Maybe it’s the cold weather or the leaves piling up, but the Temescal Tool Lending Library in North Oakland is bustling with weekend warriors borrowing rakes, saws, and hammers. You can tell when Oakland’s feeling industrious: Outside the library, the horseshoe-shaped bike racks are yarn bombed. Temescal is one of the busier branches, a clinker brick Carnegie library on the corner of 52nd and Telegraph Avenue. The tool lending library is tucked at the back of the building, a neat mishmash of repair manuals and wound-up tools hanging from pegboards.

It’s a small space for such a busy operation. Ty Yurgelevic, the library’s manager, thinks they can do better but stays positive. “Right now, we’re dealing with success.”

The fact is, the tool lending library is long overdue for a bigger space. This month, Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan and the Director of Library Services Gerry Garzon are working with the Friends of the Tool Lending Library to draft a budget request to put before the city council. They plan on asking for a one-time expenditure to fund an expansion, or an expansion and relocation.

The tool lending library started in January of 2000 with seed money from a Community Development Block Grant totaling $81,000. At the time, its services were limited to District 1 (today, about half of borrowers are from these surrounding neighborhoods). The library’s first expansion came under the umbrella of the city of Oakland, which helped buy more tools and replaced the grant with a budget of $250,000.

The library checked out 51 tools in its first month. In October it checked out 4,500. The library has seen a 32% spike  in usage in the past year, with 175 new registrations each month on average. Yet Yurgelevic is the only full-time employee — there are 4 working part-time and many volunteers. While the library has better systems for tracking the tools and putting tools on hold, it’s running at capacity. Weed whackers, the most in-demand item, for example, often have a wait list of 50 people vying for some 18 to 20 weed-whackers. More wait in a repair space in West Oakland.

Jon Eldan, chair of the Friends of the Tool Lending Library, says the next expansion will be twofold, focusing on efficiency and access. With more room, he says, the staff could handle more tools and more patrons. By finding a bigger location, at least 900 square feet, near public transit with increased parking — there are only 4 spaces currently — the library would become more central and help more of Oakland. Eldan adds that it’s important to think ahead to see the full potential of the library, not only as tool supplier but as a workshop and community hub, so they won’t have to bother with retrofitting later. “If I’m going to devote the time to get into a new space,” Eldan says, “I’m going to think about making it work for everyone.”

It is unclear what will happen if a new spot is not identified by the time the budget request goes through. The tool lending library is working with Oakland’s Real Estate Department to find a location that meets these priorities without putting to much stress on the city.

“Everyone seems to understand what a great idea the tool lending library is,” Eldan says, “It’s just showing them how much it actually affects people.” He points to construction job training and build-outs by local small businesses, bikes shops and coffee shops, in North Oakland.

The tool lending library has also worked with volunteer organizations like Scenic Streets and Rebuilding Together Oakland to make safer, thriving neighborhoods.

There is also the ecological cost of tools and storage. Some tools are bought for a specific project only to take up space. (The average power drill is used 12 to 13 minutes its entire lifetime.) When tools can’t be rented or are prohibitively expensive, jobs can simply go undone. Lending tools kick-starts these projects and feeds local hardware stores: borrowers still need nails and other materials. This partnership builds a self-sustainable community and can energize Oakland around a maker movement.

When a neighbor takes on a do-it-yourself project, Eldan says, there are other outcomes that are harder to measure.

It’s said that if one window in a house gets broken, it’s more likely vandalism will escalate, more windows will be broken. The Tool Lending Library works on a “reverse broken window theory,” Eldan says.

If one house or yard is fixed up or rehabilitated, it can lead to dozens of improvement projects across a neighborhood. By finding a new space for the library, he says, they’re showing Oakland there’s a future to build.

The Tool Lending Library is located at the Temescal Branch of the Oakland Public Library: 5205 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland.  Branch hours are listed below.

Sunday – Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 12:30pm – 8:00pm
Wednesday: 10:00am – 5:30pm
Thursday: 10:00am – 5:30pm
Friday: 12:00pm – 5:30pm
Saturday: 10:00am – 5:30pm

Library Advisory Commission meetings are held on the last Monday of each month at 5:15 pm in the Brad Walters Community Room at the Main Library, 125 14th St.

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