How to get started with your own library of things
You have two broad options for kickstarting some kind of lending or rental project:
- If you’re based in the UK, particularly in an urban area, you can partner with us to make it happen. We bring our technology, knowhow, model, and partnerships with Bosch, Karcher and co
- You can Do It Yourself, just like we did. There are hundreds of tool libraries and libraries of things around the world that have been started by small groups of citizens with some time on their hands.
1) To partner with us, you’ll need:
- Space - Affordable, secure, suitable space eg. libraries, community centres that have 10sqm+ publicly accessible space and are open at least 40 hours per week
- Budget - A set-up budget of £30,000
- Community - Evidence of demand for lending/renting from local community
Read more about how to partner with us here: http://libraryofthings.co.uk/new-sites
2) To do it yourself, you’ll need all of the above - plus a dedicated, practical group of local people with time to spare.
What have we learned as we’ve tested and developed Library of Things?
Since our first tiny shoestring test in 2014 we’ve learnt a whole lot about what does and doesn’t work when it comes to how we run the borrowing service.
The headline is that user experience and convenience are king. In an era of Amazon, sadly not many people will change their behaviour for good unless the alternative is even more convenient - and more affordable / rewarding.
To develop a new element of our service, we start with what we’ve heard users want, then test, get feedback and adapt. We’ve brought in lots of experienced designers and developers to help us create an effortless and joyful borrowing service. In an era of retail giants like Amazon, we’ve learnt we can’t afford to cut corners with design and technology.
Some more specific lessons we’ve had include:
- Donated items cause headaches - both for borrowers and for the team. More on why under ‘Things and Technology’ below.
- The independent ‘shop’ version of Library of Things is difficult to make viable, for two reasons:
- Borrowers generally need flexibility in terms of collection and return times - the more hours you can be open, the better it is for borrowers. But longer opening hours means higher staff or volunteer costs.
- The revenue generated from borrowing doesn’t cover all of the costs involved with maintaining and staffing a space. Some Tool Libraries receive grant funding and/or start makerspaces to supplement income and make this version viable.
- Item theft and damage is not as big an issue as you might think. Of over 4000 loans of items we’ve done, only 3 items have not come back. Only 4% of loans require some kind of maintenance (though that’s largely because we source the highest quality items).
Our business model
- How many people use each kiosk, and what’s the annual income?
For each Library of Things kiosk, each year, 1000 local people borrow on average twice each. They pay an average of £10 per borrow. There’s also a little extra income from loyalty memberships, late fees, consumables etc. So in total, each kiosk can earn up to £25,000 per year. This is dependent on lots of local and digital marketing - it wouldn’t just happen on its own!
- What is the Library of Things staffing model?
Library of Things is a platform that operates multiple borrowing kiosks, meaning we have a small paid core team doing everything from customer service to software development to digital marketing - plus paid local staff and volunteers who make sure each kiosk is loved and cared for by its host community.
- Core team: You can see our smiling faces here: http://libraryofthings.co.uk/team
- Local team: Each kiosk has a
- paid Community Activator who does local marketing, outreach and coordinates the skill-sharing programme
- paid Thing Technician who does ongoing item maintenance
- committed group of volunteers who do the fun bits like sharing their skills at events, supporting the Thing Technician to do item maintenance, and signposting the service to their friends and neighbours
- How is Library of Things funded?
We are funded by a combination of impact investment and grants - but our aim is to become self-sustaining as soon as possible.
We have carefully chosen a group of mission-aligned angel investors and a social investment institution to provide finance in exchange for a small stake in Library of Things Limited.
You can read more about our governance structure and funding decisions on our blog here: https://www.libraryofthings.co.uk/blog/purposebeforeprofit
Got a question we haven't answered here?
- Check out these articles for more advice: