A Circular Economy: Repair Cafes and Tool Libraries

Continuing our monthly series on the theory of a circular economy, for this month we are going to discuss repair cafes and tool libraries.

The best way to describe this is to think about a library, but instead of books, you can check out tools and other items. Instead of librarians, there are people who have the knowledge and skills to assist with repairs or home improvement projects or can at least point you in the direction of helpful tutorials.

At a repair cafe, there might be open house repair events where you can bring in projects and items that you need fixed and you can work on them with assistance from the repair “librarians”. 

Here in Maryland, there are several repair cafes under the Repair Cafe International banner, including in Greenbelt and Columbia. There are also two in Virginia, in Fairfax and Manassas. That doesn’t do us a lot of good here on the Eastern Shore, but it might be worth a visit to one of these spots to check out what a repair cafe looks like. In fact, we’re hoping to visit one later this year as we’d love to try and eventually get something like this going here in Easton.

At a tool library, you can check out tools to take home for larger projects. From a hammer or pruning shears to something larger like a pressure washer or a carpet steamer, a tool library is a way to get access to tools you might only need once or twice for a particular project, or once a year for annual projects. While you could go buy these tools and have them sitting in your garage or shed for the rest of the year, or you could rent them for exorbitant fees, the idea of a tool library is that it allows many people to use the same item and all the tools at the library are available to you at no cost or through a yearly membership fee. Once again, it goes back to the idea of reducing how many items are in circulation by increasing the use of a given item.

Here in Maryland, we have a single tool library registered with the Local Tools/myTurn platform. That library is the Station North Tool Library in Baltimore. There are also two more to the north of us, one in Philadelphia and one in Camden, NJ. You can visit the tool library map by clicking here or on the image.

The interesting thing about both of these concepts is that, not only do they reduce the amount of tools in circulation, they tend to create community. By providing jobs, putting on events and programs, and connecting people to helpful resources, both repair cafes and tool libraries can contribute to a circular economy but also to healthy communities.

Would you participate in a repair cafe or have a membership to a tool library? Let us know in the comments below!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Steve Bender

    Do you accept used tools as a start to the Tool Library?

    1. Kristen Lycett

      Hi Steve – if this is something we eventually pursue, we would absolutely accept used tools so long as they are in good working order. However, we are still waiting on the remaining space at our new location so this is not something we are able to start now.

  2. Steve Bender

    Thank you Kristen for your reply.
    Any update on accepting donated tools? What are the priority tops of interest?
    I have aluminum 7’ and 8’ step ladder, and 14’ extension ladder ready to give you.

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