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A recent visitor to TechShop in Menlo Park, CA said that he was amazed by a story he was told on his tour. Initially, there was concern that tools would walk out the door at TechShop. In practice, though, the opposite has proved to be true. Members of this community-based workshop brought tools from home and left them at TechShop for others to use. So TechShop was ending up with more tools than they started with. TechShop co-founder, Jim Newton, confirmed this story:

It is absolutely true. People have a real sense of community with TechShop, and bringing in tools from home is one of the ways that it is manifested. Makers are generally much more socially-responsible than outside folk. I think that’s largely what drives the way people care for and contribute to TechShop.

The TechShop experience reminded me of a story on community tool-sharing that I read in our local paper earlier this year. Dustin Zuckerman started The Santa Rosa Tool Library, a lending library for tools. It’s a terrific Remake idea. Not everyone can afford to buy each and every tool they need. Many tools are needed for a single project and won’t be used much otherwise. Renting is always an option, but it’s not cheap. Almost as importantly, storage is a premium for many people and finding space for a collection of tools can be a problem.

Tool sharing is not a new concept. The previous news article points out examples in Berkeley of tool lending under the auspices of public libraries. Here’s an article on how to start a tool sharing program from Mother Earth News. Tool sharing just makes more and more sense today, whether organized as a community resource, a maker co-op, or an informal neighborhood arrangement where individuals simply let their neighbors know they are willing to share their tools. Perhaps someone will develop a website app for small groups to create an inventory of tools that are available for sharing. (Anyone?)

In a recent discussion of this topic among friends, one person suggested that she found people reluctant to borrow tools, even when they were offered to them. Telling people you were willing to share a tool wasn’t enough to make it happen, at least in her experience. Some people may think that borrowing creates a sense of obligation, which makes them uncomfortable. Perhaps makers can help change this mindset, by choosing to value interdependence over independence and recognizing how it fosters a better sense of community.

I’d enjoy learning about your experiences, large-scale or small, at home or work, with tool sharing.

Dale Dougherty

I’m founder of MAKE magazine and creator of Maker Faire. I am CEO of Maker Media, the company that produces MAKE, Maker Faire and Maker Shed. I am Chairman of the Maker Education Initiative (www.makered.org).


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Comments

  1. DU says:

    Your local high school or vocational school has a lot of these tools. If an arrangement could be reached with the school, you could have a local TechShop. (My local school didn’t respond to my idea…)

  2. Josh Kopel says:

    If you are in Philadelphia, check out http://www.westphillytools.org.

    We met these guys when we were originally organizing thehacktory.org. they seem to be doing a great job of creating a tool sharing community.

  3. Nicholas Barry says:

    I can confirm the comment of the unnamed friend in the last paragraph of the story – people are often willing to make their tools (and other items) available for public use, but less willing to ask to use something from a neighbor. I tried to start up a community sharing program in my apartment complex, and this phenomenon was one of the main reasons it failed to take off. People are more willing to give than to take.

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