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Creating a neighborhood lending library

Grandpatools2

In this time of economic uncertainty...

No! I'm not going there today. It seems like everything is blamed on the unsteady economic climate these days. Creating a neighborhood lending library is something we can do during any time frame -- it just makes good green community sense. It's something I've wanted to do for awhile now, and yeah, maybe the economy in conjunction with the sense of hope we all feel right now has finally pushed me to do it. I guess I feel like a lot of my neighbors would be more receptive of the idea right now.

I live on a street of about 45 houses. It's a long, narrow, curvy street, and when my family walks to the farmer's market or the library we walk by almost every house on our street. As a result, we know probably half the households. With some we exchange brief pleasantries, with others we have friendships. One neighbor recently organized a progressive dinner for our street, so we met more folks and got the sense that people are looking for more community on the street. My vision is to create an online database of stuff that each household would be willing to lend a neighbor: tools, books, movies, expertise, anything. Everyone on the street could login to the database, input the things they have to lend and browse items that other neighbors are offering. Ideally each home could create a profile, listing names, occupations, interests, etc. so that we could get to know each other even better.

I don't know how many times I've wished I had a table saw to make a couple of cuts for a small project. Or have access to a pick-up truck once a year to get mulch. Or a chain saw to cut up the infernal branches that litter our yard each winter. I think most people have wish lists like this, and I'm betting that they have stuff they'd be willing to lend or assist with in order to have access to these items. We've got an outdoor extension ladder, an electric leaf blower, a grass seed sower, a wheelbarrow, an assortment of tools and a library of books to lend. I'd be more than happy to help a neighbor set up a recycling center or answer any question they might have about recycling in Portland. But most of them don't know this -- it's not like I carry a sandwich board around announcing it. (Then I truly would be the crazy recycling lady.) Sure, there are rental businesses where you can get a lot of this stuff. But wouldn't it be great to just walk down the street and get it with no four-hour time limit?

There are community tool lending libraries cropping up more and more -- actual, physical places where you can go and borrow items. In Portland, there's the North Portland Tool Lending Library, and the SW Watershed Center also has tools to lend for removing invasive weeds and plants from your yard. The one I want to create is virtual, and I'm having a hard time trying to figure out how to do it. I tried setting up a Wiki, but it doesn't really function like a database. It's got to be something really, really easy to use (for our computer-wary neighbors) and enable folks to easily input data and find what they are looking for. I also don't want to have to do too much administering, and it needs to be password protected. Any suggestions? Has anyone ever started a community lending library? Do you have one in your area? Is this something you'd use if you had one?

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