Library of things

What is a Library of Things?

It's not a library in the traditional sense. It's a hub of shared resources, which offers access to a vast array of items for borrowing, from trestle tables and tents, to sewing machines and suitcases. With the simple ethos of "borrow, use, return, repeat," a Library of Things promotes a culture of sharing and collaboration and builds community connections. A Library of Things loans out items to members of its local community, promoting a sharing economy. These items can be anything and generally include DIY tools, garden machinery, kitchen appliances, camping gear, event equipment and generally useful household items.

Among the many benefits of borrowing items from a Library of Things rather than owning them are freeing up space in our homes, and saving money whilst reducing waste and carbon emissions.  

Frequently asked questions

Who uses a Library of Things (LoT)?

SHARE Flitwick and Ampthill is used by a range of people with the main groups being people

  • wanting to live more sustainably
  • living in space-poor accommodation
  • wanting to try out something before purchasing
  • recently moving to the area or being in the area temporarily
  • wanting to save money – not having to buy a major item for a one-off job
  • borrowing things for fun
  • items regularly out on loan are carpet cleaner, power washer, dehumidifier, scarifier, strimmer, hedge trimmer, sander, disco ball, camping equipment

Are other Library of Things models also available?

SHARE is a small-scale operation compared with other LoTs, and a large urban population is probably needed to scale up. One of the first LoTs in England was Share Frome in Somerset in partnership with a youth employment scheme and the local council.

Larger LoTs may have an actual shop, with full opening hours and may employ staff funded through the loan income or advertise specific volunteer roles like Share Bristol.

Share Shed, based in Totnes, caters to a rural population by having a mobile LoT (a shed on a van).

Some libraries, like Edinburgh Tool Library, focus very much on tools and combine them with workspace.

The newly opened Library of Things in Bletchley has been set up by Milton Keynes City Council with local partners. 

There are also franchise and social enterprise models.

Will it need a lot of start-up money?

SHARE began with seed funding of £1,800 from Flitwick and Ampthill Town Councils through their community grants offer. This was needed for the website (which needs to handle financial transactions), insurance and room hire in Flitwick Village Hall for the first 6 months. Flitwick Town Council now subsidise SHARE: F&A by providing free storage and shopfront space. Ideally, a LoT would be self-funding through loan charges, but this will take time to achieve as local awareness and confidence needs to be built up.

The library stock came mainly from local donations and is still supplemented this way. A few new items have been purchased, from grant funding, based on members’ requests and ideas from other LoTs.

Other items such as shelving, PAT Testing Equipment, a tool kit for repairs and maintenance, and a banner were funded by Inspiring volunteering and a Ward Councillor grant plus grants from CBC Sustainability and Ampthill Town Council for thermal imaging cameras as part of a co-promotion of warm homes advice.

How about health and safety/Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)?

As well as all the standard policies expected of any organisation, any LoT needs to be very diligent in ensuring items loaned out are safe and fit for purpose. SHARE checks that all items on the inventory are fit to loan. Any item with moving parts and any electrical item is checked physically and PAT tested before being placed on the inventory and between each loan. Several trustees have been trained to undertake PAT testing - having a PAT-qualified trustee with a health and safety background has helped. This is part of the routine of running the LoT and once set up is not onerous.

Insurers set the requirements for safety checks, but it is important to have terms and conditions for borrowers that exclude liability for misuse of the item and to ensure any item needing an instruction manual is made accessible to borrowers.

Where can I learn more about how to set up the organisation itself?

SHARE can provide lots of information on set-up, policies and day-to-day running and can pass on helpful contacts: Email

Other established LoTs are always ready to help. The Repair and Share UK Network Facebook group is useful for contacts and for asking questions.

CVS Bedfordshire can provide support on the organisation's constitution and recruitment of volunteers.

What if people break things?

SHARE's experience, common across the sector, is that most users are incredibly conscientious and there are very few breakages. Some items come back in better condition than when they went out.

All borrowers are asked to provide proof of address before borrowing and Terms and Conditions include provision to recover costs, but this has not been used to date. Insurers will not cover the value of items out on loan, only liability provided all Health and Safety requirements have been complied with. Damage at/thefts from the storage venue is covered.

How much time will be required?

Setting up and running a LoT is very time-consuming. Although SHARE is only open to the public for two hours per week on a Saturday morning, that is an ongoing commitment for two or more volunteers.  However, that is the tip of the iceberg, adding in administration, processing the items to loan, cleaning and repairing items, sourcing spare parts, occasional drop-offs and collection of loaned items, social media and website updating, organising and running Repair Cafes and other events and attending events to promote the LoT – SHARE has a rough calculation of 800 volunteer hours yearly.   

How many volunteers are needed?

As many as can be involved – a core group of at least four prepared to take responsibility for the project – a further circle of regular helpers, and a call-in group for specific bigger tasks. This is a very rewarding engagement for volunteers as users of the service are very positive, and a community quickly builds up around the LoT especially when cross-promotion on sustainability is built on.

How quickly is it possible to get it going?

The SHARE timeline is an 18-month feed in to establishment: initial discussions June 2021; application for Charitable Status Sept 2021; grant of CIO status April 2022; opened bank account June 22; storage space and room agreement, June 22; donation drive and making items ready to Oct 22; first opening Nov 22.  This could be done more quickly under the umbrella of an existing constituted organisation or if setting up as a Community Interest Company (CIC).

Additionally, SHARE benefitted from grant providers being prepared to hold funds between CIO status being granted and a bank account being opened. Developing the project took place during the period whilst waiting for CIO and bank account set up.

How much space does a Library of Things need?

Finding a space to store items and to loan them from is a critical bottleneck in the set-up process. For SHARE, volunteers initially stored items themselves until a store cupboard was offered in a Village Hall. The size of the store dictates the donations that can be accepted/products bought and the size of the LoT stock. The store needs to be secure, accessible by volunteers and to have parking nearby.

A space also needs to set up to hand items out/collect back, which can be separate from the store, but is ideally close to it. This needs to be in a location accessible and known to the public, again with parking nearby.

SHARE stores stock in a large store behind the Rufus Centre in Flitwick and has an outdoor opening side room for the 'shopfront' with a bookable meeting room next door for associated events. This is provided rent-free by Flitwick Town Council – but rental of a space may be a major part of costs for other LoTs.

What about repair/re-use?

SHARE has run four Repair Cafes, the first in April 2023. The 'shopfront' LoT sessions also have an informal repair/advice offer. Additionally, stock items are repaired, when possible, though broken/not working items are not accepted as donations.

Where can I read more general information?

Every LoT website explains the rationale behind the movement. The Library of Things directory has a short clear explanation and shows all the registered LoTs across the UK.

If you're interested in setting up a Library of Things and would like to know more, email: