A visit to the Hull Library of Stuff

“I love gadgets, right? When I was 12, I had a study, and I used to fix things for people. It was under the stairs. It was right next to a gas meter. I used to drive my mum up the wall by taking things apart because I always wanted to know how they worked, sometimes I put it back together, not always! I used to have friends who would bring round broken toasters and I used to fix them and then give them back. Yeah, I love gadgets and I love taking things apart, so this is perfect,” said Alan Dalgairns.

Alan is the founder of the Hull Library of Stuff, a project which opened its doors in March this year. The Library of Stuff is a an organisation that lends things to people.

Podcast: 12 minutes. A visit to the Hull Library of Stuff.

“Think of it as like a book library, but actually we do everything other than books. So there’s all sorts of equipment, DIY equipment cleaning equipment, hobby equipment, all sorts of stuff,” said Alan.

The seeds of the idea for this project were planted as far back as 2006, when Alan bought an item off eBay to do a task.

“It was a film scanner for scanning negatives and slides, to scan all my dad’s old slides. When I finished with it I put it back on eBay and sold it again, and I sold it for the same price I bought it for. I thought, ‘Oh, I wonder how many people have bought this before me?’ In those days you could go on eBay and have a look. I went back six people, and I thought ‘they’re basically borrowing it’”, said Alan.

Alan had identified a trend. In essence, people were using an auction site to borrow items for a short time to complete one-off tasks, with all the added hassle of posting and packaging the tools they were purchasing and returning. He knew there must be a more efficient way of meeting people’s needs.

“Then I found the library of things movement,” said Alan. “It’s actually a movement that started in America in around the 1970s. So there was one in California in about 73, something like that. It opened to share tools, it was a tool library.”

The Hull Library of Stuff, which is situated on Cottingham Road, now has 300 members, and has so far lent 260 items.

Alan explained: “It’s getting people to notice that there is a different way of doing things. What we’ve done is we’ve made this available online. It’s like an online catalog. It’s like going to Argos. You can go online, you can look for an item, you join for £1, and then you can book it out for a full week. You pay a small fee to book it out. Then, if after a week you still need it, you can extend it for another week, if it’s available. So the plan is that we have a store of equipment that people can borrow without having to physically buy it.”

The project has two clear aims, Alan explained.

Firstly, the Hull Library of Stuff helps people to save money, avoiding expensive purchases and hire costs.

“One of the things that I have done is aimed this at people who haven’t got money, who haven’t got the ability to buy these things anyway. So we aimed our pricing specifically at people who can’t afford to buy these things, but they could borrow it for a week and do the job.

“I don’t want people to be getting into poverty or getting into money troubles because they they’ve bought something that they can’t afford.

“We’ve had someone who was going to buy a jet washer on hire purchase because they couldn’t afford one. They came and borrowed ours, it was £13 pound for a week and they managed to get the job done doing that,” said Alan.

Another example of an item people can borrow, helping them to save money, is the library’s ‘car computer’, a diagnostics tool which identifies the problem behind a dashboard warning light, maybe allowing the car’s owner to fix an issue themselves.

The second mission aim of the Hull Library of Stuff is to help reduce the environmental impacts of manufacturing, owning, and disposing of ‘stuff’.

Many of us own cheap power tools that we rarely use, they just sit on a shelf in the garage.

Alan shared some alarming data about these little-used tools.

He said: “There was some research done recently that suggested that a DIY power drill only gets used for 13 minutes of its entire life, 13. So the rest of the time it’s sat in storage. So you think about all of the garages in the whole world and how many tools are sat there that are not being utilised 99% of the time.

“And that power tool was probably designed to be used for 15 minutes as well. That’s the problem, they’ve got to a point where they can produce something very cheaply, and people can get access to stuff really cheaply, but the problem is that they’re not designed to last a long time. So what happens is, rather than someone selling it on when they’re finished with it, it ends up in the skip. There’s batteries, lithium batteries, and all of that type of stuff that you’ve got to deal with as special waste as well.”

The Hull Library of Stuff is open for two days each week for borrowers to pick up and return items – Tuesday and Wednesday, 10am to 7pm. Items can be browsed and booked online throughout the week.

The range of items available to borrowers is wide and growing.

The Hull Library of Stuff has a wide range of items available to borrowers, at very affordable prices.

“We’ve got disco equipment, we’ve got a small disco set-up, which is perfect for a house or a small hall. You can borrow a smoke machine as well, if you want to give it the full effect. I’ve got fishing gear, if you want to go and do some fishing. I’ve got laminators. I’ve got a load of film and photography equipment to convert old analog stuff to digital. Lots of DIY equipment. I’ve got a a cement mixer that will fit in a car. We’ve got a compactor, an electric compactor. A rotavator, quite a bit of gardening equipment as well as DIY equipment,” said Alan.

The library’s commercial carpet cleaners are among the most popular items borrowed.

“I went and hired one and did some market research and then bought a really good one. So we’ve got two of them now.

“I’ve just actually shared my top 30 items to another library with the prices we charge, to try and help another library out,” Alan added.

Alan Dalgairns, Director of Hull Library of Stuff, with two carpet cleaners awaiting collection by a borrower. Photo: Jerome Whittingham @photomoments
Alan Dalgairns, Director of Hull Library of Stuff, with two carpet cleaners awaiting collection by a borrower. Photo: Jerome Whittingham @photomoments

Safety, of course, is a key focus for Alan, as items are booked by borrowers.

“You don’t want to give someone a chainsaw that they’ve never used before and just pop it over the desk and go ‘see you later’. What we’ve done is we’ve got a list of what we class as dangerous items. We do a risk assessment and then decide whether something should be on the dangerous item list or not. If it is, if someone wants to borrow it, they have to spend 15 minutes with us going through a risk assessment,” Alan explained, adding that he’s always happy to advise borrowers on the right tool for the job, and how to use them.

The Hull Library of Stuff is a useful little project, with big plans for the future. It’s projects like this that will help us all to reduce our impact on the planet, as well as reducing impacts on our pockets.

Alan said: “If we can all use one central pot of things, rather than all having our own version of those things, there’ll be less demand, fewer things created. That will reduce the impact of climate change.”

Website: www.libraryofstuff.co.uk

[Jerome Whittingham – @photomoments]