Image: Library of Things - screenshot
Feature | Retail

Why buy when you can borrow?

The Sharing Economy is the internet generation’s latest trend. Bustling online portals like Airbnb and Uber show us every day that there is money to be made by “sharing instead of buying”. At the ICSC European Conference in Barcelona, the concept “Library of Things” shows that the sharing economy can also be an interesting approach for stationary retail.

A drill or a wireless lawnmower for £8.00 per day or maybe a badminton set for affordable £2.00 daily. Borrowing instead of buying is the motto of the “Library of Things”, the innovative store concept in Crystal Palace, South London, which has been located in the community library since early 2018. The project lends out useful everyday things like the aforementioned drills, gardening tools, sports equipment or musical instruments at affordable prices.

“Make borrowing better than buying” is how co-founder Emma Show outlines the ambitious vision of the Library of Things at the ICSC Conference in Barcelona.

“It all started in a library near our home in West Norwood, South London, where we tested the idea with our neighbors.” The test obviously worked brilliantly. “Having received requests from across the UK (‘help us start a Library of Things!’), we worked with Crystal Palace Transition Town & Upper Norwood Library Hub to develop a replicable version of Library of Things – a self-serve kiosk with the ongoing Thing management taken care of, which ‘plugs in’ to any community space.”

Apparently, Crystal Palace’s local residents were so much taken by the idea that they financially supported the project with a crowdfunding campaign. But the Library of Things is far more than a short-term contact point for users of everyday items. The center strengthens the regional community and provides handicraft courses and numerous community activities.

“Our visitors come from all walks of life,” says Emma Shaw. And the facts speak for themselves: 90% of borrowers say they now have more money to spend on things that are important to them. 75% of borrowers feel better connected to their community because of Library of Things. Having used Library of Things, borrowers are 60% more likely to repair or recycle items. Currently, there are more than 25,000 people visiting the Library of Things in London. Library of Things Ltd is a social enterprise in line with the definition set out by the Social Enterprise Mark. It is a private company limited by shares.

About the movement

The Library of Things movement is a growing trend in public, academic, and special libraries all around the world. There are also free-standing organizations outside of libraries that offer borrowing services, such as tool libraries, toy libraries, or independent non-profits. These borrowing centers and library collections are all a part of the sharing economy. Many of these libraries are offering tools and equipment that are useful to have access to, such as specialized cookware or niche technology items, but are often cumbersome to own and store. Library of Things collections are often supported by educational programming and public events.


ICSC EUROPEAN CONFERENCE & EXHIBITION 2019 –  HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EVENT


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