The Library of Things: “Can I Borrow That?”

By Fern Hallman, M.Ln.shutterstock_421041232

Libraries across the country have begun to circulate more “things” than you might expect. The traditional emphasis on books and audiovisual materials still remains, but imaginative lending programs for other types of materials are cropping up everywhere.

Following are some examples.


Ann Arbor District Library (Michigan): Art prints, die-cutting kits, games, tools, etc.

The Ann Arbor District Library is more progressive than most about expanding borrowing options, and was an early adopter of the idea. The library began circulating art prints 40 years ago! Now it allows patrons to borrow die-cutting kits for making art at home. It also has circulating collections of games and tools, as well as telescopes and musical instruments. Click here for more.



Arlington Public Library (Virginia): Dolls, electrical equipment, and garden tools

American Girl dolls are expensive and not everyone can afford them. Several libraries, including the Arlington Public Library—a leader in interesting collections—have started lending programs for these popular dolls. The program was originally funded by Arlington’s Friends of the Library group. The Washington Post featured this collection when it was first assembled.LED-Box-of-Bulbs-slider

Arlington also has an Energy Lending Library that includes thermal cameras, electricity usage monitors, Rethink Energy books, and LED Bulb Sample Kits. And if that wasn’t enough, it has a Garden Tool Lending Library as well.


Hopkinsville-Christian County Public Library (Kentucky): Bicycles

This library has joined with a local physicians’ group to provide access to bicycles in their community. The Book-A-Bike program launched with eight adult bicycles and six bikes for kids, available at a small fee to library card holders. Users can ride around town or explore the Hopkinsville Greenway rail trails. Click here for more.



Daviess County Public Library (Kentucky): Musical instruments

I recently attended a bluegrass festival in Kentucky, and was impressed to learn that the local library system had a big presence on site, documenting the event for all to see. The library helps to inspire future musicians by letting them check out guitars, mandolins, keyboards, and banjos.


Recycle Those Solar Eclipse Glasses!

Libraries across the country served as distribution points for the glasses needed to safely view the historic solar eclipse in August. Some libraries even collected the glasses for recycling after the event. A program like this reminds citizens that libraries are a great resource, hooking them up with things they need, in addition to information and entertainment. Click here for more.


Many More Things!

This roundup from American Libraries covers many innovative lending programs from libraries across the country. Find out where library patrons can borrow snowshoes, a Roomba robot to vacuum your house, bubble machines, Santa suits, and fondue sets.


And even more things! Read this one if you want to borrow a dog (yes, an actual therapy dog) or a fishing pole.


Far-Reaching Benefits

Libraries attest that innovative lending programs help establish deeper relationships between libraries and their communities. They also improve access to the arts and sciences. While the primary goal of such programs is to get people into the library, upon arriving, patrons might just find themselves checking out some books! These ideas may inspire you to explore the perfect idea for your library.

Tell us about the non-traditional lending programs you’ve tried.




Fern has worked for Brodart as a Collection Development Librarian since 1990. She also did a stint as a reference librarian in the CNN newsroom and is married to a newspaper librarian. Click here for more.

2 thoughts on “The Library of Things: “Can I Borrow That?”

    • Hi Melissa.

      The short answer is that it takes a special energy to offer these programs.

      One specific suggestion about managing upkeep of circulating items is to choose wisely up-front: select items for your Library of Things that are both durable and repairable.

      Here’s an interesting article that provides a detailed overview on getting started, managing your program, acquiring the stuff to lend and many other issues.It turns out someone has invented a platform that many libraries use to keep track of everything, and there are even “best practices” for doing it.

      Another suggestion is to talk to others who have started these programs. When I contacted the libraries mentioned in my post they were all happy to share their ideas and experiences.

      Thanks for your question!


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