We had the opportunity to talk with Paul Johnson, the founding director, and learn more about his ideas behind the Idaho Share and Supply. Read our interview to find out what a Library of Things is and how you can get involved!
Can you start off by telling me a bit about Idaho Share and Supply and The Library of things?
I’ll start by introducing myself. My name’s Paul and I’ve been a teacher my whole life. For 8 years of my life, I lived overseas. I was a peace corps volunteer in West Africa, after I got my first degree from the University of Montana, doing natural resource conservation work. I then became a teacher and moved with my family, my wife and 2-year-old daughter, to Bangladesh to teach internationally in the schools. We also taught in the schools in China.
All the while, while I was teaching I was scheming up a business plan to create something from scratch, from the ground up to benefit the community. That’s what I’m doing now. I’ve stepped away from teaching for the year, or two or three, to make this thing work. The reason I bring up my experience overseas is that it really helped me to shape this idea, which is the Library of Things.
Living in those three places, two of which were some of the poorest counties in the world, Mali and Bangladesh, I saw first hand the impact of our consumption. Not only on the people, but on the environment as well. When we were in China, we saw the impact of our environment every day- we maybe say the blue sky 10 times in 4 years of living there. Of course, there are health implications as well, but when that’s in your face every day, its pretty eye-opening. By witnessing that and scheming this business plan, which has an element of sharing resources, I got more and more interested and engaged with the idea of having a library of things- a tool library. I’ve learned the more we share, the less were consuming.
There’s that aspect of it, and then as I learned more I really got excited about the community-building aspect that comes from having such a space. And the fact that giving people access to things for a very low membership fee gives people opportunities is something I’ve always been interested in. I taught for about a decade in a really low income school, purposefully, and have always wanted to do something in my community to help bring people up. That’s a bit of my story that connects to how this came to be!
Have you heard of anything like this before? Where did you think of the idea for Idaho Share and Supply?
Yes! Tool libraries, not so surprisingly were a thing in the ’70s, the era of hippies and communal living, all of that. The first one started in Berkeley and there are different neighborhood organizations that do it as well. Somebody has a garage and everyone stores different tools to share.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, there was a second wave of tool libraries that started popping up all over the country. Just recently in the last 5 or so years, all over the world, this concept is taking off. A lot of places are still calling themselves tool libraries, but taking a broader definition of what “tools” are. Some, like ourselves, are just calling ourselves the Library of Things because it can really be anything. There are hundreds all over the world. A few in the United States that are operating really high functioning spaces, those ones are models for the rest of us.
What’s your hope as Idaho Share and Supply gets closer to opening? Along with providing access to tools, will you be hosting workshops and classes?
In the beginning, our primary goal is to fundraise so we have a space for a variety of things that people can check out- tools, equipment, kitchen assets, home brewing stuff, outdoorsy gear, all sorts of things. The next step is to open a space for people to utilize that stuff. Some stuff is big, some stuff is small, but if somebody lives in an apartment or doesn’t have the space to use it, our space would provide them access. Or maybe someone wants to develop a new recipe because they’re opening a food truck, we would have space in our commercial kitchen for people to utilize. Once we have that space, we can host formal workshops.
But the model we’re really striving to go after is informal skillshare meetups. Where we have our membership space and a big wall listed with the members who specialize in different work. People can then use that board and knowledge to link together. For example, if Charlie is good at welding he plans to come in on Thursday night where anybody can come and watch what he’s doing and learn from him.
The other thing we plan on building is a repair cafe. Where people can bring in broken items which we can then utilize to help teach others how to fix them. We would also love to have volunteers on hand who know how to fix items to help keep things out of the waste train. Our goal is to cut down the typical buy, use, throw away model and make it a bit more circular. We want high-quality things that can be reused and reused and repaired and reused, to keep that cycle going. Our desire is to help people do the same for things they have as well.
We’ve been in contact with some of the second-hand shops in town, they all share a similar issue where they get high-quality stuff, but there’s one part thats broken and they don’t have the infrastructure to fix it. Our hope is to bring in some of that stuff as well and help to fix those items. Then either house it in our inventory, give it back to them, or donate it to a shelter to keep things out there in use.
Since you’re still searching for a space to house the Library of Things, are you hoping for it to be all-encompassing, meaning home to storage of the products and an area open for workshops?
We’re still in the beginning stages, so we’re still gathering community input, we’re getting our leadership team in place, and building our volunteer network. Our goal is that our initial fundraising campaign kicks off by mid-winter, at the very latest, and that will ultimately dictate what kind of space we can aim for mid-summer. Since it’s kind of up in the air, we’re a little hesitant to do everything at once. We really want to build the Idaho Supply and Share in a modern way. We want to allow people the opportunity to use their phones to reserve things with the scan of a QR code, have smart locks, and give people 24/7 access. All of which will make it more convenient for the public. To build an organized and well-structured library of things, we’re leery of opening the workshop space at the beginning. At first, we’re going to aim for a space that can house all of the stuff.
In what ways are you hoping the community get involved?
We’re starting to accept donations now, we’re getting stuff everyday. We’re looking for people to get involved in a multitude of ways, people to add to our volunteer list- we need librarians, and we’ll always need more people to help with inventory, to tidy up our donations and make them ready to be reused by the public. We have a growing list of people who are skilled in all the different facets of nonprofit management, but we’re always looking for more. We need help, like any nonprofit. Anybody who wants to get involved, can fill out the survey on our website. We’re organizing a meet up, for around Thanksgiving time, for interested folks to meet up, share ideas, and connect.
As for donations, right now we’re looking for functioning things. Our goal in the future is to take in everything and fix it up, but for now to build a proper inventory we want functioning things that are medium to high quality. If we buy the cheapest things on the shelves, they’re cheap for a reason and it's going to break. So we want things that we can potentially repair- tools, power tools, outdoors gear, all of it! We want to be a resource for anything and everything at the moment. We’ll always need people to get involved. We want to find more people who like the idea behind the Idaho Share and Supply and have time and energy to share with us. We’re completely volunteer run, I’m the founding director but it’s truly a community effort and we want it to always be that way.
Here at Totally Boise, we’re excited to follow along with the journey as Idaho Share and Supply finds a location and continues to grow. If you’re interested in learning more, head over to: