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Guelph Tool Library hits 10,000-loan milestone

In this Following Up feature we talk to Steph Clarke from the Guelph Tool Library about the goals and gains made since the library was launched in 2016

The DIY movement has got a boost lately with people taking time, during the lockdown, to start gardening or complete home renovation projects and that has contributed to the growing popularity of the Guelph Tool Library (GTL).

“We reached our 10,000th loan on April 21,” said GTL sustainability initiative coordinator Steph Clarke. “It was an awesome milestone because it was just shy of Earth Day. So, it was a great way to celebrate what we do in terms of sustainable living and waste reduction.”

About 90 per cent of all the tools in the GTL inventory are donated by the community.

“A lot of times people will reach out to us when they are downsizing or de-cluttering or when somebody in their life has passed away,” said Clarke. “We’ll put those tools into our inventory.”

The GTL works much like a book library, only in this case members are able to borrow tools they might otherwise have to buy. That can’t be costly especially if it is a specialized tool they only need for a short time and may not use it again for a long time if at all.

The 10,000th borrowed tool item from the GTL, for example, was a multimeter, which is an instrument typically used by electricians to measure electrical current, voltage and resistance.

“The most popular items are still the air compressor, the rototiller and drills,” said Clarke. “One quote that we always circle back to is ‘you don’t need a drill. You need a hole in the wall.’ That's sort of the tool library mantra. Why go out and buy them when it is so easy to borrow them and share them with others so lots of people can have access to the same item without there being any waste.”

Another popular motto among the Guelph Tool Librarians is, “lending is the new spending” and the concept is taking hold despite challenges created by the pandemic.

“Considering that we were shut down for six months, we were really amazed that we were able to reach that milestone this year,” said Clarke. “It took our first two years to hit 1,000 loans so, to get to 10,000 in what was essentially three years was amazing. We really had some exponential growth in the last year and a half despite everything.” 

They even managed to move the library from its original location at Tytler Public School in the Ward to the Old Quebec Street Shoppes downtown.

“We moved here in September 2020,” said Clarke. “Our space in Tytler was run by the school board and when COVID hit the school board shut down all non-essential use. So, even when the schools were set to reopen, they were restricting any non-essential use or community rentals, which is what we were considered.”

They received support for the move from the Rotary Club and the Guelph Arts Council and emergency funding from the City of Guelph and the Guelph Community Foundation to launch a delivery service. They have also hired a new job creation partnership employee, Michaela Rye, to improve and expand their online presence.

“Because of our COVID restrictions you can’t come in and look around and pick up the items from the shelves,” said Clarke. “Michaela will be getting better photos, better descriptions, more links to things like manuals online and even tutorials to use certain items.”

A popular project at the GTL is the Seed Library led by founding member, Sue Carey.

“It runs primarily through a Facebook group so anybody can join,” said Clarke. “It is a free service. You request your seeds, and the concept is that you grow things with the seeds and try to save seeds from what you’ve grown to re-donate to the seed library.”

For an annual fee of $60 for the first year and $50 for subsequent years Guelph Tool Library members have access to more than 1,000 tools and other items including equipment used to grow, harvest and prepare food.

Subsidized memberships are available through community partners, The Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Chalmers Community Service Centre and Immigrant Services Guelph and Wellington.  

“Members have to reserve their tools online,” said Clarke. “We need, at least, 48 hours notice because our tools are picked the day before by our volunteers and we need to confirm the items you are looking for are available.”

The GTL is looking for help from past and present members to help with, Make Fix Grow, their spring membership drive, that starts on the Monday after Mother’s Day weekend on May 10.

“We want them to share the stories they have around the tools that they have used from the tool library,” said Clarke. "What have they made? What have they fixed? What have they grown? Some might have photos, short videos or clips of them working on a project or completing a project with our tools.”

To learn more about the Guelph Tool Library visit: