A Brief Survey of America’s Libraries of Things

Librarianship | September 26, 2017

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The Library of Things movement is growing. In a recent survey, our customers described the non-traditional items available at their public libraries.

Movie projectors and musical instruments. Cake pans and carpentry tools. Science experiments and seeds. The Library of Things movement is taking hold in libraries across the country and around the world. In addition to traditional items such as books, magazines and DVDs, many libraries are now lending household items and other “things,” giving patrons access to resources without, as blogger Cat Johnson explains, “the burden of ownership.”

“The Library of Things movement challenges people to rethink whether we need (or want) to own goods we rarely use,” Johnson says. “It also brings people together around a shared vision and reduces wasted resources.”

Popular Things

In a recent survey of EBSCO customers, we asked public librarians to identify some of the non-traditional items available for checkout in their Libraries of Things. The most common items were laptops and tablets, toys, gadgets, and crafting items. About 43 percent of respondents said their libraries offer free museum passes. Forsyth County Public Library in Cumming, Georgia, is one of several public libraries across the state that lends free family passes to Zoo Atlanta.

Of those who responded to our survey, 20 percent said that board games are included in their library collections. While many offer traditional board games such as “Monopoly,” “Clue” and “Sorry,” the Hoover Public Library in Alabama maintains a collection of award-winning adult designer board games for patrons 18 and older, such as “King of Tokyo,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Catan,” a game that asks players to settle and cultivate a new colony. “These are highly sophisticated games with beautifully designed pieces and cards,” says Fiction Specialist Shannon Haddock.

Health & Wellness Things

Supporting the personal health and wellness of patrons has also become a focus for many libraries. About 24 percent of those responding to our survey indicated that their public libraries maintain a collection of sporting, recreational and/or exercise equipment in their Libraries of Things. These include croquet and badminton sets, fishing poles and tackle boxes, tents and other camping gear.

In 2014, after applying for and receiving a grant from Healthy Central Florida, Winter Park Public Library launched its bicycle checkout program. The grant enabled the library to purchase a fleet of seven cruiser bicycles and one tandem bicycle, as well as helmets and durable bicycle locks.

Melissa Schneider, Head of Patron and Material Services, says the bicycle checkout program has been very successful. “Here at the Winter Park Public Library, we are passionate proponents of health and wellness,” she says, adding that the library also lends activity trackers. “We believe that it’s important to provide resources that will support and encourage our patrons on their personal health and wellness journeys. Our bicycle program speaks to this belief.”

A library of things bolsters the entrepreneurial spirit and strengthens the bonds that form a community.

Thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, the Bloomfield Township Public Library has added to its collection 45 VITALITY Kits containing health information and assistive tools for the community’s growing population of senior citizens. VITALITY stands for Visual and Instructive Tools to Advance Living in Transforming Years, and each kit covers a specific topic such as Alzheimer’s disease, fall prevention, stroke recovery, grief support, grandparenting and retirement. The kits include books, CDs and DVDs, memory games, exercise aids such as hand strengthening balls and resistance bands, and much more. Karrie Yukon, Adult Services and Senior Outreach Librarian, says, “The VITALITY Kit Collection highlights senior citizens as a vital part of our Library and our community.”

Public libraries are also perfectly poised to meet the information needs of those caring for elderly loved ones. Since 2016, Northland Public Library in Pittsburgh has offered caregiver backpacks containing a collection of materials that provide support to caregivers of elderly adults. Assembled by the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging, the backpacks contain a handful of books, brochures and guides, as well as a DVD of the feature film “Still Alice” about a woman coping with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

“With the rising costs of caregiving, more family members are taking up caring for a loved one, which comes with significant stress and emotional burnout,” explains Rebecca Munoz, Northland’s Adult Services Manager. “With all resources located in a single backpack, they make transportation easier for caregivers who have to travel frequently.”

Cool and Unusual Things

Many items for checkout in public libraries are unique and inventive. Others are community-specific. One item available at Ashtabula County District Library in Ohio gave us a chuckle. Adults visiting with their children can check out a cat brush or comb and give the library’s resident cat, Crash, an impromptu grooming session. “The kids would always ask for them so they could brush him,” explains Teen Librarian Marisha Sullivan. “We finally decided that we would just slap a barcode on them and call them in-house equipment.”

In its Library of Things collection, North Logan City Library in Utah lends paddleboards, GoPros, outdoor movie kits, snow cone and cotton candy machines, and state park passes. According to Library Director Adam Winger, the library constantly looks for ways to fill the gaps in community services and add value with its collections.

“Who wouldn't like to hold a fundraiser for your kid's soccer team and turn to the library for help?” Winger asks. “How about using the 3D printer to prototype your new product then using video equipment to shoot a promo video without spending a dime? A library of things bolsters the entrepreneurial spirit and strengthens the bonds that form a community.”

infographic of public library of things

Describe some of the non-traditional items your library lends in the comments section or click the link below to learn how to start your own Library of Things.

How to Start a Library of Things

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