dustin Putting His Tools Into Circulation

Helping Hand: Dustin Zuckerman runs the tool library from his apartment, where he keeps popular tools in a walk-in closet and explains new tools to borrowers. Power tools are a big draw.

Reserved is a word with multiple meanings for a librarian, even one who doesn’t lend books. Soft-spoken and reserved, Dustin Zuckerman works the periodicals desk at the Santa Rosa Junior College Library by day. On his own time, he runs the Santa Rosa Tool Library out of his modest apartment.

Patrons of the tool library can go online to reserve tools for a weekend project and then drop by Zuckerman’s apartment in downtown Santa Rosa, Calif., to pick them up. On a summer Saturday, about 15 people will come to borrow tools such as disc sanders, jackhammers, drills, pickaxes, pressure washers, and 100-foot tape measures.

Zuckerman, 38, started the tool-lending library in 2008 for a practical reasons — he himself had needed tools he couldn’t afford to buy or rent for a gardening project. But he also saw the lending library as a way to help others. “I got to thinking that I wanted to have something to show for myself,” he says. “So I started this project.”

When he explained the idea to friends, they surprised him with a $200 gift card from Sears, where he bought a set of plumbing tools to seed his library. He made several visits to his family’s pawnshop in Los Angeles, where he filled up his van with donations such as a rotary hammer drill.

Once he got the library going, patrons donated tools they didn’t need or didn’t use much. Now he has more than 700 tools of 300 types; those most frequently borrowed are stored in a closet in his apartment. Others are in a nearby garage.

Zuckerman set up his lending library by purchasing circulation software used by small libraries, and created a website at borrowtools.org. “It’s good to think like a librarian in setting up a tool-sharing service,” he says.

Users register online with their driver’s license or ID to borrow a tool. There are no fees for borrowing, but you have to sign a borrowing agreement. While there are late fees, Zuckerman says, “We rarely have overdue tools.” Only twice have tools been broken, and each time the borrower showed up at his doorstep with a new replacement.

More women than men use his lending library, including a handful who have little experience with power tools. He spends time giving each person a tutorial in how to operate the tools, and provides goggles and earplugs, plus a hard hat, if needed. “I’m not an expert on tools,” he says. “I just try to learn the basics so I can pass it on.”

One woman borrowed a kit to change the oil in her car, and Zuckerman says that when she returned it, she had a big smile on her face and told him how much she enjoyed being able to do the oil change herself. This is the big reward for Zuckerman: his borrowers are particularly grateful.

Zuckerman is a middleman, making it more comfortable for people to borrow. Borrowing a tool from a friend or neighbor seems to create an uneasiness around obligations. He sees himself as a librarian abiding by a clear set of rules for lending things that ultimately belong to the community.

His job is to facilitate sharing.

One day Zuckerman hopes to have a small storefront and warehouse, along with a mobile unit to drop off or pick up tools. Such ambitions may require fundraising by his new board of directors, or user fees. For now, it’s a one-person, part-time operation.

Tool lending libraries can be found around the country (look on Wikipedia for a list) including those affiliated with public libraries in Berkeley and Oakland. If you’re thinking of starting a tool lending library in your community, Zuckerman recommends working with a librarian if you’re not one yourself. “Start small and test it out with a few people,” he advises reservedly.

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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