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Sustainability: Check Out Asheville Tool Library

Above: Ben Harper & Kara Sweeny

Story & Photos by Leah Shapiro

Sustainability Asheville Tool Library Suppose you’re building a shed in your backyard. You have the space, the raw materials, and a general idea of how to do it yourself. It isn’t long, however, before you realize you’re missing something very important: the right tools. You could either ask a friend if you could borrow a screwdriver, hammer, saw, and whatever else was needed, or you could buy them. The first option is difficult to maintain and the second one is only available to those with the financial means and isn’t very environmentally conscious.

There have to be other options. This was the thought behind the Asheville Tool Library (AVLTL), a volunteer-driven project that provides lowcost access to a wide range of tools, literature, and knowledge to residents of Asheville and surrounding communities. Nick Letts and Julian Dominic came up with the idea in 2012.

After meeting one another in a permaculture course, they began brainstorming a few project ideas. One of them, Charlotte Got Crops, was a community garden project that quickly got traction. While working on it, they realized they were borrowing a lot of different tools through their network of fellow permaculturists. What about the greater community? How would they have access to such tools?

“The sharing economy, also known as collaborative consumption, is the peer-to-peer-based sharing of access to goods and services,” says Ben Harper, development coordinator of AVLTL. Tom Llewellyn brought his extensive knowledge of sharing economy to the group that same year and the three founders got to work with a plan.

The initial push took place in 2013 with crowdsourcing, donations, and meetings open to the community. Nonprofit organization Empowerment WORKS, based in California, became the fiscal sponsor of the project. Everything was moving forward, Sustainability: Check Out Asheville Tool Library Story & Photos by Leah Shapiro Ben Harper & Kara Sweeney except they were struggling to find a location that would suit their needs for visibility, space, and affordable rent.

Julian and Tom moved from Asheville in 2014 and were no longer spearheading the project. Ben, a friend with the founders, says he was aware of the project but only became actively involved last year. “I jumped in to continue to find a location for it,” he says.

An activist, carpenter, and designer, Ben fully supported the mission and joined Nick on the project. “I have a vision of a sustainability future in which all people have access to needed resources and knowledge,” he says. “I look at the AVLTL as an integral part of transitioning into a more sustainable, equitable future where everyone has access to resources, and not just those with a lot of money.

Sustainability Asheville Tool Library Being able to keep the consumption of resources down—this is an excellent way of having a collaborative consumption model where not everyone has to own one of everything that they use once a year.”

Kara Sweeney, a carpenter, joined the team as project coordinator. “It fits with my background in that I borrow a lot of people’s tools and lend people tools… This is a really natural fit for something that I really value and I think it is a needed resource.”

At the beginning of last year, AVLTL partnered with Open Space AVL, a coworking/colearning space and resource center focused on social and cultural impact. This year, Open Space AVL moved into a building in the South Slope neighborhood of downtown Asheville and began renting space to AVLTL.

Housed in a converted garage, the library has a growing collection of inventory, most of it by donation. “We have everything from screwdrivers and wrenches to table saws and camping gear,” says Kara.

In order to check out items, you must be 18 years or older and purchase a membership. Browse through an online inventory or at the library during open hours, which will become more regular this spring.

“We’re looking for donations, as well as sponsors, volunteers, and community organizations that would be good partners,” says Ben. The project is volunteer-driven, but Ben, Kara, and Nick hope to be able to make hires in the future.

“Almost everybody has some tools or a need for tools,” says Ben. “Our market is pretty much anybody, but we want to offer more than just tools.”

He says that they hope to host classes and workshops in the community. “Imagine building a chicken coop for someone. You get everyone out there, use different tools. We teach them how to use them and protocol for tool safety.”

Join the Asheville Tool Library for their opening event on Saturday, April 9, from 2–6 p.m. Tool donation drives are each Sunday in March from 2–6 p.m. and by appointment. The annual membership fee ($50–150) and all donations are tax deductible. Financial scholarships are available for those who qualify. Asheville Tool Library is located at 133 Church Street in Asheville. For more information, visit or their Facebook page. You can also e-mail or call 925.216.3848.

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