The KW Library of Things saved my van renovations. I’ve known about the organization for a few years, but completely forgot about it until this past month when stressing about the build. It’s an understatement to say I’m a newbie in the construction arena. Unsurprisingly, my inventory of the numerous saws, drills, sanders, or other machines necessary to build anything is, well, completely empty. It also didn’t make financial or logistical sense for me to purchase new items. Originally I was hoping to borrow friends’ and family’s tools, but I didn’t want to impose on anyone since the build will take months. Secretly, I was hoping a tool fairy would swoop in and wave its wand. No such magical event occurred. I was quietly doubting whether I’d be able to complete anything at all.
Then, out of nowhere, the lights in my brain flickered on and revealed the magical answer to solve all of my problems. How had I not thought of the KW Library of Things sooner?! If you’re unfamiliar with the organization and live in Waterloo Region, you’re going to want to bookmark and share this blog post because the KWLoT is an absolute GEM. If you live elsewhere, you may still be in luck. The night I picked up some power tools, I shared the story on Instagram and many of you messaged to say there are similar organizations or public libraries across Canada and the US. In fact, the inspiration for the handy local library was international, but more on that interesting tidbit later in this post!
ABOUT THE KW LIBRARY OF THINGS
You may be wondering how it makes sense that a travel blog has a post on a local library of things. Well kind readers, the inspiration for the KW Library of Things transports this origin story across the Atlantic to Berlin, Germany of all places. I bet you didn’t see this delightful twist in the organization’s history! (If you’re not from Waterloo Region, Kitchener was actually Berlin until a 1916 referendum.)
Felix Munger, one of Sustainable Societies Consulting Group’s co-founders and then adjunct university professor at WLU, was in Germany for work on university sustainability when he stumbled across Berlin’s borrowing shop. Inspired by the unique concept, Felix began connecting with community partners back in Canada. Devon Fernandes, KWLoT co-founder and SSCG environmental sustainability consultant, loved the idea. Felix also brought the concept to the Waterloo Region Extend-A-Family, an organization that assists people with disabilities, which seemed to be a perfect fit. The community development connector at the time, Eli Winterfeld, couldn’t agree more. The next step was to gather feedback from residents. The response was so outstanding that the inaugural tool donation party in November 2017 saw 350 items donated!
What started with 3 categories to borrow from — tools, camping gear, and kitchen equipment – has since expanded to 11 categories and almost 800 items. Today, members can browse and borrow art supplies and hobbyist machines, electronics, kitchen appliances, sporting and outdoor gear, games, and a plethora of construction tools.
HOW IT WORKS
Funding for the KWLoT comes from membership fees and community donations from groups like KW Awesome who recently provided funds to purchase the tools for bike repairs and funds to host a bike repair workshop. Previous donors have included the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Everything members can borrow is thanks to donations from Waterloo Region residents. Donors can receive charitable receipts if the item is less than 3 years old, in working condition with all parts accounted for, and the value can easily be confirmed with a receipt or on a store’s website. There’s an online list with items the KWLoT is looking for if you’d like to donate something. It’s the perfect way to save useful tools and household objects from the landfill or collecting dust in your basement, while also providing opportunities for other people to use them.
The KW Library of Things’ mission is to be an accessible, equitable, and inclusive community resource. With low annual membership fees of $50, along with a subsidized membership option, everyone can benefit from the service. Members can borrow up to 10 items at once, for a 7-day period. The online reservation system is easy-to-use and some loan pages even have instructional videos on them. Pre-pandemic, there were also events and workshops that taught people how to use the various objects. Maybe if we flood them with email requests they will start up again!
BENEFITS OF USING THE KWLoT
As you may be able to tell, I really love the KW Library of Things. It is a cost-effective way to use a variety of tools, household items, camping gear, and so on. Borrowing also helps to reduce community waste by reducing consumerist habits. This is especially important since local landfills are already overflowing.
The volunteers and employees at the centre are friendly and helpful. They happily answered my questions about the objects I was borrowing and are quick to respond to emails. The KWLoT is an inclusive space that also provides job training to college grads through co-op positions, as well as living wage employment to people with disabilities who typically experience 2-3x unemployment compared to the rest of society. The KW Library of Things is accessible to users, with equitable low cost and subsidized memberships. Hopefully the valuable skills workshops will return in the future as well.
The KWLoT is run out of Waterloo Region Extend-A-Family’s main office at 91 Moore Avenue in midtown Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Free parking is located in the back, which is also where the entrance can be found. Outside of the doors a small folding sign welcomes you to the library.
HOURS OF OPERATION
The front desk is open for pick-ups and drop-offs on 3 days: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5pm – 7pm, and Saturdays from 11am – 1pm. In addition to visiting the location to pick up items, another service the KW Library of Things offers is home deliveries and pick-ups for a small fee on Tuesdays from 5pm – 7pm.
If you’d like to volunteer with the KWLoT, they’d love to hear from you!
MY REVIEW OF THE KW LIBRARY OF THINGS
If the huge smile on my face isn’t testimony enough to the fantastic experience I’ve had, please indulge me for another minute. First, the staff are great. I admit it has been a little intimidating to dive into this new world of problem solving and construction skills, however I never once felt silly or dumb asking them questions and often came away with additional tips. Another huge perk is the size of the inventory. At 757 items, the inventory is massive! There really is something for everyone. For my most recent projects, I borrowed a table saw with a steel stand, miter saw, safety goggles and ear protectors, a mini carpenter square, an orbital sander, and a hole saw kit. As a relatively frugal person who also doesn’t have a space to keep these tools in the van or have constant need for them, this is an extremely cost-effective and waste-free way to complete a project. To compare, if I had to purchase everything I used, it would have cost me around $1,050. Continuing on the topic of cost, the annual membership fee of $50 is extremely reasonable. Much like credit card fees that pay themselves off quite quickly with travel rewards, this membership fee pays you back with each item you borrow. I absolutely love how there are also sponsored memberships available for when the fee is out of reach. And last, the KW Library of Things is truly a “by the community, for the community” endeavour. From the get-go, one of the project aims was to provide meaningful living wage employment to those who typically experience barriers to the working world. If the other benefits to having a library of things didn’t catch your attention, perhaps this heartwarming element will.
WANT MORE VANLIFE?
To get the tea on how much I’ve spent on the van, check out the post I wrote on how much campervans cost. Curious to know how much vanlife costs on a monthly basis? I’ve published monthly expense reports for your information and entertainment.
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