I find it wonderful that libraries still exist in the modern age.
Though the world sometimes seems unstable, angry, and poised to tear down whatever we currently don’t like, there still exists a public institution based entirely on free sharing and trust. Without spending a cent, you have access to hundreds of books, and what’s more, libraries let you walk out of the door with them for two weeks at a time.
The concept of the library and the spirit of sharing things for free, however, is not restricted merely to the shelves of books, magazines, and DVDs available at your local branch. There are a surprising number of alternative so-called libraries where you don’t check out books … but things, animals, seeds, or even people.
Have I piqued your interest? Then enjoy this list of some unusual alternative libraries, and the ways that you can access them.
Now, older homesteaders may have a tool chest and shed full of personal tools, but many of those tools were slowly acquired over time or inherited. What do you do when you’re just starting a DIY project but have little more than a Phillips screwdriver to your name? What if you’re working on a job that requires an incredibly specific tool to get it done, and you don’t want to buy and own that otherwise unessential tool in the long run? What if you want to fix up your house, but don’t have the cash to spare for expensive equipment?
Go to a Tool Library, of course! The concept is simple, and familiar: For a set amount of time, you borrow a tool that would otherwise set you back a few hundred (or more) at the home improvement store, use it to finish your project, then return it clean and in good functioning order.
Library of Things
In addition to tools, some libraries offer a more diverse “Library of Things” that gives you access to instruments, looms, board games, fishing poles, and more. In my research online, I was easily able to find several libraries that offer unusual and unique items to borrow, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Baltimore County Public Library (Maryland)
- Sacramento Public Library (California)
- Beaverton City Library (Oregon)
This is my favorite library in the list, as it has the potential to not only get good seeds in gardens for free, but also to foster the creation of a locally-based seed saving network. The basic premise is the same as for all libraries, but with a bit of a garden twist. Essentially, you “check out” seeds from the library’s store, grow them in your garden, and then return seeds saved from whatever you grew. If active and healthy, a seed library can offer an ever-fresh cache of locally-adapted seeds, and give a community a priceless degree of food sovereignty that they didn’t have before.
Of course, for a seed library to function, interested and knowledgeable gardeners are integral to the operations. A fair degree of gardening, pure seed saving, and seed processing knowledge is required to keep strains separate, so the process of participating in one or getting one started will require a decent amount of learning. There are ample resources online, but one of the best books I know on heirloom seed saving is Suzanne Ashworth’s “Seed to Seed” available for free in its entirety at archive.org.
If this idea excites you, I’m happy to share that you may have a seed library available in your area. Browse this extensive list of 500 (and growing) seed libraries and see if you have a garden of opportunity waiting for you. And if you find that your area has no current library, this website gives you all the tools and information you need to get one started for your community.
This isn’t a library that most of us can visit, but it’s still a member of our list worth mentioning. Karl De Smedt is the head librarian of the Puratos Sourdough Library in Belgium. Within the refrigerated shelves of this unusual institution, 105 (and growing) starters from all around the world quietly bubble away.
There’s an excellent introduction to the library here, but if you really want to get involved, you’ll have to visit the website.
De Smedt is involved in several experiments and outreach programs involving his precious cache of sourdough — collecting cultures around the world and studying the biological makeup of every unique battery blend.
Now, most of us can’t travel to Belgium to experience this weird and wonderful locale, but if you’re interested in adding your own local flair to the sourdough scene, read our article and video on how to capture wild yeast and make your own sourdough starter.
Sewing Machine Library
Included in the tool library roster of checkout-ables, a sewing machine library offers the ability to craft your own clothing for free. Many of these sharable sewing machines are attached to educational programs offered by the libraries that host them. What better way to fight the unrelenting and consumptive march of so-called fashion than to simply make your clothes and buck the system entirely?
From my research, here’s a sampling of sewing machines available for free at some libraries that may be near you.
Started in 2000 as a 4-day event in Copenhagen, the “Menneskebiblioteket” or Human Library has since become a fascinating way to meet people and understand them in ways typically not available to us for various social reasons. More of an event than a true brick-and-mortar library, these gatherings nonetheless offer a fascinating way to broaden your understanding of folks that are different from you. Various humans with specialized skills or incredibly specific life experiences allow themselves to be “checked out” by anyone who wants free rein to ask questions, have a conversation, and better understand their illness, lifestyle, religion, trauma, or specialty. Some of the humans available at events have been Naturalists, Homeless, PTSD Survivors, and more.
Libraries have ever been places of wonder, imagination, or discovery from the ancient Library of Alexandria to the thousands upon thousands of libraries that dot our cities and small towns. I hope this list has sparked your interest to hunt down some local “Libraries of Things” or in some cases, start your own.
Though they’ve been punched around and pummeled in the era of flame wars, trolls, and the mean-spiritedness that comes from internet anonymity, the spirit of cooperation, community, and sharing isn’t dead in our modern world. Sometimes it just needs an alternative sort of place to grow and flourish.