Library of Things: A Consumption Reduction Movement

By Jorge Guarin, Outreach and Education EcoFellow

The Library of Things movement has a single objective; continuing and expanding the work libraries have done for hundreds of years to provide open access to resources. The concept is quite simple: established libraries or other organizations offer the community easy access to a variety of tools, equipment, and recreational items. Like a traditional library, patrons check out what they need. Items include camping gear, musical instruments, niche technology items, and specialized cookware. This open access allows the community to explore, try, and use a large number of items without the need to buy or store them. These libraries are part of a bigger movement: the sharing economy.

Sharing economy, or collaborative consumption, is a class of economic arrangements where people access products or services, rather than having individual ownership. Some of the benefits are:

  • Reducing negative environmental impacts by decreasing the amount of goods needed to be produced, which reduces industrial pollution, energy consumption, and overall consumption of resources.
  • Strengthening communities by encouraging trust and uniting the members of the community to work for a common goal.
  • Lowering consumer costs by borrowing and recycling items.
  • Providing people with access to goods that they can’t afford or don’t need long term.

The sharing economy allows people to be in control of their consumption instead of being “passive victims” of hype-consumption. Hype-consumption is widespread in modern America, and here are some facts to back it up:

  • The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years (National Association of Home Builders). And still, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades (Self Storage Association).
  • 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them; 32% only have room for one vehicle (S. Department of Energy).
  • The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation (SSA).
  • 1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally (UCLA).
  • Currently, the 12% of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe account for 60% of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2% (Worldwatch Institute).

It is up to our buying decisions and sharing practices to maximize the resources available in our community. Get together with your neighbors and start a tool sharing program, which can be as simple as offering access to that drill you barely use. Reducing consumption is the first step of the EPA’s waste hierarchy, and a great way to reduce your environmental impact!

One comment

  • John G

    Reuse stores often have tool libraries. They are a good fit with their do it your self customer. Also, if they offer specialty deconstruction tools they can help generate inventory. Have you considered opening one?

    February 28, 2018

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