Patrons at the Richland Library in downtown Columbia can check out items including tools, games and even a carpet cleaner in its Library of Things collection. Photos by Abigail Brandon
At the Richland Library, it’s not all about books. One of the most coveted items is a Big Green Bissell carpet cleaner.
The cleaner, which is reserved through May, is part of the Library of Things, an innovative collection of items that people can check out. The holdings include everything from yard tools to photography equipment to board games.
“We are not the first library to do this, but we are on the cutting edge,” said Kelsey Andrus, the makerspace coordinator at the Richland Library main branch, located at 1431 Assembly St. in downtown Columbia.
The Richland Library introduced the Library of Things in 2019.
The original Library of Things was started in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, during World War II, said Mary Short, the marketing and programming coordinator at Grosse Pointe Public Library. Known as their Tool Collection, it was started by the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club to provide tools to a community dealing with wartime shortages and rationing.
In Columbia, “we pay attention to what the community needs are and try to meet them,” Andrus said. “The Library of Things movement has been because people need tools that might be out of their range because they’re cost prohibitive, or they don’t have the storage for them, or they don’t know how to use them, so they don’t know where to start.”
Danielle Miller, a Columbia resident, recently checked out a six-foot folding table, a bubble machine, and a block tower yard game, which resembles the popular game Jenga.
“I checked them out after browsing through [the catalog] for items that would be fun to have at a party,” Miller said.
Despite regularly using other library resources, Miller said that she hadn’t heard about the Library of Things until she read about it in a ColaDaily newsletter.
The Library of Things started with mostly power tools, but in 2021 the Richland County Library received a Libraries Build Business Grant, which was aimed at supporting entrepreneurs in the community. Andrus said librarians used the money to expand the Library of Things.
“Some college kid could [check out yard tools and] do lawns on the weekends as a side hustle. The photography equipment gets used by entrepreneurs all the time,” said Andrus.
The most popular items in the Library of Things is seeds. Patrons check out seeds to grow flowers, fruits and vegetables. At the end of the season, the library asks that patrons harvest some seeds to add to the library’s seed bank.. This helps to create a locally adapted collection of seeds.
“Those get so many check outs; nothing can compare to them,” Andrus said.
Other popular items include photography equipment, yard games and the carpet cleaner.
“The Library of Things is another great resource for the community because they provide items for creatives who are just starting out, or tools someone might need for home or yard work that they can’t or don’t want to purchase,” Miller said.
The only requirements to use the Library of Things is to be 18 years old and to hold a Richland Library card.
One service Richland library patrons can use is the 3-D printer, run by Noah Chavarria, an employee at Richland Library.
The seeds are by far the most checked out items, says Kelsey Andrus. Patrons can browse through the card catalog full of seeds or check out bundles curated by library staff.
Patrons can reserve their items on the website from a list of 183 available items.