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Chicago Tool Library fosters community with access to tools

Anthony Nicholson and his wife have launched numerous home improvement initiatives over the past two years, from fixing the front porch of the house to 3D printing household items with their three children, the all using tools borrowed from the Chicago Tool Library. .

“They have a 3D printer, which is great fun to borrow from time to time, and the kids have a lot of fun playing with it,” he said. “We have an older house that has old fashioned locks…and there was no lock in the bathroom, but there was a little keyhole – so we 3D printed a key for the bathroom.”

Opened in the fall of 2019 just before the pandemic hit, the Bridgeport-based Chicago Tool Library has become a helpful resource for many first-time residents who have to sort through home improvement initiatives for the first time but are lacking in energy. tools. The library’s mission is “to provide equitable access to tools, equipment, and information to enable all Chicagoans to learn, share, and create.”

In addition to basic family tools, the library offers tent tools, sewing machines, craft supplies, kitchen utensils, folding tables and more.

The library, which has become not only a center for useful resources but also a collaborative community, has an annual “pay what you can” membership model that allows members to pay nothing or up to $400 per year to borrow devices, according to co-founder and executive director Tessa Vierk.

A persistent hurdle for the library has been funding, especially as it seems to be offering classes and finding another location on the south or west side.

Library member Maya Hillman said the library’s decision to find a location in these parts of town, rather than the North Side, rings true to its accessibility mission. “I feel like the north side will often get a lot of resources, and people on the south and west side will kind of find the well there,” she said. “So I appreciate that – they really try. … It’s not just words. They stand behind their words too.

When the Tool Library first announced its search for a new location last year, Chicago Community Tools, another instrument lending program, decided it might shut down its own operations after struggling during the pandemic and donate its entire stock of approximately 5,000 tools to the tool. Library. According to Vierk, the donation will allow the Tool Library to launch an all-new lending program supporting community teams such as churches, colleges, neighborhood associations and nonprofit organizations.

Tool library members are also able to donate to library stock. Nicholson, for example, donated gadgets he wanted that the library hadn’t already received.

“It’s almost like they’re saving it for us because if we really needed it again, we could borrow it,” he said.

Vierk noted that in the wake of the pandemic and inflation-related price hikes, the library noticed a “huge balloon of interest” as more people felt pressured to pursue their own. home improvement initiatives.

“Recently, a lot of people are undertaking home improvement projects, particularly due to supply chain issues and labor reliability and availability – people are doing their own home repairs, like s “They were doing their own tiling work. … There’s definitely a lot of tinkering going on,” she said.

Before the pandemic, the library had about 150 members. In a pre-pandemic community poll, library leaders asked people why they hadn’t used the library, but most said they didn’t have time.

“And then of course during the pandemic, everyone had too much time,” Vierk said.

The library now has a robust 3,000 members and sees 30-70 guests daily. Tool library members cited many different reasons for becoming a library member, including rising prices for instrument purchases and home improvement initiatives and a desire to reduce waste.

Nicholson first visited the Tool Library in 2019, but did not register as a member until the pandemic hit the following year.

“It was an interesting time to do things yourself if you don’t want people coming into the house,” he mentioned.

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For Nicholson, the primary benefit of becoming a member of was to reduce unnecessary purchases and hoarding of tools and other gadgets in his home.

“I would put myself in that category where I could afford to go to Home Depot and buy a bunch of stuff,” he said. “But from a philosophical point of view, it’s really nice not to put one more thing in the world when I could use it for a week a year and not have to make it something that I own or that takes up space in our home.”

Chicago Tool Library fosters community with access to tools

Although there are many comparable resources on this planet, according to Vierk, the Chicago Tool Library is the first of its kind in Chicago. In addition to lending tools, the library is increasing support packages such as “repair shows” held in conjunction with the Chicago Public Library to help people make repairs at many library locations.

“In general, we’re here to create more equitable access to the things people want or need, to help people live more sustainable lives, and to just encourage people to be more creative and curious and to learn new things. skills throughout their lives,” Vierk said. . “You know, self-sufficiency and lifelong learning is a big part of what tool libraries help people with.”

Hillman, the founding father of Mac & Cheese Productions, a lifestyle company that seeks to help adults lead happy lives, joined the library in its early days, becoming the No. 8 member in 2019, though his involvement didn’t really decide until the pandemic, when Hillman — like the rest of the city — found itself looking for a reason to “get away from the computer screen.”

Along with discovering the tools and direction to begin refinishing and reselling furniture from her home and thrift stores, Hillman eventually discovered a welcoming and inclusive community. She said many of her clients felt like they lacked community and were “floating around in this big city and not having enough connections.” The tool library has become a hidden community website that she found in the city.

“I wanted to learn not through a screen, but through the real person, and the Tool Library had a reputation for being really open-minded, warm, helpful, knowledgeable people. … I was pretty sure I wouldn’t feel judged or stupid,” she said. “Every time I went to get or return tools, I ended up standing there like it was my local bar.”


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