West Philly Tool Library crowdfunds to bolster community
“We say we have about 3,000 tools, but we actually haven’t counted in a while,” says Peter Foreman Murray, executive director of the West Philly Tool Library, as he eyes a long shelf cluttered with drills and chopsaws. “We’ve numbered that we’re probably closer to 4,000, but it’s better to go with a safe estimate.”
Looking down the long brick and aluminum warehouse space that is the West Philly Tool Library, it’s easy to understand why an exact count might be tough: the walls are nearly completely covered by racks of rakes and weed whackers and shelves for imposing construction implements, while the center of the room is taken up by a long table hidden under scores of garden tools.
The basic idea behind the Tool Library, founded in 2007 by a group of West Philadelphians, is simple: it’s a library, but with tools instead of books. Participants pay an annual membership on a sliding scale fee based on household income, and from there they can take out tools for a fixed period of time for free, but are subject to overdue fees. The library made over 9,000 loans of its wares in the past year alone.
Since the Tool Library opened more than six years ago, its membership has grown exponentially (the volume of loans has increased by a factor of 35 percent in the past year alone) to a point where, according to Foreman Murray, there simply isn’t enough funding to buy enough tools to keep up with rising demand. So in July, the Tool Library steering committee launched a one month crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com, which at press time inched closer to the 75 percent mark of its $10,000 campaign goal, closes on Aug. 19.
Foreman Murray says that in addition to raising funds to purchase enough tools to meet the rising demand for membership in Southwest Philadelphia, he hopes the campaign will also finance a short period of payroll for someone to develop a more thorough education program centered out of the library. The library has put on workshop series on the basics of carpentry, plumbing and power-tool use, but due to its tight budget and limited staff, has had to put outreach and education on the backburner to keep up with daily operations.
“The tool library is a very small part of this bigger shared economy,” says Foreman Murray, who stresses that sharing a stock of tools does a lot more than cut costs. “People feel more connected to their community when they’re doing things like sharing resources and not just locking themselves away with their own stuff in their own house.”
Though Foreman Murray also says he envisions the Library becoming something of a community center where members can meet and take advantage of stationary tools like a radial arm saw and welder while discussing and sharing expertise on the projects they’re working on, he stresses the pride that the volunteers, founders and members have for the Library’s current operation is immense, regardless of what the future holds.
“What we have now was kind of the original vision of the group of neighbors that founded the tool library—this is beyond anyone’s wildest dream,” he says.