baking pans
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
March 28, 2024 ·  5 min read

Public Libraries are Adding Libraries of Things to their catalogs

Libraries are one of the few places you can go to without the expectation of spending money. There are countless books at your fingertips and all you need is a membership. There is a small fee if you’re late returning a book otherwise a membership is usually free and attainable if you’re living in the same city as where you’re trying to get the membership.

Sadly, libraries are underfunded and undervalued, and many are closing down to make space for corporate companies to take over. However, libraries are upping the stakes. Some are now adding free things such as household items to their list of things you can check out. The first concept of libraries renting out things other than books began in 1904. Framed paintings were available for checkout at the Newark Public Library in New Jersey. The director of the American Library Association’s Center for the Future of Libraries, Miguel Figueroa jokingly says, “Libraries were sharing before sharing was cool.” Around 20 years ago, the program was started and has since grown into a nationwide courtesy.

The Benefits of the Catalogue.

Due to negligence and wastefulness, we as a species have caused disruption to our ecosystem. Libraries, in a way, can help minimize that. Some libraries have a catalog with around 200 items. Because most of these items are only needed on special occasions, they can be a waste of space and often create clutter.

Read: Family Has To Cut Down A 110-Year-Old Tree, Decides To Make A Free Library In Its Stump

Free and Accessible

Libraries are creating a way to eliminate clutter from homes and help communities get the resources they need, for the short time they’re needed. This idea might just have the capacity to minimize waste and recycle useful products. Certain stores already have rental policies in place where for a fee you can rent tractors, tools, camping equipment, and so on. They typically charge what feels like an unreasonable amount of money and often customer service can leave you feeling a little taken advantage of.

Libraries have offered some amazing things in the past, such as access to computers in communities where resources are limited. Books that are available for school research and essays. They host free business classes, crafting classes, and even music classes. Children can go to sing songs and partake in community reading programs.

Libraries Already Offering these Catalogues

More and more libraries are offering a list of rentable resources to their local communities. A number of U.S. libraries are already providing these services including:

Beaverton City, Oregon is among the libraries around the country that have decided to make the “list of things” available to its community. They provide things like knitting needles, portable keyboards, paper shredders, metal detectors, bird-watching kits, an ice cream maker, microscopes, an electric pressure washer, a food dehydrator, and a GoPro digital camera.

Pasco County Libraries in Florida also provides a large list of items. Their list includes developmental toys for children, bird-watching kits, cake pans, other cookware, looms for crafting, seeds (these don’t have to be returned), video games, and other electronics. Their website has a list of guidelines in order to partake in the program that includes returning the items in the same condition as when you got them, your library card must be valid and current, and each item has its own loan period. This means that things should be treated with respect and the time allotment for each item varies.

The Great Barrington Libraries of Massachusetts has a list in their archives that provide outdoor equipment, cooking, and baking supplies, such as cake pans and pressure cookers. They even offer book-making supplies so you can create your own stories with stuff you’ve found at home or in the backyard.

The Berkeley Public Library has a list of tool rentals, that’ll need to be reserved in advance. The library’s website includes a YouTube tutorial in case you are struggling to make that reservation. The Berkeley libraries are still requiring masks regardless of vaccination status so come prepared on the day of your rental reservation.

The Challenges of this Idea

This is an overall great idea and has had a fairly high success rate. Like everything else in life, it’s not without its flaws. Some challenges have arisen as these lists have grown. Previously existing catalogs that consisted only of books, had only books to maintain. Not unsurprisingly the library catalogs of things, take more work to maintain.

Emer P. Feeney, the Fletcher Free Library’s assistant director has commented on the program and its hardships. Feeney states, “With books, you can just buy a mark record that makes that item findable through the catalog and also manageable through our software. With physical items, you have to create it, you have to describe it, you have to use weird fields that have been defined in cataloging to describe things accurately so that, for example, a certain kind of shovel in our collection would be roughly approximate to the same kind of shovel in someone else’s collection.” Packaging poses another challenge and creates a more involved task.

Feeney also says board games or puzzles to come back with missing pieces and that has to be factored in. Someone will have to go on a search to find a replacement for those missing pieces. It also becomes a bit more costly when pieces need to be replaced. Some of the more valuable items like GoPros, DVD players, and other electronics are subject to theft. When this happens, it can be costly to replace them. Feeney has yet to encounter this problem. He simply lists the items as available, rather than have them out on the shelves.

Now, with this amazing change to library catalogs, people have easy access to much-needed, although rarely needed, resources. The best part is that they’re free! This new list of objects will help to keep libraries relevant and open. No more wasted money, resources, or space. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. 

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  1. “Public libraries are expanding the sharing economy by adding Libraries of Things to their catalogs” Shareable. February 2020.
  2. The Library of Things. American Libraries Magazine.American Libraries Magazine. Terra Dankowski and Brian Mead. June 1, 2017.
  3. LIBRARY OF THINGS.” Beaverton Library. Retrieved October 24, 2022.
  4. 200 Random Things Libraries Will Let You Check Out for Free — From Instant Pots to Skulls.” Money. Julia Glum. May 16, 2019.