Vancouver tool library builds success in first year

Fourteen months after opening, the Vancouver Tool Library has more than doubled its tool inventory and signed up 450 members.

The library, located at 3448 Commercial St., launched in July 2011 with 400 tools for loan-a number that's since grown to 900, 80 per cent of which were donated.

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Chris Diplock, president of the volunteer-run board that operates the East Side non-profit, said it's going smoothly, especially now that all seven board positions are filled.

The board recently hired two part-time staff to help in the shop and deal with events and promotions.

The first fiscal year, which ended in April, went well, according to Diplock who was surprised how many tools the community donated.

"Good quality tools. It's just a constant flow," he said. "We started out with three chop saws. Now I think we have seven. We used to have five circular saws, now we have 12. So we're doing a pretty good job serving our members in terms of having tools available and having tools they want."

Large tools have been particularly popular, especially the power washer, sliding chop saw and portable table saws.

The library had three pressure washers, but two are in for repair so the remaining one is constantly loaned out. The board expects to buy another one next month to help keep up with demand.

"We have a really active membership. I'm continually surprised. We usually have about 80 to 100 members using tools every month-at least for the past four months. The summer has been busy. That's a 25 per cent active membership, which is really incredible," Diplock said, adding, "As much as we'd like to have 900 members, we're not confident we could serve 900 members in our current space. We want to be ahead of the growth, so it's taking some time to [determine] what's the point and capacity where we need to grow more-move into a bigger space."

He noted members have expressed interest in having a workshop where they can work on their own projects. The board is looking into that possibility, whether it's on its own or through a partnership with another organization.

The tool library has offered workshops such as building planter boxes, and continues to do so. Workshops planned for September include an introduction to tools and woodworking concepts.

Diplock said the library's East Side location has been ideal.

"There's a lot of people interested in DIY projects, they like the cooperative model and they're into community participation, so it's been great," he said.

Although the board collected $16,000 in grants for its start-up, it wants the tool library to be self-sustaining. That requires 500 to 600 active members, which is the goal after its third year.

"We'll probably end up with 1,100 members before we have 600 active members," added Diplock, who said, "I'm glad we chose the model we did. I think we've done a really unique job compared to other tool libraries in how aggressive we we're seeking to be self-sustaining and move off grants."

The library is also tweaking its membership model and the board is exploring options such as a household membership.

Membership fees, maintenance fees and hours are outlined on the tool library's website at Tools can be borrowed for up to five days loaned for three-day periods. Late fines are $2 a day for power tools and $1 a day for hand tools.

Twitter: @Naoibh

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