DIY Dreaming at the West Philly Tool Library
Do it yourself (DIY) shows, books and magazines instill confidence. With a step-by step guide and a little patience, we can easily fix a leaky faucet, flawlessly renovate the bathroom or transform the ratty backyard into a beautiful garden. But taking matters into your own hands can come at a price - sometimes these renovations require pricey equipment. Fortunately for locals, there is a cost-effective solution: the West Philly Tool Library.
The West Philly Tool Library
(1314 South 47th Street), provides members access to tools - from wire cutters to lawnmowers - that can make a DIY dream a reality. And like a traditional library, reference books are available for checkout.
"Lots of people come in here who want to try do things, and maybe they never used tools before," said tool librarian, Kathleen O'Donnell. "It's exciting that people can get a chance to try things without having to buy a whole woodshop."
The library is open Monday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. All can join for a yearly fee, which ranges from $20-$50, depending on income. There are no additional costs once the membership fee is paid.
O'Donnell said some of the library's patrons are renovating their homes and others are just trying to "keep a roof over their heads." The tool library also caters to unique needs: there is the man attempting to build a banjo, the trapeze artists who needed a 40-foot extension ladder for their act in Clark Park and the group of local residents who wanted to reclaim a neglected cemetery.
"It's a pretty brilliant idea," said Eric Rivera, who stopped by on a Saturday afternoon to renew his membership. "It's one of the few things that promotes both communities and self-reliance." Rivera, who used to work for the library, planned to help a neighbor remove some small trees. He borrowed a loper and bow saw.
For those who are frustrated or stuck in the DIY process, they will probably find someone at the library with whom they can vent their troubles to.
"Sometimes people come in and they chat with each other about what they are doing," said O'Donnell. "There are house types in the neighborhood and if you have the same type of house, you probably have the same kind of problems. Members really enrich that experience."
Occasionally, the tool library offers workshops. The most recent focused on the use of power tools.
Seattle, Washington and the San Francisco Bay Area, places where the library's founder, Michael Froehlich has lived, have tool libraries. When he moved to Philadelphia, he felt there was a need for one here.
In the spring of 2007, Froehlich hung flyers in the neighborhood advertising a meeting that would discuss the possibility of creating a tool library. About a dozen people attended. Less then six months later, the West Philly Tool Library opened, thanks to donations, fiscal support from the Urban Affairs Coalition and a grant from the Samuel S. Fels fund.
Today, the library is funded through membership and late fees, donations, fundraisers and small grants. This past spring, the library won State Farm's "Cause an Effect" contest
, in which 3,000 nonprofit organizations applied. West Philly Tool library was one of the 40 causes chosen. The funds have enabled the library to open an hour earlier, hire a tool mechanic, and purchase additional tools.
Membership sign-up requires 2 forms of ID and 2 references.
ZENOVIA CAMPBELL is a Master of Journalism student at Temple University and lives in South Philly. Send feedback here.
Photographs courtesy of the West Philly Tool Library