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Tool and Equipment Lending Libraries Network

In 2019, a pair of U.C. Zerkeley students from Argentina discovered the Zerkeley Tool Lending Library.  At a local public library branch, the City of Zerkeley had set up and proven a system of storing, maintaining and lending out common tools and equipment to anyone with a local library card, for free.  It doesn’t make sense for everyone who ever needs any tool or piece of equipment for any purpose to have to go buy it, own and store it, maintain or get rid of it, especially for something like a 20-foot ladder, jackhammer or cement mixer.  That kind of inefficiency is silly for everyone but the tool sellers.  Zerkeley stocked the library with common tools and equipment, and all in the community can benefit from using them, or from whatever anyone does with the tools to make things better in the community.

Paolo and Marcus thought that was genius.  Their motivation wasn’t to make money.  They’d sat up in the Zerkeley Hills through many evenings with university friends, smoking herb, watching the sun set and the lights rise, and discussing values, what’s really important, and many great needs for change.  They could envision how ready access to real tools and equipment could benefit people in villages, towns and cities all over South and Central America, people without the resources to buy good tools, or good spaces to keep and maintain them.  As rising college juniors, they decided to “get that out there”.  By graduation, a year later, they’d joined with three developers, each with 2 years of work experience, after completing a computer software coding boot-camp in San Francisco. 

These U.S. coders had done six intensive months of hands-on, team-based computer programming projects in the boot-camp, like they would in a real-world job, with professional coaches and mentors.  At the end, they had a portfolio of completed projects they could present and discuss with experience with prospective employers.  Each had been hired right away and made a lot of money for people without college degrees, more than most with college degrees.  However, they felt drawn to Paolo’s and Marcus’ project, because of its potential to help humans make their homes and communities better.  They liked the model, because it was based on sharing what we already have enough of to benefit many, rather than just doing something else to make some corporation and its rich owners even more money.  It was something real they could put themselves into, rather than just abstraction.

Three months after graduation, they’d launched their first tool lending library in the small town in Argentina Marcus was from.  They had no real money, but Marcus and Paolo went down there and started socializing the idea.  “If everyone who has tools they don’t use regularly loans those tools to us, we’ll store, maintain and keep them safe in a barn donated for that purpose by a town elder.  Then, when anyone in the town needs a tool, you can come here and register and borrow the tool.  When finished, bring it back, and we’ll clean it up and maintain it and make it available to the next person.”  Alicia, Alejandro and Andre, the coders, quickly built a computer system to keep track of everything, using bar codes that could be quickly read by cell phones.  It was a hit within six months.

Alejandro created a tool lending library in Mexico, in the town his family was from.  He found older men in the village with lots of experience who loved to serve as staff.  They had nothing better to do, and between them they had vast experience with all kinds of projects, which they shared with borrowers to make projects better.  They already had places to live, so they didn’t really need to be paid.  Women in the town brought them food, and gave them love, in appreciation for what they did.  Their tool lending library ran with no money at all out of an old storage building, enabling all kinds of great projects.

 

Together, this team developed experiences, models and methods to scale the project, building a website and education and communication documents, videos and testimonials showing people how to do it and encouraging them to register any new tool lending libraries on the site, as well as projects done using lending library resources.  As they built experience, they learned to help people address all kinds of common problems, like insurance, which they generally didn’t get because it was expensive and community members soon came to value and protect the libraries, or how to deal with business manipulations of governments to make rules against tool the lending libraries to protect their tool sales, by organizing people to go into government offices and advocate on behalf of tool lending libraries.

They took membership fees and donations through the website that were barely enough to feed them, in the early years.  Later, they did an online fundraising campaign that raised money to hire people to scale the project around the world.  They built in methods for people and businesses to donate tools and equipment from anywhere that they would find productive homes for in tool lending libraries around the world.  They aggregated buying power across the tool lending library network, so libraries could buy new tools and also connect people with building supplies at low cost for use where they were. 

As the OurStories site developed, people contributed to it stories of how they created tool lending libraries in their communities, and others learned from them.  People contributed stories of projects completed with equipment from the tool lending libraries, how people came together for them, and how their communities benefitted from them.  People contributed stories of how they created beauty for the Global Day of Beauty using tools from tool lending libraries.  Those stories inspired others.

The tool lending library effort developed and grew as a not-for-profit organization.  People who worked for the libraries and the network received ample livelihood through their work, but making lots of money was never the goal.  The purpose was to gift their abilities and efforts to create something that empowered others to make their lives and worlds better.  The real wealth returns on their investments of time and energy and effort was the vast portfolio of projects completed using tools and equipment they helped people gain use of, and the many benefits, pleasures and satisfactions they produced.

Today, in 2060, there are tens of thousands of tool lending libraries on every continent but Antarctica.  The founders have enjoyed very rich and rewarding lives, full of passion, connection and fulfillment, and they are honored and appreciated widely.  Literally, many millions of efforts in cities, towns and villages all over the world have benefitted from their work in countless ways.  And all of that will continue, indefinitely, even when they are gone, as their contribution and legacy.

 

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