Keeping it Local and Doing it Yourself: The Station North Tool Library

Last summer, John Shea and Piper Watson jumped on their Ducatis and headed west to explore the DIY trend known as the “tool library.” Shea, a resident of City Arts on Greenmount Ave and former adjunct faculty and technician at Towson University, decided academia was no longer in the cards and wanted to take his knack for creation and tools as well as his propensity for art and community and create a self sustaining business. After stops at libraries in Seattle, Portland, Boulder and elsewhere, Shea with help from Watson, borrowed the knowledge and expertise from some successful libraries and brought it to Station North.

You might be wondering, what exactly IS a tool library? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a library for individuals to borrow all types of tools from hammers to circular saws, for their own projects. And for every thousand dollars you make annually, you’re asked to donate one dollar a year as a membership fee. Eight tools can be checked out at a time and must be returned within one week.

In just six short weeks , The Station North Tool Library, launched with funds from The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, has nearly one hundred members. Last week I got the chance to stop by the library at 417 E. Oliver St. in Greenmount West to see for myself. The concrete floors and lofted ceilings provide a rustic domain for any Baltimorean in need of a tool but unwilling to shell out a large chunk of change at Home Depot or Lowes. You don’t need to be Mr. Fix-It to appreciate the simple practicality of this place – the small space is seeping with so much creativity and innovation that it’s impossible to leave uninspired. It’s all born from the hands-on, DIY approach that Shea and Watson live and breath as live-in Station North artists. “I knew what we could do here,” he said, “I wanted to keep it in the community.”

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Outgrowing their studio apartment at City Arts, Shea and Watson will (hopefully) soon be proud owners of a Vacant to Value home in Greenmount West. But Shea was very clear when I asked whether the library was designed to primarily service residents of Station North. “Anyone in Baltimore can be a member,” he said. “In fact, you don’t have to be in Baltimore or even Maryland to join. If you can drive here, you can checkout tools from us.”

“This place provides a way to really help people with shop creation, business development and even self improvement,” said Watson, a professional photographer. The Station North Tool Library is a resource for a thriving community and the surrounding city – a place for folks to rent a tool and even take a class or two on how to use them. The classes will be the primary way the library will become and remain economically sustainable and should start up very soon, so stay tuned. You can head over to their website for a list of the library’s inventory as well as more info on the project.

The library is open from 5PM to 9PM Wednesday through Friday and 9AM to 5PM Saturday and Sunday. Last and certainly not least, the library is in need of tools so please visit them at 417 E. Oliver if you have tools to donate or just to chat about all the great things they’re doing. The Station North Tool Library is a non-profit and its success hinges on the participation and involvement of Baltimore residents yearning for a richer locale. 

-TD

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