10 Ideas for Building Libraries of Things

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Libraries have long claimed that they’re not just warehouses for books, but many have been increasing their circulating collections of non-traditional library materials–otherwise known as “Library of Things”—in the past few years. After all, media isn’t the only way to increase your knowledge; equipment and tools are just as essential to boosting your skills and providing entertainment when participating in certain activities. Communities can also come together by sharing items they need, without having to worry about purchasing, maintaining and repairing, and storing things that they might not need to use frequently or long-term.

HLS has covered non-traditional library collections before, including how to build a seed library, but I wanted to bring attention to more ideas for creating or adding to a “Library of Things,” including examples from what some libraries around the U.S. have created.

Games and Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are notorious single-use products that most people put together once, and then shove back into a closet, never to be opened again. Some board games have similar fates, so it makes sense for libraries to provide these forms of entertainment for people to enjoy once, and then return so that more people can enjoy them too. Board game collections can also be a great opportunity for people to test out games that they’re interested in before they commit to buying one for themselves. Plus, plenty of people in your community likely have good quality games and puzzles that they might be willing to donate to your library.

Toys and STEM Kits

Science and coding kits are increasingly common for kids to learn and get excited about STEM, but they can often cost a pretty penny, especially if kids only use them to complete one project and never pick them up again. Likewise, toys in general are great options to share among communities, both so that parents can save money and space and so that kids are less likely to get bored. The first toy library was actually created in Los Angeles in 1935, and they became even more popular in the 60s and 70s and many have since focused on providing toys and games for children with disabilities. 

Seeds and Gardening Supplies

Technically, no, a patron can’t necessarily return a seed they planted in their garden, but you can ask patrons to donate seeds back to the library after their harvest! Seeds are great sharing opportunities because most packs come with more seeds than one home gardener needs, so they can be split up to share among more people. However, seeds aren’t the only products that people need for gardening. Tools like shovels, trowels, hoes, gloves, and more can all be added to a lending library for those who want to participate in gardening, but only need access to this equipment a few times a year.


There are plenty of other household tools that people may need infrequently, but don’t have the budget or storage space to buy for themselves. Things like drills, hammers, wrenches, even lawn mowers and leaf blowers can be shared among the community. Plus, these tool libraries can be advertised and used in conjunction with programming that teaches people basic skills in things like woodworking, car maintenance, and other DIY projects. 

Sewing and Craft Supplies

Like other tools, sewing machines and supplies for knitting, crocheting, and other crafts can be expensive to invest in—especially if it’s a hobby you’re newly interested in. Borrowing sewing and other crafts kits can be a great way to expose and teach people to new skills. The Yorba Linda Public Library includes how-to books, instructional DVDs, and other tools in a sewing kit along with the sewing machine to help people get started—and they offer similar kits for knitting, crocheting, and calligraphy.

Baking and Kitchen Supplies

If you’ve ever bought a cake pan in a weird shape for one birthday party or holiday event and only used it once, then you can probably imagine the benefits of borrowing baking and other kitchen supplies. The University of Illinois Springfield has a great example of a lending library of baking pans and small kitchen appliances like blenders, ice cream makers, and more that can be checked out to use for a week.

Musical Instruments

Learning an instrument is yet another hobby with a high-cost barrier to entry, so aspiring musicians can benefit from temporarily borrowing instruments before they commit. Even established musicians could borrow an instrument to practice if theirs has to be repaired. The Framingham Public Library currently offers guitars, ukuleles, amplifiers, and mandolins, for example, but plenty of other musical equipment in addition to instruments might also make good additions to a musical Library of Things, such as metronomes, music stands, tuners, etc. 

Sports Equipment

From soccer balls to fishing rods to outdoor picnic games like cornhole and croquet, there’s tons of opportunities to share sports equipment in a library. Many libraries are even launching bike sharing programs so people can get access to modes of transportation and fitness without needing to pay to rent or buy a bike.

Camping and Outdoor Gear

Like sports, outdoor and camping gear can get quite pricey, especially to purchase for just one trip. Florida’s Jackson County Libraries have great examples of outdoor gear to borrow, like binoculars and birdwatching kits, lanterns, camp chairs, tents, picnic tables, and more.


Obviously, many people come to the public library to use Wi-Fi and their computers, but lending electronics can also allow library patrons access to this technology outside the physical library too. It’s becoming pretty common for libraries to lend hotspots, tablets, laptops, and other electronics, which can all help to lessen the digital divide. 

Paige Szmodis is an online, second-year MLIS student at Simmons University in the Cultural Heritage Informatics concentration. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Featured image courtesy of Sean Pollock/Hackney Council on Flickr.

The Library of Things