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Need a Trowel But Don't Want to Buy One?

Most communities have a library filled with books. Portland, Oregon, has lending libraries filled with power drills, saws, socket wrenches and all sorts of trowels

Green Letts Community Tool Library


Like a traditional library, the Green Lents Community Tool Library hosts educational workshops and events.

When a group of neighbors got together to start a beautification project in the Lents neighborhood in southeast Portland, Oregon, they needed shovels, rakes, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, and the list went on. No problem, they thought. They’d borrow tools from one of the tool libraries scattered throughout the city. (Yes, Portland has lending libraries for tools.)

Problem was, their neighborhood fell outside the boundaries of those libraries. So the handy ladies and gents of Lents created one.

The Green Lents Community Tool Library is part of Green Lents, a nonprofit whose mission is to “engage our community to develop a more livable, thriving place.”

The Library Collection

Among the items that can be borrowed from the Green Lents Community Tool Library: a chain saw, pressure washer, wheelbarrow, sledge- hammer, toilet auger, air compressor, several types of trowels and, for the real do-it-yourselfer, the book Step-by-Step Basic Wiring.

Residents in and around Lents can check out a tool in the same way they would a library book. (A state-issued ID and a piece of official mail, like a utility bill, for address verification are needed to become a member.) The tool is the borrower’s for a week with the option to renew. The $1 a day late fees are used for library upkeep.

The initial tool inventory was donated by a volunteer whose father had died, leaving behind a vast collection.

The library’s holdings continue to grow from tools donated by community members. What’s available is listed online and organized into 17 categories, including automotive, garden and outdoors, painting and caulking, books (mostly DIY), plumbing, and electrical. The offerings range from the everyday (such as ladders and lawn mowers, the most commonly requested items) to the not-so-everyday (such as the book Peacock Manure & Marigolds and an egg incubator, which is the least requested offering).

Being able to borrow rather than buy a tool is useful for the odd jobs that crop up only occasionally (chopping firewood, cutting a rusted padlock, tiling a kitchen backsplash).

For the do-it-yourselfers who prefer to build their own countertops or refinish their floors, the tools are a windfall. In addition to saving money on tools, users save storage space — lots of storage space. Tool libraries are very helpful to downsizing empty nesters.

Since its creation in 2012, the Green Lents Community Tool Library has taken on a welcome role far beyond its initial purpose.

“Just having a sort of headquarters centrally located in our relatively large neighborhood did a lot in the way of community building,” says Spencer Ward, Green Lents community program coordinator and library manager. “People come together to share advice, experience and exchange ideas. When people get out and about, it also creates a sense of safety. Knowing your neighbors is still one of the best ways that can be done.” 

This article is adapted from the "Build Housing for All Ages" chapter of the AARP publication Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Examples from America’s Community Leaders (2018 edition). Download or order your free copy.

Article by Amy Lennard Goehner  | Page published March 2019

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