Frequently Asked Questions

What the heck is a tool library and who are you?

What is a tool library?

A tool library is a place where community members can borrow tools for set periods of time at a low cost. It is an example of a “real sharing economy:” a neighborhood-focused, not-for-profit network where community members share practical resources in a centralized space. Tool libraries and libraries of things can be found all over the world. Our tool library is a social enterprise model, and represents the work of people in the neighborhood coming together to share resources and knowledge, reduce waste, and lower barriers to access. The average power drill is used for only 12 minutes over its lifetime. We want to change that!


How long has this tool library been around?

We were founded in 2011, under the umbrella of the University Heights Collaborative, and in 2018 we incorporated as our own 501(c)3.


How did it get started?

Founder Darren Cotton was a student at the University at Buffalo, living in a low-cost apartment with an absentee landlord. He and his friends were trying to fix up their living quarters with very little money and no tools of their own. He came together with some neighbors facing the same problem, and decided to take action. The Tool Library started with 50 tools and about a dozen members, and we have now grown to over 3,300 tools and over 550 active members! We believe in providing people the tools they need to create the change they want.


Where can I find more detailed information about you?

Our latest Annual Impact Report can be found here.


What is your plan for the future?

Our board has spent this year working hard on a 2021-2025 Strategic Plan and Development Plan. They will be finalized shortly, and linked here when they are. 


Who runs The Tool Library?

The Tool Library has been all-volunteer-run since our founding. Our volunteer working board collaboratively steers the ship. Dedicated shop volunteers keep our doors open and our members happy. This year we have our first full-time staff member, an AmeriCorps VISTA, on board to boost our capacity, and help grow The Tool Library to the next level. And of course, founder Darren Cotton is grinding 24/7, pro bono, to make the magic happen.


You’re operating on the East Side of Buffalo, a majority Black part of the city. What are you doing to advance the Movement for Black Lives?

The Tool Library’s leadership and volunteer teams are not properly racially representative of the communities we serve and operate in. We are actively working to change that. Please read through our initial response to the protests for Black Lives, and our commitments to organizational anti-racism work in our forthcoming Strategic Plan. We are proud of our true, grassroots community partnerships with organizations throughout the city to enact the change neighbors want to see on their streets, and of our community centered approach to designing all of our programming. Any and all feedback, criticism, and engagement from our BlPOC community members is extremely welcomed. If you’re interested in putting tools to work for racial justice, please reach out.

 

How does it work?

What does my membership get me?

When you become a member you get unlimited access to our inventory of over 3,300 tools. Our basic membership level allows you to check out up to five tools at a time, and the typical loan period is one week. Don’t buy tools, borrow ours!


How much does it cost?

Our memberships are currently structured as a yearly rate, and we currently have three levels of membership — Tool Belt, Tool Box, and Wheelbarrow. The Tool Belt costs $20/year and can borrow 5 tools at a time. The Tool Box costs $50/year and can borrow 25 tools at a time. The Wheelbarrow costs $100/year and can borrow 50 tools at a time. Wheelbarrow members are typically organizations looking to supply tools for events or other initiatives. Here’s a neat infographic.


Who can be a member?

Any resident of Western New York who is over 18 years old and agrees to our borrowing terms can become a member.


How do I sign-up?

You can sign up online: return to our homepage, thetoollibrary.org, and click the rectangular orange “Become a Member” box at the top of the page. Or, you can sign up in the shop! Please bring proof of residence in Erie or Niagara County when you come in for the first time, and the volunteer on-duty will give you an official membership card. 


What are your hours?

Due to COVID-19, we are currently operating with reduced hours:

Sunday-Tuesday CLOSED

Wednesday-Friday: 2:00PM – 7:00PM

Saturday: 10:00AM – 2:00PM

If our hours ever change, our website and communications will always be updated and the update will go out to members via email and social media.


Why did I have to pay a late fee, or a cleaning fee?

Our late fees are meant to ensure tools come back on time, so that they can be available for another member who might need them. Late fees are not meant to be a barrier to borrowing, and if you know you can’t return your loan on time, just call us to extend it! The Tool Library is totally run by volunteers, so cleaning fees help us offset the time volunteers will have to spend cleaning and fixing tools brought back in poor condition. All fees help to fund The Tool Library and keep our doors open for everyone’s benefit.


Can I get an extension on my loan?

Most likely, yes! You can call us at 716-510-1745, or email us at info@thetoollibrary.org. Most of the time we can accommodate renewals, but if there is a long waitlist for a tool we might ask you to bring it back on time. It never hurts to ask!


What are Super Tools?

We have a few tools in our inventory which are so awesome they must be rented for a daily fee. Super Tools would cost a member $500+ to purchase for themselves. This currently includes an infrared heat gun, a jackhammer, and an electric drain snake. The Super Tools daily rental fee is $20/day, which is paid upfront. The Super Tools are a great way for us to generate some extra income, as well as provide our members a low-cost way to use these big ticket items. Check out this page for more info.


What is MyTurn?

MyTurn is our digital lending library platform. Members can use our MyTurn page to browse our inventory online, and sign-up or renew their memberships online. MyTurn was started by the founder of the West Seattle Tool Library, and works closely with us to provide the best possible experience for our volunteers and members.


I’m involved with an organization in Western New York. How can we benefit from The Tool Library?

Our membership ranks include many great WNY nonprofits and small businesses. Most organizations sign-up for a Wheelbarrow membership. This allows for more than one person from the group to check-out tools, and also lets you borrow up to 50 tools at a time. Many of our member-organizations use their Tool Library memberships to support community gardens and neighborhood or waterfront clean-ups, as well as to tackle small projects in their offices or shops. This is an incredibly affordable and sustainable way for block clubs, neighborhood associations, youth groups, faith-based groups, school groups, and others to come together and get things done!


How do you keep your inventory working?

We have a great team of volunteer Fixers. When tools come back broken, but repairable, they are our go-to people! All of our volunteers and members contribute to making sure things are in working order. If you have a problem with a tool, please let us know and we can help troubleshoot.


Can I still rent the CoLab?

The CoLab is not currently available for community rentals. The CoLab space is being used for additional tool storage and workspace to accommodate our overflowing inventory and sanitizing and distancing procedures for COVID-19. We will update this page and our community members should that change.


Can I use the tools I need right in your shop?

At the moment, with so much inventory in such a small space, it is not feasible to have open workshop space for members. We are working hard to change this sometime soon!

 

Do you do anything else in the community besides lend tools?

What is a Dare to Repair Cafe? When will Dare to Repair be coming back?

Dare to Repair Cafes are an initiative to reduce waste, get people to think more critically about our consumerism culture, and facilitate community interactions. At the Cafes, community members bring in broken tools and appliances, and volunteer Fixers are available to work alongside to figure out and teach people how to fix their items. Check out how much waste Dare to Repair has diverted from landfills. They typically take place monthly at libraries, community centers, and in other public spaces. These are free events!

We are currently following guidance from public health officials regarding how to proceed during this public health crisis. We will update this page, as well as send out email and social media updates when we have finalized a plan to resume Dare to Repair. 


What are your DIY workshops? When will they be coming back?

DIY workshops are an initiative to meet access to tools with access to knowledge. Popular and seasonal projects are tackled by volunteer instructors. We loved teaching people to use the tools we offer.

As our CoLab space has transitioned to meet our needs for COVID-19, and gathering is not recommended, DIY workshops are on pause. We will update this page, as well as send out email and social media updates when we have finalized a plan to resume.


What service events do you do?

As a fixture in University Heights, much of The Tool Library’s Service Days calendar takes place in the District. Our events typically include tree plantings, community garden work days, public art installations, mulching, weeding, watering, community clean-ups, and more. If your organization wants to partner on a specific project for a Service Day, in your neighborhood or ours, please reach out!


Who do I contact to volunteer on a Service Day? What if my group wants to participate?

To volunteer on a Service Day, please email us at info@thetoollibrary.org, or call us at 716-510-175 to reach out. If your group wants to participate in a Service Day, you can contact us in one of the same ways, and we can discuss what an appropriate project might be.


What is your affiliation with Tyler Street Community Garden?

The Tool Library partners with Grassroots Gardens of WNY and neighborhood residents to keep a community garden at 73 Tyler Street operating and available to community members for growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and more! Please reach out if you are interested in becoming involved at the garden, and/or adopting a raised garden bed. Note: All garden beds have been adopted for the 2020 season, but we’d still love your involvement and support! 


Can you help me with lead abatement?

The Tool Library is currently developing our capacity to serve renters and homeowners looking for access to lead abatement tools and expertise. While this program is not yet available, it would be great to hear from you if you are someone who would utilize it! Please reach out to Maddie at maddie@thetoollibrary.org.


How can I support The Tool Library?

Do you take tool donations?

Please see our Tool Donation page for more info. 


Do you take monetary donations?

Absolutely! We rely on the support of our community for a large chunk of our operations. No donation is too small, and our PayPal allows you to sign-up as a sustaining member with recurring monthly donations. We hope you’ll consider it.


What about larger gifts?

Thank you for considering a large-scale private gift to The Tool Library. We would be happy to discuss options for targeted giving, and our organizational needs with you. Please reach out to Darren Cotton at darren@thetoollibrary.org.


How do I become a shop volunteer?

Fill out a form!


I have super power fix-it skills. Can I help?

Fill out a form!


So… you want to start a tool library?

How do you fund The Tool Library?

Our tool library began with donated tools and discretionary funds from a City Council member to support the costs of operations. Since 2011 we have worked to diversify our funding streams in order to grow our model, and sustain our mission. Our funding as of 2020 is a mix of private donors, small monthly sustainers, membership and borrowing fees, corporate sponsorships, and increasingly, local, state, and federal community development grants. Check out the graphic of our funding breakdown in our latest annual report.


How do you get tools?

When we started, our inventory was almost entirely based on donations. We now source tools from a mix of used tool donations, sponsorships, and buying new with our own funds.


What are the most popular tools?

The most popular tools in your community will be different from ours, because every place has different needs. Here is our big list of most checked out kind of tools this year:

  • Home improvement hand tools: Wrench, clamp, bolt cutter, pry bar/crow bar, axe, sledgehammer, hammer, trowel, hacksaw, mattock, chisel, paint rollers, paint scraper, tin snip, and drain snake;
  • Lawn/garden hand tools: Garden trowel, plastic and metal rake, shovel, spade, lopper, pruning saw, push lawn mower, push broom, post hole digger, hand pruner, hand tiller, hoe, tamper, post pounder, trash grabber, and wheelbarrow;
  • Lawn and garden power tools (all electric): String trimmer/weed wacker, electric tiller, pressure washer, hedge trimmer, edger, leaf blower, electric lawn mower, chainsaw, and electric pole saw;
  • Other electric power tools: Drill, driver, hammer drill, circular saw, miter/chop saw, tile saw, jig saw, reciprocating saw/sawzall, table saw, belt sander, finish sander, detail sander, orbital sander, palm sander, planer, and angle grinder;
  • Pneumatic tools: Brad nailer, finish nailer, and staple gun;
  • Accessories: Extension cords, batteries, chargers, air compressors, air hoses, ladders, step stools, dollies, saw horses, shop vac, bits, sockets, squares, levels, tape measures, and stud finders.


Who are your members?

Our members represent a diverse swath of Western New York residents. Check out this infographic on our membership in the Annual Impact Report.


Is there a national network of tool libraries?

Not officially, but we do keep in contact with our fellow tool libraries across the country and abroad. We will put you in touch with another tool library as well as we can.


What are the biggest challenges of running a tool library?

Some of the big challenges tool libraries face are (1) maintaining enough dedicated volunteers to consistently run your operations, (2) scaling too quickly and not being able to maintain growth, and (3) keeping the service accessible to everyone, while still finding the funding to sustain the organization. This report from the Partnership for Public Good does a really good job of breaking down the ins and outs. 


What is the best part about running a tool library?

The best part is our members! We love to share in the experiences of projects they are doing, and ways their homes and lives are improving with our tools. It is great to see our street cleaned up, tree canopy growing, flowers blooming, and people interacting with art, trails, and green spaces.


Do you have other resources about tool libraries you can share?

USDN Sustainable Toolkit on Tool Libraries

Partnership for Public Good Report