MCC photo/Alannah DeJong

Alexander Dickens (left) and Brent Harris (right), co-founders of the Saint John Tool Library.

The Saint John Tool Library (SJTL) is not your ordinary library.

Instead of shelves of books and rows of comfy chairs, the tool library has power tools, extension cords and work benches. The SJTL’s offers community members who purchase a membership access to a large selection of tools to borrow, workshop space for projects as well as classes from introduction to power tools up to advanced cabinet making.

The SJTL is an MCC partner and MCC Maritimes has contributed a grant to help purchase tools. This unconventional library is becoming a space for learning and community building.

Brent Harris began the project after being part of a morning prayer group that noticed that poor housing was a major factor contributing to child poverty and a high rate of dilapidation in Saint John. Harris, along with Alexander Dickens, Rick Stephen, Rob Giles, and Luke Arsenault were the biggest contributors to the project, wanting to make a difference in their community.

“As soon as you see one broken window, or boarded up house, we know that it does something to the psychology of the people who live there." - Brent Harris

“As soon as you see one broken window, or boarded up house, we know that it does something to the psychology of the people who live there,” says Brent. “People start to feel isolated and they start to see the neighbourhood as dysfunctional and as somewhere to escape rather than somewhere to put down roots.” 

Many people move away every month, and more and more houses are boarded up, continuing this cycle. “And then we discovered tool libraries,” he says. They thought providing tools to people at a low cost, along with space for projects, would allow more people to maintain their homes.

A few of the approximately 600 tools available for members to borrow through the Saint John Tool Library. MCC photo/Alannah DeJong

While the tool library in Saint John is only a few months old, the concept first emerged in Ohio in the 70s. Tool libraries became quite popular in Europe, and in some cases they’re even part of the actual library system.

In North America, however, tool libraries remain relatively unknown. Currently, the Saint John library contains approximately 600 tools, everything from cordless drills to table saws. Most of these tools are bar-coded and are logged in a computer organization system which allows members to check out any tools they might need for a number of days.

Though they’ve only been open since June, the library has already hosted many different events, including a sourdough bread making class. Alexander Dickens, one of the library's three employees, remembers how participants got creative about using the space during the workshop.

“We didn’t have any cutting boards big enough,” says Alexander, “so [we used] a full piece of furniture in panels, it was all hardwood, so someone’s piece of furniture was actually 15 people’s cutting boards for a sourdough bread making class. There’s still flour on it.”

Alexander Dickens using the DIY space located at the back of the Saint John Tool Library.MCC photo/Alannah DeJong

While the SJTL remains in its beginning stages, it has already completed its first community build: 20 volunteers came together for three days to do much-needed renovations on a stranger’s home before winter. The SJTL is on its way to becoming a self-sustained social enterprise and already has a positive impact on the community and environment. 

To find out more about the library, its memberships and classes, or to look through their inventory, check out their website. 

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