Partnership Spotlight: West Philly Tool Library

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A well-stocked work-bench at the West Philly Tool Library Photo: Jacques-Jean Tiziou

With a  library of more than  2,500 loanable tools,  knowledgeable tool librarians and mechanics, and a host of classes, West Philly’s Tool Library (WPTL) is a valuable community resource fostering a DIY-ethic of garden, home, and automotive repair. Since its founding in 2007, the tool library has grown to sustain nearly 2,000 members (800 of whom are currently active) who come to rent everything from the most common of tools like hammers, wheelbarrows, drills, and saws, to equipment for larger jobs like lawn mowers, extension ladders, and a full range of gardening, woodworking, plumbing, and metalworking equipment.

WPTL on 1314 S. 47th St. is among the ranks of 80 nationwide local lending libraries that make tool rental affordable and accessible to tenants, long-time residents, and newcomers looking to build their next project or maintain their home and gardens.

Tool librarian Judson Wood says it’s easy to underestimate the value of a lending library.  “For many of our members, their home is their most cherished and valuable asset. Instead of having to go out and buy a tool that they might use one time for a repair, they can rent the tools they need and save themselves the cost of more extensive damage.”

In August 2016, The Philadelphia Orchard Project joined forces with WPTL to expand access to orchard care equipment like backpack sprayers, fruit harvesters, and pruning tools for WPTL members and community orchardists working to maintain POP’s 56 orchard sites, or glean from the city’s unharvested fruit trees. This partnership was made possible by an initial grant from the McLean Contributionship.  Twenty five POP tools currently exist in the collection with other tools and supplies to be added later this season.  All are available for borrowing during WPTL’s regular open hours on evenings and Saturdays.

POP orchard equipment now available for borrowing at the West Philly Tool Library includes a variety of pruning tools, pole harvesters, and backpack sprayers.

“The POP partnership is an exciting partnership because it leverages both of our organization’s resources and makes them available to our shared community,” said Alison Schmidt, the library’s new director.  “POP essentially long-term lends tools to the Tool Library and we are able to have these available not just for POP members’ use, but also all of West Philly Tool Library’s members. It’s wonderful!”

Sliding-scale memberships range from $20-50 annually for individuals to $25-250 for public schools or organizations. Representatives from POP orchard partners are eligible to become full WPTL members at the minimum individual rate of $20/year.  Two forms of I.D. are required for membership along with two references who can vouch for the member’s reliability to rent and return. Members can borrow tools for up to a week at a time with the possibility of renewal.

Tool Library member Danyell Brent kneels beside his veggie beds that he built with tools from the library.
Tool Library member Danyell Brent kneels beside the garden beds he built with tools from the library.

Farmer Danyell Brent of Friends Urban Garden for Peace and Understanding in the Belmont Section of West Philly is one of the library’s many members who’ve come to rely on the organization. Last spring, Brent rented circular saws, drill bits, and clamps to construct garden beds for his community garden, where he grows vegetables and herbs that he distributes to his neighbors.

“What I like best about the Tool Library is how easy it is to find the right tool for the job,” Brent said. “They give you a week to use the materials – which is great when you’re working on a big project, you can renew your materials, and their staff is very friendly. You can’t beat it.”

Schmidt says she is excited to expand the organization’s impact through education, collaboration with other groups across the city, and developing potential workshop space.

For more information on the WPTL’s happenings, membership offerings, classes, and tool sales, visit their website or Facebook.

This edition of POP Tips prepared by Alyssa Schimmel, Education Director. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.