Why Hobbyists and Professionals Alike Head to Berkeley’s Tool Lending Library

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Books, movies, and games aren’t the only items on loan at the Berkeley Public Library (BPL)—since 1979, the system has also supplied local residents with all manner of tools.

At Berkeley’s Tool Lending Library, any city resident or property owner over 18 can check out thousands of free tools, ranging from hammers and wrenches to weedwhackers and cement mixers. Based on community feedback, BPL has recently expanded their offerings to include smartphone repair kits and a 24-hour bike fixing station; next up, they’ll add kitchen gadgets and cooking supplies to their repertoire.

The Tool Lending Library goes beyond lending out free materials: it’s also a hub for community and a place of learning. Trained specialists staff the reference desk and provide personalized recommendations and advice, helping people find the right tools for their needs and understand how to operate them. If you come in stumped about how to fix a broken appliance, staff can draw you a diagram or watch YouTube tutorials with you until you feel ready to give it a try. Tool specialist Adam, who worked as a carpenter before coming to BPL, says helping people learn how to fix things is the highlight of his workday: “They come back glowing. I see them rise to all sorts of occasions.”

In addition to first-time tool users, the Tool Lending Library also has plenty of regulars, who visit the library as part of their regular routine. “We get a lot of retirees,” says Robert, another BPL tool specialist. “It’s like the tool library is part of their weekly therapy.”

Because the library invests in top-quality tools and fastidiously maintains their materials, many local tradespeople and small business owners also utilize their collection. Alexis Mastromichalis credits the Tool Lending Library with helping her grow her landscape design company, Gold Finch Designs. She cites the staff’s vast expertise and welcoming nature as her favorite thing about the library: “They make everything sound so easy and accessible. They’re full of knowledge and really good at empowering me as a woman.”

Alexis is one of many Tool Lending Library patrons who have signed on to teach classes to the public; BPL hosts events around once a month on topics like building chicken coops, crafting benches, and gardening. Adam emphasizes that tool neophytes and casual hobbyists shouldn’t feel intimidated learning alongside professionals: “Everybody picks up an unfamiliar tool sooner or later. All those contractors have just been doing it longer, but one tool at a time, they had to figure out a situation. This is a place to learn.”

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