Circular economy start-up Library of Things launches a self-serve locker-style rental system, which enables communities across the UK to borrow household items – rather than having to buy them.
This is a story of what can happen when friends have a great idea, when it’s so good that others are inspired to volunteer to make it happen, and then through collaboration it develops into a tried and tested system that can be replicated in other communities and neighbourhoods.
Officially launched in 2016, Library of Things aims to transform our broken consumer economy by offering people a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable alternative to buying occasional use household items. Feedback from their users confirms that borrowing is more affordable and convenient, more socially rewarding, and kinder to the planet.
Empowering people across the UK to drastically reduce waste by borrowing rather than buying.
A survey by Library of Things found that 58% of their members said their motivation for borrowing was to help the environment.
Each year, 170 million new electrical items are purchased in the UK, yet less than a third are recycled. Borrowing items we use infrequently is a simple way to reduce the amount of items that end up in landfill.
Since launching the Crystal Palace pilot site in May 2018, members have borrowed items over 2,500 times and have joined meet-ups like repair parties. Through borrowing and repairing, members have diverted 16 tonnes of waste from landfill – the equivalent to 1.25 London buses.
Starting out in a library in South London, with a mission to make borrowing better than buying, they were soon contacted by other groups across the UK wanting to know how they could start their own.
Working with Crystal Palace Transition Town and Upper Norwood Library Hub they began to develop a replicable version, which has now been taken to the next level by the design expertise of Seymourpowell – creating a self-service kiosk with the ongoing ‘Thing’ management taken care of, and which can ‘plug-in’ to any community space.
The new locker system acts as a self-serve kiosk, and houses over 50 quality items available to borrow by the day, including power tools, outdoor gear and cleaning equipment. Incorporating feedback from Library of Things’ community of 2,500 members, the new kiosk system is designed to be flexible and modular to suit different spaces, as the initiative expands across the UK. The lockers can accommodate over 50 different items ranging from GoPros to garden strimmers, and have been designed for distributed manufacture and installation by local fabricators.
This is how you build a Library of Things in 14 hours!
But motivations for borrowing are not purely environmental – renting is also more cost-effective than buying, helps reduce clutter and is a low-barrier way to learn practical skills like repair and DIY.
Sophia Wyatt, co-founder of Library of Things, said:
“We want the simple action of borrowing items to become a pathway for people to get more involved in their neighbourhood and make more environmentally-friendly choices. So what starts with ‘I need a drill’ becomes ‘I’ve made friends with my neighbours’, ‘I’ve learnt basic repair skills’, or even ‘I’ve decided to start a local project myself’.
Library of Things designed a bespoke software system to manage item reservations and the item collection and return process, before partnering with Seymourpowell to design the physical self-serve kiosk.
The Seymourpowell-designed system can be easily integrated into public, community and commercial spaces of varying shapes and sizes – such as high street libraries, community reuse hubs, entrance foyers to housing blocks and even the front of retail stores.
This new kiosk system is designed to make the borrower user journey smooth and inclusive, look clean, contemporary and approachable, and be manufactured on a limited budget by local fabricators.
Local authorities and communities can order a ready-made Library of Things for just £30,000. This includes the 50+ items, the kiosk, the software, marketing materials, and training from the Library of Things team.
Emily Jewell, co-director of Upper Norwood Library Hub, (partner and home for Crystal Palace Library of Things since May 2018), said:
“For us, having a Library of Things kiosk is part of building a ‘library of possibilities’. The local community can come to not only borrow books, but also to borrow from a range of items, learn skills at events, hire a space for their business or community group – or even watch a comedy night. The new self-serve kiosk makes it much easier for people to borrow, which means we can focus our efforts on developing other activities!”
Londoners can currently borrow items from Crystal Palace Library of Things, located in Upper Norwood Library Hub. In early 2020, Londoners will be able to borrow from new locations due to open in East and South London too, in partnership with local authorities and grassroots sustainability networks.
To find out more and experience the system for yourself, join them at one of their monthly tours and mini workshops – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/library-of-things-the-tour-tickets-37333402211
When will there be a Library of Things near you?