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In 2016, Felix worked with a German university to assess their collaboration practices in order to support them to become an environmentally sustainable university. While in Germany, he met Alexandra Jaik, who told him about her master’s research – the Berlin Library of Things.
“Think of it like any other library,” she said. “Except, instead of borrowing your favorite book you can borrow tools, camping equipment, and other items you use infrequently.”
Felix was impressed by the initiative and thought that a Library of Things would fit well in Kitchener/Waterloo. The Region had been looking for ways to extend the lifespan of its landfill, which is expected to reach capacity in 2030. One method proposed in the Region of Waterloo’s Waste Reduction and Diversion Study involved local organizations offering innovative diversion programs.
A Library is Things is the kind of program that could make a significant contribution: it would reduce the perceived need for people to purchase their own tools, camping equipment, etc. and, therefore, would reduce the amount of waste ending up in the landfill when these items are discarded. And in addition to the environmental benefits, the program would allow for people in all socio-economic situations to access tools and recreational equipment.
We are now in the process of creating a Library of Things in Kitchener/Waterloo. Through sharing items, members of the library will reduce unnecessary consumption and their environmental footprint.
Why Adopt a Culture of Sharing and Forego a Culture of Consumption?
Imagine all the raw materials that go into producing a single electric screwdriver. There’s the battery, the electric motor, the gear system, the case that encases the electronic components. Don’t forget about the energy required to manufacture and ship the screwdriver! A lot of materials and energy go into making one electronic screwdriver.
But here’s the issue: how often are we actually using our drills? Unless you are in a trade that requires the use of these tools (which are often supplied by the employer), it’s unlikely that you will be using an electric screwdriver every day for hours at a time.
Take a moment to think about how you relate to this. If you own an electric screwdriver, how often are you using it? Do you even remember where it’s hiding in your house/apartment?
Right. Now, think about all of the materials that went into making this tool. Does the amount of time you use this screwdriver justify the amount of materials and energy that went into manufacturing and transporting it?
Maybe in your case it does, but for most people it doesn’t.
Now, consider the same question if that drill was being shared amongst all members of your community.
Has your answer changed? Right. That’s why we’re building a Library of Things.
The Process of Developing the Library of Things
As a social enterprise, assisting in the development of a Library of Things fits perfectly with SSCG’s goal to build more sustainable societies. But, since we are also interested in working towards social sustainability, there needed to be an additional component to our library. Hence, Felix approached Matt Riehl, Niki Stevenson, and Maria DeBoer at Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region (EAFWR) – a local organization committed to working with families and the community to promote inclusion and serve people with developmental and/or physical disabilities.
The folks at Extend-A-Family jumped on board and an exciting partnership was born.
The project progressed slowly in the beginning. We needed support, someone to take the reigns and run with it. That’s when we brought Devon Fernandes on the team for his practicum course through Laurier’s Community Psychology master’s program. Devon has been instrumental in moving this project forward. We have since engaged many organizations and community members in helping shape the library.
(Devon in the community speaking with people about the Library of Things)
And Suddenly It Is More Than A Library …
Our Library of Things is going to be more than just a way to help people accomplishing their ambitious do-it-yourself projects; it’s going to be a place to bring people together. And by collaborating with EAFWR, our library will strive to (equitably) employ individuals who face barriers to employment. Statistics Canada states that the employment rate of individuals with disabilities is 49%, compared with 79% for Canadians without a disability.
Developing inclusive employment practices is essential to addressing this employment gap.
Leading by Example: Action and Research
There is very little research about the effectiveness of a Library of Things in promoting or achieving sustainability. Since SSCG embraces evidence-based action by conducting meaningful research, we are determined to monitor the impact of this library. As a result, we are building the library in such a way as to ensure we can monitor its impact on the environment and on nearby communities. Devon will also be sharing our insights at the upcoming International Tool Library Symposium and the Society for Community Research and Action Conference during the summer 2017.
While current consumption patterns are unsustainable, changes in the way consumers behave are crucial to sustainable development. We believe embedding a Library of Things into the heart of a community can challenge the consumer-based model of our society, where we individually buy everything we want and need. If a Library of Things is created, with ongoing community support and strong partnerships, we believe it can tackle some of these larger societal issues.
At SSCG, we try our best to personify Community, Environment, and Equity. We believe in these values as an organization and the Library of Things is just one example of these principles coming together.
When Will I Be Able To Borrow Items?
Thanks to the ongoing support of community members in Kitchener/Waterloo and funding from Laurier’s Graduate Student Association, we intend to open our Library in the Mount Hope Breithaupt Park Neighbourhood towards the end of the summer.
You’ll be able to borrow items from our library in a few months! Get excited to reduce your environmental footprint and be part of a more sustainable community!
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