UVA Volunteers Help Build ‘Tool Library’ for Community’s Benefit

Small, labeled storage bins filled with hand tools

Tools are catalogued and carefully stored on wooden shelves at the Charlottesville Tool Library. (Photos by Fang Yi)

Have you ever started a project, only to be stymied by a lack of the proper tools? The Charlottesville Tool Library might be your solution.

“Tool libraries are part of a larger network, part of the do-it-yourself movement and shared resources and the right-to-repair movement,” said Melissa Goldman, fabrication facilities manager at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture and one of the founders of the library. “It helps empower neighbors to start a group within your community to share tools. It provides access and training … to support homeowners and entrepreneurs and blossoming makers of all sorts.”

The tool library opened this spring and currently has about 100 members and an inventory of more than 500 tools.

“I think there will be a lot of people who are homeowners who are learning how to maintain their home or make small improvements,” Goldman said. “They would like to do it themselves, but they don’t necessarily have the tools. If it is something that takes a little more planning, they can come, check out what they need and be part of that community.”

The idea of a tool library in Charlottesville began in the pandemic.

“It started with Habitat for Humanity and the Habitat Homeowners Council saying there needed to be a place that can host a bunch of tools,” Goldman said, “because their homeowners are not in a financial situation to be able to own all of the tools they might need to keep their homes the way they want them.”

A sign for the Cville Tool Library sits in front of a metal door
The Charlottesville Tool Library is housed behind a discrete door at the Visible Records building at 1740 Broadway St.

And, Goldman said, hobbyists or artists may require tools for special applications, but would prefer to borrow them instead of buying them.

“I think there will always be folks from the artist communities in town who are looking for resources they might not have,” Goldman said. “They would benefit from something that is shared.”

Goldman thinks the library will evolve.

“I think it will grow or change with the tools that the users want, or need, or start asking for,” Goldman said.

The library, open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, is set in the rear of a warehouse in the Visible Records building at 1740 Broadway St. in Charlottesville, in a community of makers, artists and businesspeople. Goldman said the hours may expand if the library gets more volunteers.

It takes up about a 15- by 15-foot space, with librarians assisting borrowers with tools kept in several lockable, wheeled, wood cases. Each case has several shelves of tools, and there are two sheds of gardening and landscaping implements such as string trimmers, hoes, pitchforks and posthole diggers.

“We have done a lot of organizing of people, the space and the tools,” Goldman said. “It's been exciting to train new folks as part of the ‘librarian’ and ‘tooligan’ teams. The librarians are our front-of-house team who help people check out tools and talk them through using them for their projects. The tooligans are the back-of-house team who inventory new tools coming in, maintaining them and figuring out which tools we need to still acquire.”

The library has an inventory of hand and power tools – some donated, some purchased – that members can borrow for a week at a time, as they would books from a lending library. There are basic hand tools, such as hammers, saws, wrenches and garden implements, along with items such as circular saws, routers, battery-operated chain saws and an electric wood chipper. Members are required to undergo safety training before borrowing some tools, such as chainsaws and routers.

Three men stand behind a computer monitor, while a woman works on a laptop inside the Tool Library
Volunteers Tyler Whitney, left, and James Quillen put away tools while co-secretary Ammon Shepherd and Kathy Kildea, co-vice chair, catalogue them on computers.

Borrowers must have a membership which costs between $20 and $60 based on annual income.

While the Charlottesville Tool Library is a community project, several UVA employees are involved, along with board members from local organizations such as the C-Ville Timebank, an organized exchange system through which members earn “time dollars” for time spent helping other members; the Repair Café, a twice-annual event where volunteers repair items to keep them from the landfill; the Live Arts theater community; The Bridge Arts Initiative, Piedmont Virginia Community College; and various arts groups. Taylor Fromme chairs the library while Kathy Kildea, co-director of the Timebank, and Goldman are co-vice chairs. Kildea works with the Timebank and Repair Café.

“As we start planning our workshop events, we are really looking to connect to groups of folks in the community who we can bring together around similar themes – new homeowners, tool-specific fix-it workshops with the Time Bank's Repair Café,” Goldman said. “We want to use some of our founding members’ expertise to run workshops.”

Ryan McCarthy, a fourth-year plumbing apprentice at Facilities Management, may lead a home plumbing workshop. “I want to do this so I can help people and make things more accessible,” said. “I love teaching and I look forward to doing that as well. I think it is important, though I have not totally solved how, to make sure this is a community initiative that reaches as many people as possible.”

McCarthy has been involved with the planning stages since she first heard a rumor of the tool library more than a year ago. McCarthy is also interested in community outreach.

“I enjoy being a part of repair cafes, some of the events that have been held at IX Park – all of which are very cool and part of our mission to get more women and more diverse people in general interested in the trades,” McCarthy said. “There is a good opportunity for us to help the tool library expand and use some of its existing infrastructure to build things out. The tradeswomen would love to come and teach courses.”

Goldman, who has been a set designer, a puppet maker and earned an architecture degree from Columbia University, came to UVA to manage the Fabrication Lab at the School of Architecture.

“I have been teaching and maintaining and using tools for a long time and truly believe it is an empowering and welcoming experience,” Goldman said. “I was also looking for ways to be more involved with the community. I have lived here for just over a decade and I would really love to do things outside of UVA.”

Local architect Tyler Whitney, who graduated from UVA and knew Goldman from his student days, is one of the volunteers who tend to the library on Saturdays. He became involved to broaden his own horizons.

“I look forward to meeting people,” he said. “And being around tools like this can give me incentive to work on my own projects. This is a good group of people.”

Fang Yi, an educational technologist working at UVA’s Robertson Media Center and manager of the 3-D Printing Studio, heard about the library from Goldman.

“I’m passionate about maker education and providing access to tools and technology,” Yi said.

A woman works on a laptop on a table covered by hand tools
The tool library keeps an inventory of available implements on its website.

Yi, who is the treasurer for the library, sees the C-Ville Tool Library as a replacement for Tinkersmith, but with a broader audience in mind.

“I think the C-Ville Tool Library can benefit the entire community, from individuals who need to work on home projects to organizations who need access to tools to work on bigger projects for a short amount of time,” she said.

Ammon Shepherd, a makerspace manager and lead research technologist at UVA’s Scholars’ Lab, sees the tool library as a way for people to empower themselves.

“It provides a resource to the community, empowering those without the means or the tools to accomplish their work,” Shepherd said. “On a social and community level, the Tool Library can empower those who don’t have the financial resources to purchase tools to improve their home or whatever project they may be working on.”

Shepherd, who is the library’s co-secretary with Ruth Richards, also sees benefits for himself.

“I have often been frustrated at purchasing a tool that I’ll need only once, or so infrequently as to not justify the cost, or at the least cause some grumbling,” he said. “With a resource like the Tool Library, finding a tool for a one-off project is a much more pleasant experience.”

Two people examine a power tool
Volunteer Bodhi Catlett checks out a tool with a library borrower.

Shepherd first heard about it from Goldman. He became intrigued and wanted to see how the library project came together, because he is considering forming a makerspace in Waynesboro.

“I get a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that this resource is available to the community,” Shepherd said. “I’m also learning what it takes to start up a nonprofit. I get to see amazing people use their vast experience and expertise at running and organizing a large project from scratch.”

He said volunteering at the library is a great experience, and he noted that members of the University community can join and access tools.

“We also know that there are some people who want to donate memberships for other folks who might not be able to afford it,” Goldman said. “This is about building a community and helping out your neighbors and yourself. Membership is on a sliding scale on the honor system for the folks who are signing up to make it most accessible.”

The library may also host tool-centric events.

“Our community partners are really excited to have a place with tools where they could potentially do those repair events like the Repair Café,” Goldman said. “Cville Makes tried to start a makerspace right as the pandemic hit. When they couldn’t yet, they got involved here in their interest of shared resources, making, and tools, and are trying to reignite their initiatives.”

Goldman’s work with shops inspired her tool library activities.

“I got involved because I get a lot of requests every year from people in our community who ask to use the tools at UVA, or are wondering if they can check those out,” Goldman said. “We have tool rental companies in town, but it is not the same ethos of building a community around sharing a resource or providing access for something.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications