What we Really Do at the Calgary Tool Library

So, the Calgary Herald recently contacted us for a blurb about “the importance of the sharing economy in current times”.  We shared a couple of quotes that made it into the article here:

From cars to rooms, thrifty Albertans turn to sharing economy to make ends meet


Thinking carefully about the “Sharing Economy” question gave us a chance to really reflect on the way that we interact with our community, how we’ve grown, and what we’re really offering here.

They asked, “So, Why is the sharing economy so important these days, not just for Calgarians but for anyone?”

The sharing economy started, and continues to grow, out of pure necessity: things like tools are expensive, yet we all still need them. One way to remove the barrier of the price is to share the cost, and share the tools (“collaborative consumption”). Then, a community grows from that, which comes to fill different, more complex needs that the participants have, like connecting to others, learning new skills, and contributing to something meaningful. In turn, that creates both sustainability, and mutual generosity. It’s about goodwill.

In the bigger picture, I believe that there’s an attitude shift happening that questions the expectations that society places on us as consumers, and challenges the way we’ve been taught to root our identity in the things that we own. Sharing economies let people choose to own less, but have more.

But what does “The Sharing Economy” even mean?

It’s worth noting that there more and more “crowdsourcing” companies looking to extract profit from sharing economies and the goodwill they have grown. They contribute as little as possible, and offload hidden costs to the community and the individuals within it. There’s an important distinction to make here: the house-sharing app that turns your home into a motel, the ride-sharing app that turns your car into a taxi; they’re still using models based on exploitation, they don’t care about sustainability, and they aren’t a true sharing economy, because there is no mutual generosity; there is no mutual anything.

So, I would prefer to speak about what attracts people to the Calgary Tool Library specifically. These are observations based on interactions with members and volunteers over the five years the Calgary Tool Library has existed.

The first reason people want to join is strictly practical: it’s affordable. We’re a not-for-profit, and it’s our goal to make membership as inexpensive as possible. Folks about to take on a project or hobby don’t all have the hundreds (possibly thousands) of dollars you need if you want to buy or rent all the required tools. The Tool Library has those tools for you, and it’s there to make them accessible to you. Also, people don’t have as much space as they used to – it’s a luxury to have your own workshop, or even a space to store a private tool-collection, let alone the luxury of the tools themselves. With the Tool Library, storage isn’t an issue. Still, tools are a necessity: we need tools to improve our homes, our neighborhoods, and really, our lives. We don’t need barriers.

The second reason people join is more philosophical: in any given neighbourhood, how many of those neighbours really, in a practical sense, need to own their own private tablesaw? Is everyone building a new deck every year, and all at the same time? Or how many times a year do you need a pressure washer? A lot of our members are seeking to declutter, to cut out “stuff” that isn’t necessary, in order to simplify their lives, and community tool-sharing provides a way to do that. There’s also that intentional shift away from consumerist attitudes: owning less, but having more.

The last thing that attracts people is the spirit of the place, or more simply, Goodwill. Here, Goodwill means reciprocity, or mutual generosity. The Calgary Tool Library is almost entirely volunteer-run, from the floor to the executive board, and they’re all onboard for the culture of kindness that we’re trying to build together. It grows out from there, too: the members really “get it”. Everyone involved in the Tool Library, as members, volunteers, everywhere, is constantly providing the patience, honesty, and kindness needed to keep it going. All this Goodwill genuinely inspiring to be around, and I think that’s a big part of what continues to attract people to the Tool Library after five years.

As the only part-time staff, I have the privilege of working with the members and volunteers whose Goodwill fuels this place and pays my wage. We’re just out here democratizing access to household tools, and yet from this work there flows a constant outpouring of empathy and honesty that inspires and nourishes us. Wild.

Nathan Gignac
(Executive Director)


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