Faces From The Neighborhood

The Southeast Portland Tool Library: Sharing Gets Your Projects Going

June 4, 2016 | People in the Neighborhood

I stopped by the Southeast Portland Tool Library awhile ago for a tour. This place is amazing. It’s similar to walking into your friendly neighborhood hardware store or tool shop that carries most of the tools you’re going to need for just about any at-home project.

The library has lawn mowers, weed eaters and shovels and hoes. It also has woodworking tools, power tool accessories, and bicycle repair tools. Southeast Portland residents have access to all kinds of tools without opening their wallets.

A true library

I met with the current board President, Jim Benton, who said the tool library operates very similarly to a book lending library. If you live in the geographic area served by the tool library, you just sign up and begin using the library.

Visit the library during its operating hours, peruse the shelves (and floor displays) for the tool or tools you need, and then check out the tools for a week. All free of charge. New users have the opportunity to make a one-time donation when they sign up.

Community tool library

Community Sharing: I asked Jim how the library gets all of its tools – and there are lots of them. He says the tools are mostly donated from people who live in Portland. It’s really the sharing economy in action.

Someone buys a tool and realizes it’s just sitting on a shelf or in the garage unused most of the time. So the person donates it to the library so more people can use the tool. Or, someone realizes they don’t need three shovels, so two of them go to the tool library.

And so it goes. The community is pooling its resources together so all members of the community can share instead of purchase and consume. It’s a wonderful spirit that also strengthens the community.

Volunteer Sharing: Of course, the Southeast Portland Tool Library is a volunteer operation. Accordingly, the library is currently open two nights a week and on Saturdays. (Check its website for the current schedule). Jim tells me the library’s volunteers are its most valuable asset. I can see why. Volunteers check out the tools and get to know the people who use the library. The volunteers maintain the tools and the space they use at Hinson Baptist Church. The volunteers are the soul of the library.

Community space

Mural of cyclist and Mt. Hood

The space

The Southeast Portland Library is located in the basement of the beautiful Hinson Baptist Church on SE 20th & Salmon. The library is organized, clean and friendly. There’s a mural on one wall painted by a local artist, Addie Boswell. The library outgrew its original space and moved into this space not too long ago. I think it found a great home.

The Southeast Portland Tool Library was started by Steve Couche and opened in 2010, with the help from the tool library in NE and SE Uplift.

In fact, Jim tells me there’s a little Portland tool library tradition where an existing tool library helps another one open. More sharing in action! The first Portland tool library was in North Portland, and the movement began. The Southeast Library helped the Green Lents Community Tool Library launch.

Sharing tools

Portland hosts some of the oldest tool libraries in the country. Jim says there are only about 40 – 50 tool libraries nationwide, and they’re mostly concentrated in urban areas. I think Portland can be proud to have a culture that embraces this kind of sharing.

The Southeast Portland Tool Library has around five to six thousand members, with about 1500 active members. The tools are in demand. It’s this sharing spirit that bonds a community together and keeps it strong. It’s this sharing spirit that moves the city towards a more sustainable way of living. It’s this sharing spirit that enriches Portland.

If you live in Southeast Portland, join! Go to the website to sign up. I did, and I can’t wait to use the library for my next project. Or better yet, stop by for a visit, or go to one of the classes offered there. They’d love to see you.

Lisa Ratzlaff

Lisa Ratzlaff is a web designer who loves telling the amazing stories of interesting people and businesses in Portland, Oregon. Her web design business is Share Your Story Media, where she builds powerful websites for small service-based businesses that help them succeed online.

Lisa Ratzlaff