Shareable https://www.shareable.net People-powered solutions for the common good Tue, 25 Feb 2020 18:09:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 https://www.shareable.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/shareable-favicon.png Shareable https://www.shareable.net 32 32 What to consider when starting a Library of Things https://www.shareable.net/what-to-consider-when-starting-a-library-of-things/ https://www.shareable.net/what-to-consider-when-starting-a-library-of-things/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 17:00:49 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=39121 Shareable has published a number of articles on Libraries of Things (LoTs) since they’re such a core component of the real sharing economy. But if you’re considering starting your own LoT, there are a few operational concerns you might want to think about. Should your LoT be an investor-funded, for-profit enterprise so it has the funds

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Shareable has published a number of articles on Libraries of Things (LoTs) since they’re such a core component of the real sharing economy. But if you’re considering starting your own LoT, there are a few operational concerns you might want to think about.

Should your LoT be an investor-funded, for-profit enterprise so it has the funds to build a network of users quickly and stock its shelves with new items? Should it be nonprofit and volunteer-run so that there are no pressures to generate income that will be pulled out of your community? Should it have a visible, physical location that’s likely to be noticed by new users? Or should it be an app, which might have lower maintenance costs?

For-Profit vs. Volunteer-Run vs. Public LoTs

A classic example of a LoT is a tool library, and The Buffalo Tool Library is one instance of a volunteer-run, nonprofit LoT. Started in 2011, it is now a 501(c)3 and not only offers tool rentals to its more than 500 members, but also runs other programs like neighborhood improvement and beautification projects.

It is also possible to rent tools from The Home Depot, which could be considered a for-profit tool library. Renting a power drill from The Home Depot is $100 per week plus a $50 deposit, yet at the Buffalo Tool Library, a similar rental is only $20 for an annual membership allowing five simultaneous rentals So, for the user, the volunteer-run model seems significantly more affordable.

Starting a LoT of this sort does not necessarily require a lot of money or space, as they are sometimes the size of a small bedroom or large closet. “The biggest asset that you would need is a committed volunteer base, unless you have some awesome source of funding,” explained Marty Seeger, chair for the operations committee of the Buffalo Tool Library. “Essentially, you’re going to find that it’s enough work to be a full-time job,” Seeger explained, citing the demands of maintaining a high quality of service, tool maintenance, organization, storage and other administrative tasks. “So if you’re not spreading that out among a bunch of committed, loyal volunteers [then] you’re just going to be swamped.

Yet maintaining a LoT like the one in Buffalo, even on a volunteer-run basis, still requires tens of thousands of dollars in operations costs, according to their 2018 Annual Report, for rent, utilities, insurance and an asset-tracking software called MyTurn used by many LoTs. As such, the Buffalo LoT had a diverse range of income sources to maintain its storefront and many other projects, including “membership dues, late fees, fundraising, private grants and corporate support.”

Additionally public libraries lend more than just books and offer  access to surprising things like professional clothing for interviews, GoPros, PS4s, and even Netflix-style streaming services. My local librarian told me that three of the five most frequently checked out items in 2019 were LoT items: tote bags, phone chargers and Empire Passes, which grant access to all New York State Parks and normally would cost $80. In fact, there are many passes available — from educational venues to an independent theater.

“One of our foremost missions is helping patrons access information and become connected to the community,” said Asia Bonacci, who manages Tompkins County Public Library’s Ithaca branch LoT. “The kinds of things we’re thinking about lending are more passes or wifi hotspots like other libraries do.” Bonacci explained.

Digital, Decentralized LoTs

Another approach is to operate a digital-only platform that effectively facilitates the creation of sharing networks: a decentralized Libraries of Things. An advantage to this approach is that they can replicate quickly, as communities in different areas can easily start sharing things with each other without having to find accessible physical storage and pick-up points. Instead, users of these platforms can simply drop off and pick up things where they live or work.

One example of this approach is tech startup Peerby, an Amsterdam-based platform originally funded by a number of investment firms and startup accelerators. According to Joshua van Wijgerden, community and insight manager at Peerby, it has about 25,000 active users who share items with each other, mostly in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam.

There are many items listed in these areas, and users mostly charge fees for lending out their items. Peerby now requires either a subscription fee or an insurance fee when items are borrowed, which, “not everybody is happy with,” according to van Wijgerden. “But it creates transparency and a feeling of safety and security [that] we feel is important in a sharing platform.” The introduction of these fees could lead to users feeling more comfortable sharing higher-value items, a common hurdle for many LoTs. 

Bootstrapping a LoT can be tricky, and the startup approach to taking investor funding comes with the risks associated with profit-driven enterprises. Yerdle was originally formed as a Certified Benefit Corporation (B Corp) in 2012 with the idea of getting people to share or give away items they don’t need. From archived pages, it appears that in 2013 Yerdle was more or less a decentralized Library of Things like Peerby, but after a few iterations struggling to find its footing, and raising an additional $20 million, it appears to have abandoned its original purpose as a LoT. Though it is still a B Corp, and brands itself as a “circular economy powerhouse,” Yerdle now operates as a for-profit reseller of clothing brands.

A Hybrid Model

Canada-based organization The Thingery has a business model that offers the potential to replicate in communities quickly, while still retaining the community-led foundation which allows LoTs to thrive. The Thingery enables communities to deploy a LoT with less upfront difficulty by working communities to find a location and get site approval from local municipalities. The Thingery then sends a modified shipping container which is designed and stocked by the community. Each new Thingery is its own non-profit co-operative that’s fully run by the community in which it exists, while The Thingery, Inc. handles customer support, maintenance and software.

When thinking about how to best enable a community to start, manage and use a LoT, there are advantages to each model, and depending on the specific types of things that people will be borrowing. Different models work well in different cases, but the ones that persist seem to have committed individuals on the ground working to make real the idea that everyone can come out ahead by building community capacity and trust while reducing cost and consumption.

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This post is part of our Winter 2020 editorial series on libraries of things. Read our other articles in the series:

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Libraries of Things continue to catalog success https://www.shareable.net/libraries-of-things-continue-to-catalog-success/ https://www.shareable.net/libraries-of-things-continue-to-catalog-success/#respond Thu, 20 Feb 2020 18:50:39 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=39097 Each spring, the Barnet Sailing Co-op in British Columbia hauls out its six boats for maintenance, co-opting many of its 80 members to help. “We found we had more willing hands than equipment, even with a tool shed and a toolbox on each vessel,” says Diane Selkirk. “We’re member-funded, so buying extra gear that we

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Each spring, the Barnet Sailing Co-op in British Columbia hauls out its six boats for maintenance, co-opting many of its 80 members to help.

“We found we had more willing hands than equipment, even with a tool shed and a toolbox on each vessel,” says Diane Selkirk. “We’re member-funded, so buying extra gear that we only need once a year is a waste of money and resources. Plus, then we’d have to store and care for additional items, something we frankly suck at.”

Enter the Vancouver Tool Library, which loans out more than 2,000 items. It is part of a movement of Libraries of Things (LoT), which are taking the classic “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra to new heights. These social enterprises share with the public everything from backpacks to boomboxes, baby carriers, and beer-brewing equipment. Some even rent ties and suit jackets for job seekers.

Though the sharing economy is often called revolutionary, LoTs tap into ancient traditions. For most of human history, family groups and communities cooperated to hunt, gather food, and pool resources. The big difference now is that companies are not limited by geography. The internet and other technologies facilitate interactions between strangers on an unprecedented scale. The “sharing economy,” which includes the full spectrum of on-demand services, collaborative consumption initiatives, and community focused sharing resources, is surging and will have a $335b footprint by 2025, according to DC-based research group the Brookings Institution.

Expect this behavior to increase, says Paul Levinson, a Fordham University professor of communications and media studies and author of “Realspace: The Fate of Physical Presence in the Digital Age.” “Accessing rather than owning products is a sea change that is growing in sync with how informed consumers are in this online age. Information about everything is more available than at any time in history,” he says.

The benefits of using LoTs go far beyond their comparatively affordable price, reduction of clutter, and alleviation of our so-called “peak stuff” problem. They also reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing and transporting underused goods.

We need to rapidly innovate, says Gene Homicki, co-founder of myTurn, a cloud-based inventory platform for Libraries of Things (and Shareable sponsor). “We’re starting to hit practical planetary limits on resource extraction. Plastic pollution in the oceans is reaching a critical point, and many solid waste and recycling facilities are reaching or have exceeded capacity. Compounding this, we are seeing a rise in middle classes in developing nations. Billions more people, rightly, want to have access to products that the developed world has enjoyed.”

Read Shareable’s extensive interview with Gene Homicki: How Libraries of Things build resilience, fight climate change, and bring communities together.

The durable and repairable products managed with myTurn are typically used 10 to 100 times more than those owned privately. A UN Resource Panel report suggests sharing like this can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 79-99 percent.

Ann Arbor District Library
Ann Arbor District Library, courtesy of MLive (contributed by Rich Reyti)

Libraries are a boon for low-income neighborhoods

Historically underserved populations, as well as low and mixed-income areas, have the most to gain from Libraries of Things. But LoTs also have the capacity to unite people from different socioeconomic backgrounds through repair workshops which teach skills to new generations, and other shared experiences.

Members typically use items from LoTs six to ten times per year, with the most prolific checking out 50 or more, Homicki said. At places like the West Seattle Tool Library, that could mean grabbing a 30 ft ladder, drywall lift, hammer drill, or cider press. It could also involve laser-cutting a sign or prototype in the shop. “The city’s all about community sharing,” says the library’s president Christina Hahs. “We love our libraries, lending centers, public transport, block parties, farmers’ markets, and maker spaces. This is traditional Seattle.”

​Kari L. O’Driscoll first discovered the area’s LoTs movement while struggling with a clogged toilet as she prepared her house for sale. The Capitol Hill Tool Library had a plumber’s snake available and also gave her a quick tutorial. “The fact that I was able to do it myself on my own timeline and save some serious money felt like a double-win,” she says. “And in retrospect, it’s a super cool feeling to connect with my neighbors and be reminded that we can all help each other out in simple ways and still have it be meaningful.”

The founder of Kitchen Share Southeast in Portland, Oregon, also praises this sense of connection. In 2012, Robin Koch pioneered a library of culinary tools — ranging from dehydrators to ice cream makers — and the space now hosts workshops that only charge material fees. “The library promotes important community values like volunteering and trusting each other with loans. Members often take it upon themselves to find parts or do repairs,” she says. “One guy broke the handle of an apple chopper, but had access to a metal shop and fabricated a new one. It was stronger and he etched our logo on it. The tool came back better than it arrived from the factory!”

Ann Arbor District Library
Ann Arbor District Library, courtesy of MLive (contributed by Rich Reyti)

Traditional libraries evolve to keep pace

Traditional lending institutions have also expanded their collections beyond media. Maine’s McArthur Public Library and Washington’s Port Townsend Library encourages its members to get moving and outdoors by lending them adventure gear like snowshoes, fishing rods, and croquet sets.  Port Townsend Library Director Melody Sky Eisler said: “Not all families can afford a $125 doll or $400 telescope, but everyone can enjoy them through their public library.”

Michigan’s Ann Arbor Library circulates toys, tablets and even Theremini (an electronic musical instrument), along with special event equipment like giant Jenga and lighting rigs, explains librarian Audrey Huggett. Some of their most popular items are the 770 pieces of art — prints from local and famous artists — that members can borrow for up to eight weeks.

“It’s a powerful thing to have these experiences through your local library and to think about how we define sharing information.”

Innovators like Gene Homicki are ready for even more radical reinventions. “I see this movement vastly expanding and also moving from primarily individual locations to clusters of connected organizations and public-private equipment sharing,” he says.

“In the future, we’re going to see new developments with Libraries of Things built-in. They’re not only an amazing amenity, but they also allow for smaller spaces that still ‘live large’ and keep us connected.”

Editors note from Shareable’s Tom Llewellyn about this special series on Libraries of Things

A cultural shift from owning everything we might ever conceivably want to simply have access to good-quality items when we need them started to take shape following the recession in the late 2000s. As the economy recovered, there has been a general concern that most people would return to pre-recession levels of consumption and the act of sharing would fall out of vogue. But, according to Homicki, “even with the economy being much stronger for many people, the growth and excitement around Libraries of Things are still accelerating.”

There are more than 400 publicly accessible tool, kitchen, kids, A/V and electronics, musical instruments, and general LoTs on MyTurn alone comprising more than a quarter-million items available to rent, and nearly a million loans annually.

For the past decade, Shareable has been on the vanguard of covering this trend. We’ve done deep dives into How Libraries are Boldly Innovating to Meet the Needs of Changing Communities, partnered on the successful campaign to save seed sharing in the United States, advised municipal leaders on the benefits of LoTs for their cities, and produced several resources to support organizers around the world to start LoTs in their communities.

We are continuing our coverage of this trend with a special series on the state of LoTs around the world. We’ll learn from experts in the field, get an inside look at several successful examples, and project what’s coming next.

Along the way, we’ll take a critical look at the difference between nonprofit and for-profit sharing services, explore several tools for increasing equity and justice with LoTs, and create a new how-to guide with the necessary steps to add a new LoT to your existing local library.

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This post is part of our Winter 2020 editorial series on libraries of things. Read our other articles in the series:

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Public libraries are expanding the sharing economy by adding Libraries of Things to their catalogs https://www.shareable.net/public-libraries-are-by-adding-libraries-of-things-to-their-catalogs/ https://www.shareable.net/public-libraries-are-by-adding-libraries-of-things-to-their-catalogs/#respond Tue, 18 Feb 2020 17:00:10 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=38977 I’m a bit of a minimalist. A few years ago, I went through all of my stuff and got rid of most of it. This was before Marie Kondo’s “items that spark joy” method went viral — a philosophy based on reducing the material clutter that permeates our lives under consumer capitalism. As the saying

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I’m a bit of a minimalist. A few years ago, I went through all of my stuff and got rid of most of it. This was before Marie Kondo’s “items that spark joy” method went viral — a philosophy based on reducing the material clutter that permeates our lives under consumer capitalism. As the saying goes, it is much easier to accumulate things than it is to get rid of them. Anyone who has ever had to go through a deceased family member’s belongings, or who has a storage unit filled with content that makes their stomach churn, knows this very well. 

But there was a bit of a problem after I got rid of most of my stuff. Suddenly, I noticed that there were things I needed that I no longer owned. For example, I had donated a bunch of old board games to The Salvation Army. I hadn’t used them in years, and then a friend of mine suggested that we have a board-game night. There were similar examples that kept popping up: irons, cordless drills, decorative baking pans — these were all things that took up so much space and that I rarely used. But when I did need them, they were no longer available. 

There must be a solution to this, I thought. And it turns out, there is: Libraries of Things. Imagine a public library, but for items like gardening tools, board games or food dehydrators. They exist to some extent more informally, and people have been utilizing them for years now. But there is an exciting new trend that could really be a game-changer in how many people access them:  They’re starting to pop up in public libraries themselves. 

There are now dozens of public libraries which have incorporated Libraries of Things into their catalogs, from Berkeley Public Library in California to the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. The Library of Non-Traditional Things (LONT) in Burlington is a particularly unique collection. It began about 20 years ago as a modest tool library, but has since grown in scale to include all sorts of different items such as musical instruments like djembes and ukuleles; tools like air compressors, snow shovels and rakes; sports and outdoor equipment; and a wide variety of kitchenware.

Public libraries are expanding the sharing economy by adding Libraries of Things to their catalogs
Image credit: Robert Raymond

“One of the things that’s been really neat to see over time is how many different people use things for different reasons,” says Emer P. Feeney, the Fletcher Free Library’s assistant director. “For example, we’ve had people come in with teams of volunteers [to borrow rakes] to rake their neighbor’s large lawn because the neighbor can’t do it themselves. We’ve had folks who are marginally housed come in when there’s a big snowstorm [to borrow shovels] to go shovel out driveways and make something like $200 a day.”

The idea to expand the original tool library at Fletcher came from the library’s collection development librarian, Christine Webb. “The nontraditional focus is really exciting — you can borrow anything almost,” Webb says. “But that’s the whole wonderful goal of it, to support that borrowing, sharing economy. So we don’t have to consume everything all the time.” 

Public libraries are expanding the sharing economy by adding Libraries of Things to their catalogs
Image credit: Robert Raymond

Community members seem to really like the idea too. “We moved to Burlington this summer and it was a nice surprise to find that they had board games at Fletcher, so we checked a few out,” Jessica Waite, a patron at Fletcher Free Library, says. “We wanted to plant some bulbs and so we borrowed their bulb planter, which was great. It’s not something that we were going to do all the time, so it was really nice to just borrow it once and return it.” 

Despite fairly successful circulation numbers, there have been challenges that have popped up as the catalog of things has expanded. Cataloging itself, for example, is much more involved when you’re talking about things other than books. 

“With books, you can just buy a mark record that makes that item findable through the catalog and also manageable through our software,” Feeney explains. “With physical items, you have to create it, you have to describe it, you have to use weird fields that have been defined in cataloging to describe things accurately so that, for example, a certain kind of shovel in our collection would be roughly approximate to the same kind of shovel in someone else’s collection.”

Packaging is another issue. For example, it’s not uncommon for board games or puzzles to come back with pieces missing. “When I use a board game at home, I always end up losing a piece,” Feeney admitted. “You have to factor that in, because then someone’s going to have to source that piece or find a replacement. And so, there’s an extra budgeting process that has to happen there.”

And, of course, certain items can be much more expensive than books. Things like GoPros, DVD players and other smaller, valuable items are always subject to theft. Webb and Feeney did not describe this as a challenge that they’ve had to face often, but this is perhaps because they have avoided leaving these items out on the shelves, and instead have them listed as available. 

dvds available to check out
Image credit: Robert Raymond

As their collection continues to expand, library staff continue to reference circulation numbers and also solicit recommendations from patrons in order to tailor their catalog to the community’s needs. They are also exploring different ways to collaborate with other public libraries. 

“There’s been a lot of discussion amongst the Vermont libraries,” Webb says. “People discovering, ‘Oh, wait, you have a Library of Things, too?’ We’re all starting to notice that we all have various things, so I’m hopeful that maybe down the road we can get into regional resource sharing of some kind.” 

Public libraries already strengthen equity in access to knowledge, and thus seem like ideal institutions to expand that access out to many of life’s essential items. And not just for tools like snow shovels, but for things that provide joy and meaning in life to those who may not otherwise have access to them. Things like portable DVD players for those currently experiencing homelessness, for example.

Further, by challenging the ownership culture that has been imposed upon us through more than a century of consumer capitalism, the move toward public Libraries of Things is a crucial component in reversing the endless cycles of consumption which lead to overflowing landfills and contribute significantly to climate change. 

Public libraries are expanding the sharing economy by adding Libraries of Things to their catalogs
Image credit: Robert Raymond

But, finally — and perhaps most significantly — public Libraries of Things help to expand the town commons. They build community, encourage sharing and civic responsibility, and give communities a sense of connection.

“We’re a really monetized culture and most spaces in the public sphere are not really public, you know,” Feeney explains. “When you walk down the street, you really often have to have money to go in somewhere to spend time somewhere. And the library isn’t that kind of space — it’s the living room of our town.”

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This post is part of our Winter 2020 editorial series on libraries of things. Read our other articles in the series:

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My uneven first steps in #LocalYear https://www.shareable.net/my-uneven-first-steps-in-localyear-challenge/ https://www.shareable.net/my-uneven-first-steps-in-localyear-challenge/#respond Thu, 13 Feb 2020 20:01:42 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=39053 The days after announcing my #LocalYear on January 31, 2020 were filled with small steps forward and also back. It was sobering. I started off strong by attending the annual Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory (TRCC) retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. TRCC is a collaboration and funding network made up of a couple dozen small

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The days after announcing my #LocalYear on January 31, 2020 were filled with small steps forward and also back. It was sobering.

I started off strong by attending the annual Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory (TRCC) retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. TRCC is a collaboration and funding network made up of a couple dozen small nonprofits working to help communities become more resilient. Shareable has been a part of TRCC for several years. In fact, our podcast, The Response, was hatched at TRCC with four other member nonprofits. 

The highlight of my afternoon at the retreat was an energizing conversation with Leslie Meehan, TRCC’s convener, Carolyn Stayton of Transition US, Susan Silber of NorCal Resilience Network, and Roger Sanford, Leslie’s partner and a Silicon Valley marketing executive. Our conversation covered a lot of ground, but the crux of it was an exploration of how we could spark a civic revival in the heart of Silicon Valley and how that might ripple out to the rest of the world as such things often do here. I look forward to exploring this further with Leslie. 

Almost immediately after the retreat, I came down with a terrible cold. I stayed in bed for three days and took care of my son Jake, who was also sick. Now that was truly grounding. It also gave me a chance to dig further into a new book about the commons, “Free, Fair and Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons.” I read a fascinating argument made in the introduction about the need for a shift in ontology (an “OntoShift” or roughly a shift in the philosophical underpinnings of one’s worldview) before people can even understand the commons never mind appreciate and work towards a commons transition.   

However, my reading was overwhelmed time wise by watching Netflix. That’s putting it a bit too genteelly — I binged. All was not lost as I watched an excellent documentary series, “Who Killed Malcom X” later in the week. This wasn’t enough to stave off guilt as Netflix binging doesn’t square well with my #LocalYear commitment. My OntoShift is obviously incomplete.

Once I started feeling better, I shared my #LocalYear introductory post on Facebook and Twitter. I delayed sharing it because I didn’t want to deal with the possible negative reactions while sick. The reaction I got was pretty stock for the internet. My friends encouraged me, shared useful tips, and gave helpful critiques. This included a book recommendation, “No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change the World,” from scholar Maurie Cohen to help me sharpen my thinking about local action. I got a mixed reaction from those who don’t know me. Some didn’t understand it or were quick to criticize. There was some useful feedback too. 

The experience of sharing my commitment made me a tad anxious, like waiting for a jury to deliver a verdict, and highlighted a few key contradictions. First, that I was using the global medium I believe is undermining solidarity to share my experiment in seeking local solidarity. Second, that a local focus could work in the opposite direction I expect if I’m not careful. Lastly, I found myself focusing on the online criticisms and not the positives including the two invitations I got to meet with real people from local nonprofits in Mountain View!

I started feeling better by Friday, so I was able to attend the Cool Block Leader Training on Saturday. Cool Block is a program where small groups of neighbors take climate, emergency preparedness, and other actions together through nine meetings over four months. Cool Block provides the process and tools for the group work, but it’s otherwise participant driven. The six hour training outlined block leaders’ responsibilities, which are mainly to get a group started and foster the leadership of other participants so group management is shared. 

Cool Block started in three California cities including neighboring Palo Alto a couple years ago. The results they’ve gotten so far are impressive — the pilot of 45 blocks resulted in an average household carbon reduction of 32 percent with 25 actions taken. Plus, many blocks have continued operating after the program was officially over. I left the meeting energized by what seems like a simple, well-thought out plan to help me get my neighbors together to make our lives better.

On Sunday, my wife Andrea left on a business trip. I took Jake to soccer practice in the morning and then went to Costco on Andrea’s suggestion. A few of her friends encouraged her to join, and she did. She was weirdly excited about joining. We had a few laughs about that because it’s not exactly a new thing. So I went about my way to pick up my Costco card and buy snacks for Jake’s school lunches. I hadn’t been in a Costco or a store like it in ages. You’d more likely find me in a thrift store or on Amazon.com (that’s another story). 

Anyway, Costco was packed. I found it a strange experience of raw, no-frills, hyper-consumerism. Costco stores are basically warehouses. There’s gigantic racks of stuff organized in the most unglamourous way possible underneath high-powered fluorescent lights. I understand the appeal of low prices and that Costco can help some families make ends meet. No judgement there, but at the same time, shopping in this huge chain store didn’t feel very local. It felt impersonal, transactional, and pornographically so. 

After getting my card, I drifted among the throng and saw some amazing deals including three pounds of frozen blueberries for $7.79. That sparked a near frantic inner dialogue:

That’s less than half the normal price. Are those blueberries really organic? Do I need three pounds? No. Besides, I still have two pounds of frozen blackberries I grew myself in the freezer. I should use them. Why aren’t I shopping at my local grocer, Ava’s? I know the grocer, Juan. He’s struggling to make it. Oh, man, this is so not local. I don’t think I’ll be shopping here anymore.

Still, not one to waste a trip, I bought Jake’s snacks plus almonds and pomegranate juice. I immediately regretted it.

Later in the week, I took a survey emailed from my son’s school district. This is something I’d normally delete. My commitment to #LocalYear made me reconsider. The survey was long and highlighted how ignorant I am of what is going on in my son’s school system. That’s another thing I need to change.

All in all, this first stretch of #LocalYear was eye-opening. I’m starting to see the world and my place in it in a new way. I see all too clearly how much I need to change to meet my commitment, which is humbling. I also see how difficult it’s going to be to re-arrange my time and attention toward local ends given that the world isn’t organized to help me do that. My friends, family, the media, and the larger culture have a very powerful pull. As in the Costco episode, it’s so easy to drift into a well-worn pattern. This makes me doubt that I can go local thoroughly by myself. It might take a village. This week also made it clear that I need to give this experiment more guidelines, more teeth to make it meaningful. Stay tuned for that.

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Tool-sharing innovator post-mortem uncovers systemic issues in our convenience economy https://www.shareable.net/tool-sharing-innovator-post-mortem-uncovers-systemic-issues-in-our-convenience-economy/ https://www.shareable.net/tool-sharing-innovator-post-mortem-uncovers-systemic-issues-in-our-convenience-economy/#respond Thu, 13 Feb 2020 17:00:06 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=38973 Expensive, hard to transport and long-lived compared with other consumer goods, tools are a good model for the sharing economy. But how do you keep tools functioning in an era of built-in obsolescence, and how can you keep a lid on staff and storage costs when the library model depends heavily on both? Shareable connected

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Expensive, hard to transport and long-lived compared with other consumer goods, tools are a good model for the sharing economy. But how do you keep tools functioning in an era of built-in obsolescence, and how can you keep a lid on staff and storage costs when the library model depends heavily on both? Shareable connected with a Berlin-based sharing project that aims to get affordable tools into the hands of renters, who generally could not afford to buy them.

Leihbar (‘shareable’ in German), a Berlin item-sharing project, began in the 2012 peer-to-peer sharing platform boom as a way for people with underused items to loan them to those who needed them but soon iterated multiple times, looking for a sustainable business model.

At the start, the goal seemed simple for Leihbar: People already have a lot of things and most of them are underused. So it’s just a matter of reallocation, right? But conversations with existing p2p lending players and users revealed two structural weaknesses: Supply and demand do not match, and the lending process takes time that busy people do not have.

Suppliers mostly offer low-priced items or things they don’t use anymore, like books and DVDs instead of high-value products like projectors, video equipment and tents. Even if you find the item you’re looking for, its quality, usability, or the rental window often won’t suit your needs. 

The biggest obstacle to p2p lending, however, is time. Unless you are willing to spend the time to search, pick up and return items to the same place, it is much more convenient to buy the item instead. P2p platforms discovered that for their schemes to work, access should not cost more than a few minutes and should be easily integrated into the busy lives of all participants.

The next approach for Leihbar was a b2c-approach, operating a store in a downtown coworking space. Users could rent high-quality consumer electronics, outdoor gear and tools. For its nine months of operation, customer response remained sluggish but it did show a trend: The closer people lived to the shop, the more likely they were to rent. Ultimately, the store folded due to the high costs of staff, marketing and rent. 

Another iteration of the project was to create that hyper-local market with lower overheads, so Leihbar turned to an automated lending-locker. But a one-year prototype with an automated lending-locker in a student accommodation with 700 students showed small demand and it seemed like the company had built the infrastructure for a massive p2p and b2c sharing scheme without considering individual user journeys. Engineering had blocked their view from anthropocentric design.

So the final iteration was to strip the business back to a b2c booking website in cooperation with convenience stores, which doubled as exchange locations 24/7. The stores got a cut of the transaction fees, and the staff was able to pivot easily to distributing loaned goods because they were used to handling parcels.

The business tackled the time-poor problem by creating an amiable fee structure and locating in stores that were already close to customers’ homes. It was easy for users to integrate pick-up and drop-off visits into their busy lives. Over six months, revenues and usage rose to cover the cost of best-sellers like projectors and steam cleaners, which paid for themselves over three to six months. However, overcoming those challenges uncovered others. What the company thought were logistical problems turned out to be a marketing challenge. Despite marketing their full product portfolio, return customers would only rent a single item. 

Tool-sharing innovator post-mortem uncovers systemic issues in our convenience economy
Image provided by Andreas Arnold

Ultimately, this model also failed. The proliferation of items in nearly every home creates a multitude of sharing-micro-markets instead of one sharing macro-market. People are still too accustomed to owning things of their own. Leihbar didn’t succeed in solving the key marketing questions: How to promote the idea of using instead of owning items of everyday use in the most cost-effective way? How to get recurring customers and create a portfolio effect? 

Leihbar’s vision was clear from the beginning: To create an ecosystem that would change the way things were produced. The ultimate goal was delivering a blueprint for a circular economy for items of daily use. The impact of p2p sharing platforms turned out to be fostering social contact between strangers, Leihbar looked for ways to incentivize producers to shift the supply side towards a circular model. Leihbar cooperated with tool manufacturer Bosch, and Dyson, a vacuum cleaner maker. They wanted to prove the case that it is more economically viable to amortize the products by renting them over the course of a couple of months instead of selling them once every two years. It was hoped that manufacturers would understand the value and shift to modular, repairable and long-lasting products. But the response was instead to use the sharing economy as a marketing tool for increased sales. A model of durable, repairable and producer-recycled items seems incompatible with the prevailing growth-centered company culture. 

So, what is the path forward?  One option is to create a co-op of users, tool producers and local administrations, where borrowers pay a  subscription fee that is heavily subsidized by local governments to fulfill environmental goals and create cleaner cities. The co-ops can act as laboratories for producers to design durable, repairable, maintainable and recyclable products. If producers refuse to shift or expand their business model, local manufacturing cooperatives would need to start producing new items.

The other future is an extension of our present, with producers creating direct relationships with customers and flooding cities with products in an uncoordinated way — much like the bicycle or scooter sharing systems that are choking our cities. Customers already accustomed to receiving a constant stream of Amazon packages to their homes would embrace online ordering and swift delivery for rental items too. As the drone delivery bots darken the skies, we would have traded out a shareable, sustainable, environmentally responsible future — for convenience.

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This post is part of our Winter 2020 editorial series on libraries of things. Read our other articles in the series:

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Umeå Wheels provides a new life for abandoned bicycles https://www.shareable.net/umea-wheels-provides-a-new-life-for-abandoned-bicycles/ https://www.shareable.net/umea-wheels-provides-a-new-life-for-abandoned-bicycles/#respond Tue, 11 Feb 2020 16:00:11 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=38939 Umeå is a small town in the mid-northern region of Sweden with a large university population of about 30,000 students. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transit but many students buy cheap city bikes and abandon them when they leave. When Aamer Barood moved to the town from Sudan in 2016, he noticed the numerous

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Umeå is a small town in the mid-northern region of Sweden with a large university population of about 30,000 students. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transit but many students buy cheap city bikes and abandon them when they leave. When Aamer Barood moved to the town from Sudan in 2016, he noticed the numerous abandoned bicycles on the streets. Inspired to put them back to use, he and other international students founded Umeå Wheels, a startup company that collects, repairs, and offers the bikes for sale or rent.

“I am coming from a tiny village in which sharing is a way of living. For example, if someone has food for today then he will share it, not because he wants to share but because he is not sure if he will have food for tomorrow but he knows for sure that someone else will have food for tomorrow and they will share it as well,” Aamer said.

The company has rescued 900 bikes since January 2018, and they sell from $60. 

Umeå Wheels provides a new life for abandoned bicycles
Image provided by Aamer Barood

“We aim to reduce the waste of resources and reach zero bikes stolen or abandoned. We believe that reuse should not be just an option but the first thing to do. Recycling is the last thing to do to reduce CO2 emissions from melting bikes components,” the company states on its webpage.

The company offers discounts for students the option to sell the bike back when you leave town. Maintenance is free, a big bonus because most of the bikes are old and the town’s tough winters mean the bikes need more maintenance. 

“We are still struggling to cover our basic needs and cost for the project but we are building many smart partnerships and collaboration with the local authorizes and other organizations,” Aamer said.

To prevent bicycle theft, the company is developing a digital registration system for bikes. The bike’s owner is flagged during a transaction to reduce thefts and illegal sales. 

“Although we are facing so many challenges to change people’s mentality of using secondhand stuff through a circular economy process, we want to increase the life duration of every bike by making the connection between the bikes and their owners stronger,” Aamer said. 

Umeå Wheels aims to make bike use easier, creating a more sustainable city. The owners want to make using the eco-friendly bike the primary way people get around.

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Volunteer’s arrest highlights growing criminalization of mutual aid nationwide https://www.shareable.net/volunteers-arrest-highlights-growing-criminalization-of-mutual-aid-nationwide/ https://www.shareable.net/volunteers-arrest-highlights-growing-criminalization-of-mutual-aid-nationwide/#respond Thu, 06 Feb 2020 16:00:18 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=38938 Late last November, Food Not Bombs Atlanta (FNB), an all-volunteer collective dedicated to free food distribution, was setting up for their regular service at the Park 35 Apartments complex in the neighboring city of Decatur, Georgia. FNB had been distributing free meals, groceries, clothing and tenants’ rights literature at this location for over a month

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Late last November, Food Not Bombs Atlanta (FNB), an all-volunteer collective dedicated to free food distribution, was setting up for their regular service at the Park 35 Apartments complex in the neighboring city of Decatur, Georgia. FNB had been distributing free meals, groceries, clothing and tenants’ rights literature at this location for over a month — much to the chagrin of the complex’s property manager, who previously claimed that they had no right to be there, despite being invited by residents.

On this particular day, things escalated quickly. Shortly after FNB set up for service, the property manager arrived and called local police. Although the volunteers were prepared with relevant sections of a tenant’s lease spelling out that guests were indeed allowed, and a tenant was explicitly stating that they were her guests, the three responding officers ordered FNB to leave the premises. One of the volunteers, Cam Morgan, questioned the police.

“I focused on drawing attention to the state oppression occurring by continuously asking the police what exactly they would do to people if we didn’t stop handing out free food to residents, who have explicitly said they appreciate and need it,” says Morgan. “After less than a minute of verbally challenging the three people who chose to become cops, and choose to continue to enforce and protect an oppressive system, I was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing and obstruction.”

Unfortunately, Morgan’s arrest is just another instance in a growing trend of criminalizing mutual aid. Despite the need for groups such as FNB increasing over the last few years, more and more municipal authorities across the United States are restricting their work.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCH) has been tracking laws criminalizing homelessness, including restrictions on free food sharing in public, since 2006. In their latest annual report, Housing Not Handcuffs, NLCHP notes that, while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that homelessness has been rising since 2016, the number of cities now restricting food sharing — which homeless people often rely on — has increased 42 percent over the same period. NLCHP estimates that nearly one-in-ten of the 187 cities it surveys now has laws restricting food sharing.

“Many cities have chosen to restrict homeless people’s access to food under the flawed premise that providing homeless people with free food encourages them to remain homeless,” write the report’s authors. “But this theory is not founded on evidence or on common sense. Restricting access to free, safe food will do nothing to end homelessness, which is rooted in a lack of access to affordable housing; instead restrictions on sharing drive hungry people to search for food in unsanitary places or causes them to spend their meager income on food rather than saving it for housing.”

Food Not Bombs Atlanta has experienced the growing criminalization of mutual aid firsthand. In November of 2017, another volunteer was charged with a crime during service at Hurt Park in downtown Atlanta after police claimed it was illegal to share food without an appropriate permit. FNB responded by returning to the park with hundreds of supporters, which apparently unnerved both law enforcement and the local prosecutor.

“When the FNB member showed up to court to face the charge, they found that city representatives did not even show up to court and the charge was dropped,” says Morgan.

Morgan’s own case remains open. After being arrested, she was held in jail for over 24 hours, eventually being released on her own recognizance. Her court date has yet to be set, but already FNB is continuing its work. For the time being, volunteers are setting up outside of Park 35 Apartments, but they feel the location — on the sidewalk next to a high-traffic road — is ill-suited to the needs of the residents, some of whom have mobility issues. Local code compliance officers have also begun trying to push FNB from even the sidewalk, once again claiming that they require a permit to distribute food and threatening them with additional calls to law enforcement.

The entire episode has motivated FNB to do research into the ownership of Park 35 Apartments. They were able to discover that the complex is owned by Related Management, a New York City based real estate corporation founded by billionaire Stephen Ross, who recently hosted a $250,000-per-plate fundraiser for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

“The contradictions are not lost on us,” says Morgan. “While Stephen Ross makes millions every year, tenants of Park 35 are harassed for attending a food distro. While Stephen Ross nets in a worth of over $7 billion, Park 35 tenants endure hostile property management.”

The revelation appears to have made Morgan even more committed to FNB’s work.

“We will continue to share food with residents of Park 35 Apartments,” she promises, “and will continue to fight to return to our original location to share free food, clothing and tenants’ rights literature.”

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Berlin’s sharing economy is not dead, it just needed a reboot https://www.shareable.net/berlins-sharing-economy-is-not-dead-it-just-needed-a-reboot/ https://www.shareable.net/berlins-sharing-economy-is-not-dead-it-just-needed-a-reboot/#respond Tue, 04 Feb 2020 16:00:40 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=38937 From a peak of more than 200 projects and startups in 2014-15, Berlin’s sharing economy has contracted, leading some to say it has died. However, since we last checked in in 2017, many new sharing organizations have cropped up. Instead of sharing products and services, the new generation shares ownership. Implementing democratic governance and collaborative

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From a peak of more than 200 projects and startups in 2014-15, Berlin’s sharing economy has contracted, leading some to say it has died. However, since we last checked in in 2017, many new sharing organizations have cropped up. Instead of sharing products and services, the new generation shares ownership.

Implementing democratic governance and collaborative ownership, these new cooperatives share the profit and decision-making with every participant of the value creation — from developers and marketers to consumers who give feedback on the product.

While the previously strong sharing economy has been constricting, large platform companies such as Airbnb and Uber have proliferated in Berlin. While often called “sharing economy” companies, these outfits frequently externalize labor and parts of the value chain, relying on self-employed people who are not served by social security programs and have to compete with others for work.

One of Berlin’s most famous cooperatives is the daily newspaper taz, which dodged bankruptcy in 1992 when employees made it a cooperative. Today more than 19,600 co-op members support taz with an annual subscription fee and a cooperative share.

Economic challenges can be the ground for a liberating transformation. After a food delivery giant war last year, an estimated 400-800 drivers found themselves unemployed overnight. Previously unemployed riders formed several new businesses, specializing in lunch delivery, social media ordering, and crypto-coin payments.

Many of these sole operators are now supported by freelancer co-op SMartDe. CEO Magdalena Ziomek said the co-op offered some security to people in the gig economy: “For many freelancers, joining the co-operative is the entry to affordable health insurance, retirement contributions, help with paperwork and guaranteed on-time payments.”

Other success stories include the SuperCoop, which asks members to co-design a supermarket and work three hours a month, and the 3000 co-op members at BürgerEnergie Berlin, who are buying back the Berlin energy grid to democratize the city’s energy future and subsidize renewable sources. 

SuperCoop movement; shared ownership
Image of SuperCoop provided by Andreas Arnold

Not all new co-ops have been successful, however. The fledgling company SportCoop wanted to copy a promising business model that granted access to sports facilities based on a monthly subscription. However, facing market dynamics and strong competitors, the project’s founders saw no chance for their niche.

Founder Adrien Labaeye said the co-ops aim was to negotiate a fair deal for all its members among gyms and athletic institutions. “Nobody knows really if they’re making any money or if they’re not just burning cash until they reach a market position that is dominant enough to start making money in some way,” Labaeye explains.

The Platform Cooperativism Consortium is planning a Platform Co-op Conference in November, hoping to attract co-ops from all of Europe. Organizer Ela Kagel, the founder of project space SUPERMARKT, said: “The conference will focus exclusively on how platform co-ops, rooted in the principles of broad-based ownership and democratic governance, could thrive in the European Union.”

The Consortium hopes increased recognition from government agencies, established cooperatives, the public and other partners will translate into more funding and fuel the movement’s recovery.

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How we can avert our society’s drift toward disaster by charting a different course https://www.shareable.net/how-we-can-avert-our-society-drift-toward-disaster-by-charting-a-different-course/ https://www.shareable.net/how-we-can-avert-our-society-drift-toward-disaster-by-charting-a-different-course/#respond Fri, 31 Jan 2020 18:13:38 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=38857 In 2015, I began experiencing the world in a different, less enjoyable way. It started with occasional bouts of nervousness that I didn’t recognize as anxiety — because I’d never experienced clinical anxiety before. In fact, 2015 was preceded by the happiest, most fulfilling decade of my life.  These bouts, while only occasional, were significant

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In 2015, I began experiencing the world in a different, less enjoyable way. It started with occasional bouts of nervousness that I didn’t recognize as anxiety — because I’d never experienced clinical anxiety before. In fact, 2015 was preceded by the happiest, most fulfilling decade of my life. 

These bouts, while only occasional, were significant enough that I began to question myself, the world around me, and my relationship to it in a deeper way than normal.

Next, that anxiety was deepened by dramatic changes on Facebook. I had been a heavy user since co-founding Shareable six years earlier. My Facebook feed became flooded with ridiculous, obviously false “news” stories that were clearly designed to shock or enrage. The high volume and low quality of these articles were deeply puzzling. Why were people sharing such crap? And why was Facebook allowing it to proliferate? 

In response, I changed my Facebook settings to limit my exposure. However, I missed the bigger picture — that billions of people were likely experiencing the same toxic brew, and that could have dramatic, society-scale consequences. 

This was just before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which, along with #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and the rise of the alt right and identity politics, laid bare deep social divisions that added to my unease. Social and other media not only exposed divisions based on gender, class, race, religion, geography, and ideology, they seemed to make them worse. The U.S. was not alone in experiencing upheaval. The U.K., for one, began its meltdown over Brexit around this time. 

If this wasn’t enough, the volume of trusted news about climate change and other crises was also rising. The cumulative effect was that I felt like I was being hit by a tidal wave of disturbing information. It was depressing and disorienting — and only contributed to my growing sense that our society was drifting toward disaster. 

What social devolution has done to us

Social media has in many ways moved us beyond social isolation, which is corrosive enough, into something that’s an even bigger threat to our individual and collective health: divisiveness. Instead of bringing us together, social media has turned one against another, and, in the words of technology ethicist Tristan Harris, is “downgrading” us psychologically. His congressional testimony last year clearly showed the threat social media poses to democracy and our mental health.

We’re not just in our separate “filter bubbles” anymore. That actually sounds safe! The bubbles have burst. The space between is now filled with anxiety, fear, and even hate. It feels like we’ve been weaponized against each other. What can come of a society where each of us is hunkered down in our own individual “filter foxholes”?

I see this first hand when friends with “wrong” opinions get bullied or shunned and our ability to engage in constructive conversation deteriorates. Like many, I sometimes self-censor or avoid conversations for fear I’ll be misunderstood or misspeak and wind up being shamed on social media. It weighs on me that I can’t speak freely and that we live in a society where everyone is one utterance from reputational ruin. Where’s the joy in this? This feels like a devastating loss of security, freedom, and conviviality.

It’s no wonder that anxiety is the top mental illness in the U.S. affecting nearly 20% of the population, is on the rise, and that the U.S. is the world leader. We’re definitely #1 — in anxiety! Worse yet, children and teens are hit the hardest. I’m apparently far from alone.  

In this new situation, bottom-up coalition- and power-building seem even more difficult, and thus positive change more remote. We can’t heal these divisions through the medium that helped cause them. We must come together face-to-face, and with more intensity than we pursue life online. 

Is anybody safe?

While I’m still relatively healthy, I feel noticeably worse physically and psychologically than pre-2015. “We are drowning in a devolved, WWF Smackdown-style world,” wrote Devo founder Gerald Casale when the band was nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. I feel the pain of devolution in my bones and brain.

What’s more, my advantages provide limited protection. My immediate family is solidly middle class, thanks mostly to my wife who works in a stable profession. Our health, family life, and social circle are good too — at least for now. This is normally a decent shield from challenging times. However, I don’t feel well or safe in our predatory media environment, runaway extractive economy, disintegrating social fabric, and increasingly unstable climate. Is anybody safe? 

We’re facing powerful, growing devolutionary forces. I see our current devolutionary trajectory as a greater existential threat than any other, including climate change, because no crisis can be adequately met by a divided, disempowered people. While sharing is an antidote, the tide pulling us feels more powerful at the moment. We’re drifting toward more authoritarianism, incoherence, and mental instability. 

How to out swim a riptide

This moment reminds me of the time I swam out at dusk to body surf a storm surge in Ocean City, Maryland. I was quickly pulled by a riptide a couple hundred yards offshore. I tried to swim in, but couldn’t. I cried out and waved my arms for help. But no one could see or hear me. Nearly everyone, including the lifeguards, had left the beach. I realized I was in serious trouble and could drown. I nearly panicked, but I remembered to swim parallel to the beach to escape the riptide. Using what energy I had left, I slowly made my way to a jetty nearby. I saved myself, but only after getting smashed into the rocks by a wave as I climbed the jetty. I emerged from the water bloodied, but alive. 

I’m at a crossroads like that moment in the riptide, where I know I’m in serious trouble and must change course. That’s why I feel a powerful call to deepen my commitment to the everyday practice of commoning. I want to spend more time interfacing with people, my town, and nature rather than screens. I want to find common ground with my neighbors through the many ways we can make our everyday lives better together. I want to practice everyday and formal democracy with a new, alivening intensity. I want to, as Douglas Rushkoff would say, join Team Human and upgrade my psychological resilience and collaboration skills.

Turning toward local connection and action

It’s time to swim perpendicular to the tide, time to become a real citizen, and time to practice democracy like my life depends on it, because it does. And start off in this new direction through a one year life experiment I’m calling The Year of Living Locally, which I’ll blog here on Shareable.net. My plan is to try local experiments and blog my lessons learned at least 1-2 times a month. Below are the three areas I’ll focus on:

  • Engagement with local government in my hometown of Mountain View, California, the birthplace of Silicon Valley and home of Google. I’ll start by learning more about how my local government works, reading all the major plans the city has made, and putting all elections and city council meetings on my calendar. This should give me insight into where I want to engage, including where I can introduce sharing as a solution. There’s also a council member election this year, so I may find a candidate to support too.
  • Community projects. I’ll start out by participating in the Cool Block climate change program where neighbors help each other reduce emissions through actions like installing more efficient light bulbs or insulation. The city is also hosting two city-wide garage sales this year, which will give my family a chance to give away and sell our surplus stuff. I also want to explore starting a library of things at our public library, take an emergency response class, schedule regular group play dates for my son, and learn more about local human and natural history.
  • Individual behavior change. I’ll start by decreasing my media consumption. That should free up time to try new things. I want to take a mindfulness class, work on my listening skills, do more repair of our stuff, take more care of public spaces, join a local credit union, buy more locally, and develop a household greenhouse gas budget. I also have some travel planned. I’ll explore doing that more mindfully. I’ll also explore the idea of an identity rooted in but not limited to one place as a strict localist philosophy has little appeal. As a navy brat who moved a lot growing up, that’s simply not me and it risks tipping into an ugly blood and soil populism. Still, this year is a chance to root myself deeper in one place than I have before.

Others might be able to do more. For my part, I know I can’t do more without first giving myself a thorough re-education. I’m a slow, deliberate learner who responds to a mix of experiences including reading, group discussions, real-world experiments, and moments of deep, even spiritual, reflection. It takes a lot for me to change, but the effort has always been worth it. While something bigger could emerge from this year, I’m starting out in this modest way with modest expectations. 

Can you join me with your own Year of Living Locally? Or another life experiment of your own design? Please share your ideas and suggestions — and your own commitments. I’ll share my progress using the hashtag #LocalYear on Twitter. I invite you to share your local adventures that way too. We’ll host a forum at the end of the year to discuss what we’ve all learned, and the difference we made. 

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World’s first mobile library of things is on its way https://www.shareable.net/worlds-first-mobile-library-of-things-is-on-its-way/ https://www.shareable.net/worlds-first-mobile-library-of-things-is-on-its-way/#respond Thu, 30 Jan 2020 15:30:24 +0000 https://www.shareable.net/?p=38792 Share Shed is a Library of Things in Totnes, in the southwest of England, where over 350 items are available for members of the project to borrow at a nominal fee. The library’s collection is versatile and includes such things as camping and gardening equipment, tools, musical instruments, household appliances, bicycles, sewing machines and items

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Share Shed is a Library of Things in Totnes, in the southwest of England, where over 350 items are available for members of the project to borrow at a nominal fee. The library’s collection is versatile and includes such things as camping and gardening equipment, tools, musical instruments, household appliances, bicycles, sewing machines and items for when a baby comes to visit, to name but a few. After watching many people coming in from nearby villages and towns to borrow equipment they didn’t require regularly, Share Shed coordinators began to think about creating a mobile version of the project.

They were presented with the opportunity to apply for The People’s Projects Fund provided by The National Lottery Community Fund in partnership with the TV channel ITV, to fund the world’s first mobile library of things, which would travel to these communities, making it easier and more accessible for all.

Share Shed manager Mark Jefferys says, “Everybody we meet seems to understand the concept of ‘borrow, don’t buy’, and it’s a great feeling when we can help somebody out with the things they need to complete a task, be it putting up a shelf, or getting a house ready for a sale. Expanding this possibility to other villages, and facilitating even more sharing seems like a great and exciting next step for us.”

With the support from their parent organization, the nonprofit Network of Wellbeing, Share Shed decided to start the application process by creating a proposal with a budget of £48,599 (US$63,539). If successful, as well as continue to serve Totnes, the project would also work with three neighbouring towns: Ashburton, Buckfastleigh and South Brent, which have a combined population of 25,000 people. 

Pam Barrett, former Mayor of Buckfastleigh, says, “As soon as I heard of the Share Shed, I wanted to bring it to Buckfastleigh. We’re a small town and lack many facilities. Our inhabitants are often isolated or on low incomes. Sharing tools and other equipment is a natural response to empower people and to build connections, and I’m keen to support the Share Shed in any way I can.” 

Sue Ifould from Sustainable South Brent adds, “We’ve thought for some time about how we could set up a library of things in a small community like South Brent. The Mobile Share Shed is the answer. By working with towns and villages around, we could develop a service that meets all our needs, and build connections between our communities.”

After three phases of the grant process requiring detailed information about the project’s journey up to that point, budgets, marketing strategy, and further aspirations, Share Shed was shortlisted to the final phase of the competition: A 15-day public campaign to get as many votes for the project as possible. The projects with the most votes would be the winners, and be granted their asked-for amount, with the outcome being broadcast live on ITV. 

Being one of five finalists for a particular geographical area the fund provider works with — and not being allowed to invest in paid advertising of any kind — required a great deal of creativity from the Share Shed team, as well as focus to spread the word about the venture, while converting the interest into votes. Jefferys came up with a song explaining how the project had been developed and the ambitious plans for the future. With support from the project’s volunteers, a video was made and shared on social media, which became a great asset in the campaign. 

The Share Shed team and supporters were pleased to receive the news, live on ITV, that the project was indeed awarded the grant. Since then, Share Shed staff have been working to develop this audacious initiative, hoping to inspire and further support a much-needed change; one that is based on sharing and collaboration.

The team is currently working on converting a vehicle to start supporting nearby villages beginning in April 2020. There has already been a great amount of interest from similar projects worldwide on how this venture is evolving, and hopefully this model will be replicated globally, fulfilling the needs of those who want access to, rather than to own, things. Such a shift is supporting people and communities to become much more resourceful and sustainable.

If you’re interested in setting up a similar initiative in your community, you can find some helpful resources here.

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This post is part of our Winter 2020 editorial series on libraries of things. Read our other articles in the series:

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