Borrow a sewing machine? Sacramento Public Library to start loaning more than books

Sacramento Public Library patrons will soon be able to check out a variety of tools, technology and home appliances through a “Library of Things” program.

Have you ever had the urge to play around with a music synthesizer or take a GoPro camera on an adventure, but didn’t want to own one?

It may soon be possible, once the Sacramento Public Library launches its new “Library of Things” program later this month. Library patrons will be able to check out a variety of tools, technology and home appliances the same way they currently borrow books.

Now through Feb. 10, the public can vote online for which “arts and innovation” items they want the library to make available for borrowing. The first round of online voting last fall focused on technology items and the second round on tools.

Sacramento Public Library spokesman Malcolm Maclachlan said the idea is that a lot of library patrons live in urban settings and don’t have the money or storage space for items they don’t use often.

“If you need to use a tool once, you don’t necessarily need to own it,” Maclachlan said.

Lori Easterwood, who’s managing the Library of Things project, said the library itself owns a laminator that employees rarely use, and many people have similar items sitting unused in their home or garage. Such items may be better candidates for borrowing than purchasing, she said, noting that 94 people voted for adding a laminator to the Library of Things.

“That’s the whole idea,” she said.

The library has already purchased six sewing machines, which got the most responses in the first round, according to Easterwood. The library expects to begin offering them for checkout in mid-February. The library is also purchasing a bike-repair station as a result of the second round.

All of the Library of Things items will be offered at the Central Library’s Arcade branch at 2443 Marconi Ave. That branch already has a “Design Spot,” which features five 3-D printers and computers equipped with design software.

Stephanie Bucknam, a volunteer with the library’s “Design Spot,” offered to teach a sewing machine class as soon as she heard about the library’s checkout program.

“It could get people interested in sewing and crafting who maybe can’t afford it,” she said. “I thought since I already volunteer, I should volunteer time for this.”

Bucknam, 30, said working at the “Design Spot” allowed her access to a type of technology she wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to use, which is the concept behind the Library of Things.

“I had been interested in 3-D printers, but they’re cost-prohibitive, ” Bucknam said. “Volunteering was an opportunity to learn how they work and give back to the library.”

The Library of Things project is funded by a federal grant received through the Library Services and Technology Act. The Sacramento Public Library plans to spend about $10,000 to stock its Library of Things.

“It’s rare that a government agency with a very clear mandate – books – gets the chance to experiment with something like this,” Easterwood said.

The Library of Things is part of an ongoing push by the Sacramento Public Library system and libraries around the country to expand and diversify their role beyond book borrowing.

“We’re doing this under a plan to be a resource for more than just books,” Maclachlan said. “And we’re building off the wider movement of DIY,” or do-it-yourself.

While there’s a popular perception that libraries are losing their client base, Maclachlan and Easterwood said they see library usage rising through attendance at classes and events, as well as more borrowing of e-books.

At the downtown branch on Sunday, library patron Nancy Gallerani, 39, said the Library of Things is a good way for the library to stay relevant.

“Unfortunately, because of technology, I think books are going to become obsolete,” Gallerani said. But by offering other unique services, she said, “probably that’s what will bring people in.”

The library already offers a variety of services beyond book-lending: a loan program for high school prom dresses, a seed library at the Colonial Heights branch and a self-publishing center for aspiring writers called the I Street Press, which features a printing press that produces retail-quality paperbacks.

Easterwood hopes the Library of Things will remind people that the Sacramento Public Library has many components beyond books.

“It’s when you create a project that gets people’s attention that you remind them about the other things the library has to offer,” Easterwood said.

The concept of a library or lending shop – particularly for tools – is growing in popularity. The Berkeley Public Library has a tool lending library that offers more than 200 different tools for checkout.

Matt Read, an organizer with the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition, has been pushing the Sacramento library system to start a tool lending library for two years. He also often steers the community gardeners he works with to the Colonial Heights seed library.

While Read, 28, is particularly interested in tools, he sees the appeal of loaning other items, such as kitchen equipment.

“Things like a food dehydrator: Do you really need to own one? This way you could check it out, use it for a few days, clean it and return it.”

Read says the Library of Things can expand the library’s customer base.

“It’s a way to get people in the door who might not think there’s much for them at the library,” he said.

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