixing up her idioms.