Open a Tool Library in Your Community


Why buy expensive tools when you can rent them as easily as borrowing a library book? Ryan and his team at the Institute for a Resource-Based Economy (IRBE) have successfully opened the first Tool Library in Toronto. See what they did and learn how you can do the same in your community…

tool library location

What’s a Tool Library?

It is a place where you can check out tools in the same way you would check out a library book. You visit us, borrow what you need, and return it by the agreed date.

When, how and why was this idea first born?

The idea started initially in the spring of 2012 when I saw an online video about a tool library in Berkeley, California. I had already thought the library concept for physical goods made sense and I was impressed how well the idea was working with tools in California.

Me outside our Tool Library

Me outside our Tool Library

Who is the main driver behind getting the Tool Library started?

I pitched the idea to my team at the Institute for a Resource-Based Economy (IRBE), a small non-profit I helped found in late 2011. We decided to try it in Toronto.

How did the founding members come together?

Most of the founding members were already part of IRBE before the project. Once they were set on the idea, they got behind supporting it 100%. We found a location very quickly and started fundraising by the autumn of 2012. We added more founding members in our fundraising campaign, both tool donors and cash donors.

irbe logo

From idea to opening your doors, how long did it take?

8-9 months

Are your staff volunteers or paid?  

Most they are volunteers, though we do have two paid employees who are part of a subsidized government program.

How many tools do you have on inventory and how large is your library space?

The Toronto Tool Library has over 1,000 tools and counting in a 700 square foot space.

What size is your membership currently?

We have over 180 members.

How does the library system work?     

The Toronto Tool Library works just like a regular library, just instead of loaning out books we loan tools. We are open 4 days a week (Wednesday and Thursday 3pm-8pm, Saturday 10am-3pm & Sunday 11am- 4pm).

Memberships are $50.00 (+ HST), which is good for one year. We monitor our inventory by using a program called MY TURN. If a member accidentally breaks a tool, we are most likely able to fix it. If not, there will be a fee to replace it.

How did you spread the word?

Media played a big role by covering our opening (see media articles). We also used online social media, flyers and word of mouth.

Toronto Tool LIbrary Logo

Toronto Tool LIbrary Logo

How has the local community responded?

The community support has been amazing! We currently have over 180 members in just over 4 months and we’ve had over 90% of our tools donated directly by individuals and families who support the project.

What size investment is required to start something like this?

The size of the funding is very dependent on the location you can find. We needed to do about $7,000 worth of renovations to start our library and that was 80% of the total costs of starting up the library, as we were working with volunteers.

What strategies can you recommend for funding a project like this?

If you can find a place that is ready to go, you should be able to launch a Library with very minimal costs, including marketing (website, flyers), rent, and insurance. Reach out to your personal network first and if you can’t raise the necessary funds with that, I would recommend approaching local businesses who can support the project.

Promotional campaign

Promotional campaign

Who are your major supporters you’d like to thank?

We’d very much like to thank PARC who own the building where the Library is housed. They supported the project from day one and we couldn’t have made it happen without them.

We’d also like to thank the Salvation Army for helping us out at the very beginning before the media found our story.

Of course we wouldn’t have any tools without the help of our community donors and the businesses that donated goods, including Canadian Tire, Wurth Canada, and generous grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Home Depot Canada Foundation.

Our community supporters

Our community supporters

What’s the future vision?

We are currently building our second Tool Library at 1803 Danforth, on the East side of Toronto. We would love to have a Tool Library in every neighbourhood in Toronto, however we have to prove the economic viability of these projects in the locations we have now. We expect expansion will happen gradually over the next 3-5 years.

Other than libraries, IRBE also hosts workshops and guest speakers on economic and environmental issues and plans to launch a national complimentary currency for charitable organizations in the next year.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in offering the same service in their community?

First, see my advice above. Then get a passionate team together. Then find a location. Passion and drive are the most important qualities you need though, so much can be done with very little money.



  • Toronto Tool Library Website
  • Email: ryan [at] irbe [dot] org
  • Phone: +1-647-965-5604

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