Chicago Tool Library fosters community with access to tools

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Anthony Nicholson and his wife have embarked on a number of home improvement projects over the past two years, from fixing the family’s porch to 3D printing household items with their three children, all at using tools borrowed from the Chicago Tool. Library.

“They have a 3D printer, which is great fun to borrow from time to time, and the kids have a lot of fun playing with it,” he said. “We have an older house that has old fashioned locks…and there was no lock in the bathroom, but there was a little keyhole – so we 3D printed a key for the bathroom.”

Opened in the fall of 2019 just before the pandemic, the Bridgeport-based Chicago Tool Library has become a resource for many residents who want to tackle home improvement projects for the first time but are short on tools. . The library’s mission is “to provide equitable access to tools, equipment, and information to enable all Chicagoans to learn, share, and create.”

In addition to basic household tools, the library offers camping gear, sewing machines, craft supplies, kitchen equipment, folding tables and more.

The library, which has emerged not only as a resource center but also as a collaborative community, has an annual “pay what you can” membership model that allows members to pay nothing or up to $400 per year to borrow items, according to co-founder and executive director Tessa Vierk.

A persistent hurdle for the library has been funding, especially as it seeks to offer classes and find an alternate location on the south or west side.

Library member Maya Hillman said the library’s decision to seek a location in these parts of town, rather than the North Side, rings true to its accessibility mission. “I feel like the north side will often get a lot of resources, and the people on the south and west side kind of get the well there,” she said. “So I appreciate that – they really try. … It’s not just words. They stand behind their words too.

When the Tool Library first announced its search for a new location last year, Chicago Community Tools, another tool lending program, decided to cease its own operations after struggling during the pandemic. and to donate its entire inventory of approximately 5,000 tools to the Tool Library. According to Vierk, the donation will allow the Tool Library to launch a new lending program supporting community groups like churches, schools, neighborhood associations and nonprofit organizations.

Tool library members can also donate to the library’s inventory. Nicholson, for example, donated items he needed that the library didn’t already have.

“It’s almost like they’re saving it for us, because if we really needed it again, we could borrow it,” he said.

Vierk noted that in the wake of the pandemic and rising costs associated with inflation, the library has seen a “huge balloon of interest” as more people feel pressured to pursue their own. home improvement projects.

“Recently, a lot of people are undertaking home improvement projects, particularly due to supply chain issues and labor reliability and availability – people are doing their own home repairs, like s “They were doing their own tiling work. … There’s definitely a lot of tinkering going on,” she said.

Before the pandemic, the library had about 150 members. In a pre-pandemic community survey, library leaders asked people why they hadn’t used the library yet and most said they didn’t have time.

“And then of course during the pandemic, everyone had too much time,” Vierk said.

The library now has 3,000 members and receives 30 to 70 visitors a day. Tool library members cited a variety of other reasons for joining the library, including the increased cost of purchasing tools and home improvement projects and a desire to reduce waste.

Nicholson first visited the Tool Library in 2019, but did not register as a member until the pandemic began the following year.

“It was an interesting time to do things yourself if you don’t want people coming into the house,” he said.

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For Nicholson, the main benefit of membership has been to reduce unnecessary purchases and the hoarding of tools and other items in his home.

“I would put myself in that category where I could afford to go to Home Depot and buy a bunch of stuff,” he said. “But from a philosophical point of view, it’s really nice not to put one more thing in the world when I could use it for a week a year and not have to make it something that I own or that takes up space in our home.”

Although there are hundreds of similar resources around the world, according to Vierk, the Chicago Tool Library is the first of its kind in Chicago. In addition to lending tools, the library develops parallel programs such as “repair fairs” held in conjunction with the Chicago Public Library to help people make repairs at various library locations.

“Generally, we’re here to create more equitable access to the things people want or need, to help people live more sustainable lives, and to just encourage people to be more creative and curious and learn new skills. throughout their lives,” Vierk said. . “You know, self-sufficiency and lifelong learning is a big part of what tool libraries help people with.”

Hillman, the founder of Mac & Cheese Productions, a lifestyle company that seeks to help adults lead happy lives, joined the library in its early days, becoming a No. didn’t really pick up until the pandemic, when Hillman — like the rest of the city — found itself looking for a reason to “get away from the computer screen.”

Along with finding the tools and guidance to begin refinishing and reselling furniture from her home and thrift stores, Hillman eventually found a welcoming and inclusive community. She said many of her clients feel like they lack community and “float around this big city and don’t have enough connections.” The tool library became a hidden community site that she discovered in the city.

“I wanted to learn not through a screen, but through the real person, and the Tool Library had a reputation for being really open-minded, warm, helpful, knowledgeable people. … I was pretty sure I wouldn’t feel judged or stupid,” she said. “Every time I went to get or return tools, I ended up standing there like it was my local bar.”

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