What to include in a Library of Things?
January 28, 2020 4:03 AM   Subscribe

Our town library is building out its Library of Things. What should it include? Can you share circulation stats or other specific inputs or resources to help optimize it?

Our very small, rural town is in Massachusetts, bordering Amherst. It's largely got an aging population, but the library is also focused on serving the elementary school right next to it.

Here are some of the library's current 'things' (games, planetarium projector, puzzles, Kill-A-Watt, “Let's Go Outside" backpack kit, puppets, k-6 science kits, and seeds... also a telescope and more not listed).

We've seen some articles with examples of what other libraries have, and the librarian has collected some suggestions from patrons. But we're interested in any kind of comprehensive info that would help optimize what to include. In particular, we'd love to know if you have or can point to amalgamated lists of holdings, circulation statistics, survey results, or firsthand insights into items that are especially popular -- or less popular than expected. (I'm just a town resident, but the librarian will read this thread.)
posted by daisyace to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Spring form pan, wok, sturdy punch bowl? In thinking of things that might be used once a year, that aren't expensive, are bulky, and hard to damage.
posted by kellyblah at 4:11 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


We've discussed "try before you buy" items. Cake decorating kits, knitting, sewing (machines!!) Yoga (mat, blocks, video and books)..things that people would want to try out before making purchase.
posted by LaBellaStella at 4:53 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


How about a nicely equipped toolbox? Maybe some simple power tools?
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:55 AM on January 28


Wanted to make sure you saw this: Audio Recorders to Zucchini Seeds: Building a Library of Things by Mark Robison and Lindley Shedd, Editors. "The authors offer practical insights from their projects, from the development of their initial ideas to the everyday realities of maintaining and circulating these collections, including cataloging, space needs, safety concerns, staff training, circulation, marketing, and assessment." Might be worth reaching out to them with your question as well.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:56 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


I dunno what your budget is like, but the most popular items at my library are a Nintendo Switch and GoPro cameras.
posted by metasarah at 5:01 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I just found out my library has a metal detector one can borrow. I don't know how popular it is.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 5:08 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Some of my local libraries have telescopes.
posted by booth at 5:48 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Musical instruments, absolutely.
posted by The Toad at 5:48 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Oakland, CA has a tool library that's basically a branch of its regular library. There's some history and information here.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:52 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


A few things that have come up multiple times for people to borrow in my Buy Nothing group: Cake stands or other servingware (stacked tea trays, that sort of thing), steam cleaner (this one is a little portable one so you can do rug spots or car upholstery), high chairs for when people have a kid visiting.
posted by brilliantine at 6:21 AM on January 28


My local library has cake pans, games, telescopes, and Kill a Watt electricity usage monitors. They are going to be adding sewing machines.

I wish my library had a sound proof room suitable for recording podcasts, along with a high quality microphone I could borrow.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:30 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Ukuleles have proved popular. Include a tuner.

In the small tools/home improvement category: stud finder, hex wrench set, cordless drill, thermal leak finder, sander, caulk gun, clamp sets
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:32 AM on January 28


Here's a link to my library's Library of Things. If you click on the categories, you can see what's checked out right now. They're a pretty helpful group; you might be able to get circulation info by emailing them.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:41 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


My library has tons of stuff, including some kits for trying out a hobby, and also "binge boxes" for a given TV series.

Want me to ask them what sees the most circulation?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:42 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


The library in my former town had a china tea set for the little people to use (ages 5 and up) that had at one point I'm sure been someone's prized possession but was now probably three china sets put together to make amazing tea party themed birthdays for several little girls in our town. You could check out a tea set for four or a party's worth and have the party at the library and it was super cute. There were definitely some items broken here and there but they would just replace them from a similar set someone had donated so it was kind of shabby chic I guess but my children loved it.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 6:45 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


I wish my library had a Cricut or Silhouette machine.
posted by elphaba at 6:48 AM on January 28


Thanks for all the input so far! While I don't want to discourage "How about a thing X?" responses entirely -- who knows which ones will be new to us -- I do want to reiterate that even more, we're interested in amalgamated lists of holdings, circulation statistics, survey results, or firsthand insights into items that are especially popular -- or less popular than expected. (On that note, wenestvedt, yes, it'd be great if you could post info about what circulates most and/or less than hoped!)
posted by daisyace at 6:57 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


My local library has a button maker that is so popular I've been waiting on the hold list for it since October. There's still 3 people in line in front of me for it now, and 11 more holds after me. (Users are required to buy their own button materials to use it.)
posted by ilovewinter at 7:18 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


The library where I used to work has been building their Library of Things for years, and you can see what they've got here. Also, there's contact info for the LOT Librarian on that page, and he can help with circ stats if you'd like to contact him.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:36 AM on January 28


firsthand insights into items that are especially popular -- or less popular than expected.

My library got a donation of cake pans and theoretically lends them but we've gotten very little uptake. This has been disappointing to the librarians who figured out how to get them into the catalog and were proud of having done this. I think part of the issue is that the cake pans are stored in the attic and so discovery of them is only via the catalog (how would you know to search for them?) or when they are mentioned in the newsletter. I checked one out, it was fun.

I'd try getting in touch with Alex Lent, a MA librarian who has lent ukuleles and things in the past (I'm not sure if he does that at his current library or only did it at his last library)

We also had a recent discussion on our VT Libraries mailing list and these are things that were notes as popular.

- Zoodler and food mill
- portable DVD player
- metal detector
- garment steamer
- snowshoes
- folding tables and chairs
posted by jessamyn at 10:35 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]




I'm sorry this isn't in the form of a statistical report, mainly because I don't know if one exists for this particular thing, but if anyone knows of related literature please chime in.

Yesterday I hosted an event that had live streaming and live captioning. Gathering together the tech to do this was an utter nightmare, especially since I was working out of pocket (the only reason we were even able to afford this in the first place was due to a very generous individual sponsor). We couldn't really get away with "point a smartphone and go Live" because good audio was paramount. I borrowed what I could, but not all of them worked with each other, and when I looked up rentals they all required a 6-month-minimum commitment.

The ideal setup would have been a high-quality camera with a way to connect to an external power source, an adapter to connect the camera to the computer, high-quality microphones (both on the floor and connected to the computer), a good computer with a lot of ports, an audio mixer, a projector, somewhere to project the words, fast Internet, and the correct cables to connect all of these together. Between not having enough money to afford half of what we needed, the venue also being limited in resources, and the tech just plain not existing (in Australia or just in general), we had to make do with a relatively janky setup. It still worked, though I'm not sure how effective the captioning ended up being for those who really needed it given our setup.

What I would have loved is some kind of accessibility kit I could borrow for this one event. Have all the tech you need for this setup in one box, clear instructions, return it when you're done. Partner up with the live captioning company to provide highly reduced or even free live captioning services. If you're worried about people stealing expensive tech, this could be an affordable paid rental (short term), or even offer up a space at the library that has all of this set up and ready to go so organisers don't have to think too hard about it.

The event in general was around broadening options for arts funding and accessibility kits in general were brought up as an idea, for artists who want to make their work/shows/spaces/etc more accessible but don't really have the resources to do so. I'm a bit short on ideas on what could be borrowed from a library beyond the live captioning kit mentioned above - maybe people can be borrowed for support? But that might be an avenue to look into.
posted by divabat at 7:45 PM on January 28


Special tools to remove invasive plants?
posted by unknown knowns at 8:33 AM on January 29


This is great, thanks! I was particularly interested to see some stats from Hillsboro's county-wide collection, which rabbitrabbit linked. E.g., it currently has 132 holds on their (dozen) VHS to DVD Converters! But they have TONS of cake pans (I stopped counting at 50), and only two are in use! I wonder if they store them out of sight, as jessamyn noted about her system. Anyway, I appreciate the suggestions, resources, and leads. I'll keep an eye out for any more comments that come in. Thanks again!
posted by daisyace at 10:44 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Here's link to MY (neighboring...) town's Library of Things
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:22 PM on February 3


You might check with the folks at MyTurn, who provide circulation software for many of the tool libraries in the US. Gene, the founder/owner, is pretty into the idea of data collection for advocacy purposes and there's been talk about that on the Tool Libraries Google Group, so you could probably catch some data from that wave.

Possibly also check with Lend Engine, who seem to have more of the LoT market.

I staff the North Portland Tool Library. I'd provide some of our circulation data, but antiquated software + years of inconsistent data entry = useless reports unless we go through and standardize thousands of item names first.

If you do want to include tools in your LoT collection, here's a quick overview based on the ~95% of our checkouts that I personally handle or observe: It sounds like you're mostly after smaller items (e.g. not ladders or weed eaters). Of those small items, the most popular are pruners and hedge shears from the garden section and handheld power tools like drills and palm sanders. Pressure washers are just as popular as they are difficult to maintain (i.e. very!). According to the folks at the Eugene Toolbox Project, everybody loves a good cider press, too. Somewhat to my surprise, our metal detector isn't popular at all.

If you want to look at some things like what rabbitrabbit linked but for Tool Libraries (e.g. NE Seattle TL's inventory), lots of them use MyTurn and you can find those pages linked from their websites.
posted by sibilatorix at 9:43 PM on February 4


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