Ypsilanti

From games to power tools, Ypsi library's new Library of Things has some thing for everyone

Though the Ypsilanti District Library has offered items other than books for many years, it recently launched a Library of Things including everything from power tools to games to kitchen gadgets.
Though the Ypsilanti District Library (YDL) has offered items other than books for many years, it recently launched a Library of Things (LOT) including everything from power tools to games to kitchen gadgets.

A "Thing-o-Rama" event was held Sunday, June 26, to introduce patrons to the collection of about 100 items. YDL's Community Relations Coordinator Sam Killian says YDL's website has previously referenced the Library of Things as a way of describing offerings that weren't books.

"But it wasn't necessarily ever a honed collection of stuff, just a name to encompass things like puzzles," Killian says.
"Thing-o-Rama" event at the Ypsilanti District Library to introduce the Library of Things.
By contrast, the new LOT collection has been curated deliberately, has its own webpage, and welcomes community suggestions for new additions. LOT items will also be available in the library's catalog and can be checked out just like books and DVDs. Patrons can suggest items to add to the LOT via online or paper forms as well. One small difference is that checking out certain power tools requires a waiver, since they can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

Growing YDL's LOT

YDL Head of Outreach Services Mary Garboden says kilowatt meters, used to measure the power draw of household items, were among the first non-traditional items the library added to its collection 13 years ago. YDL added a self-serve Seed Library in 2014, as well. Magnifiers for patrons with low vision followed, as did wifi hotspots at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Over the years, we added things based on different needs," Garboden says.

She notes that the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) is a pioneer of the Library of Things idea, and YDL modeled its collection after AADL and a few other libraries around the U.S. YDL Head of Acquisitions Sarah Zawacki says Libraries of Things have become a trend in libraries.

"We're always looking to bring new and exciting materials to our patrons," Zawacki says. "I'm excited to start an official, curated collection and really start to grow it."

For the initial LOT collection, Zawacki and other librarians came up with a list of potential items, from board games to technology to office supplies.
"Thing-o-Rama" event at the Ypsilanti District Library to introduce the Library of Things.
"Within our budget, we really wanted to hit different areas of interest," Zawacki says. "But we're really hoping it will be a community-driven collection with input from patrons."

Most of the LOT items are things that people might only need very occasionally, or that they might want to try before buying.

"How many times are you going to need a Darth Vader cake pan?" Garboden asks. "But collectively, across Ypsilanti, there might be a lot of need for it, and we've got it for you."

Zawacki says some board games can cost $40 and more, so it could be useful for patrons to check out a game and play it before they decide to invest in their own copy.

"Or you may only need it for a one-time use and don't want to buy it and have it just sitting around," Zawacki says. "Instead, you can come here and check out a kilowatt meter or radon detector or a tool for soil moisture testing."
"Thing-o-Rama" event at the Ypsilanti District Library to introduce the Library of Things.
Killian says he likes the LOT's oversize games, like a giant Jenga set that could be used at a community or family gathering. He says it's nice to have that catalog of items for use during library-hosted events as well. Garboden loves that the library offers games and puzzles.

"I like anything in the category of things that bring people together," she says. "We are a gathering space, virtually and literally. Being able to share resources — that's what we're good at. Why not do that with more than books, movies, and music?"

Zawacki says she thinks the LOT's pickleball sets will be of interest to patrons since the game is trendy right now.

"Also, our happy lights are a pretty cool thing. We have two of those you can use for seasonal depression," Zawacki says. "It's a cool option but a bit expensive, so you can try them out for three weeks before buying."

Growing the Seed Library

YDL's Seed Library is also an under-used community resource that librarians are hoping to bring attention to in addition to the LOT collection.

Garboden says the seed library was started in response to many requests from individuals and groups in the community. Librarians looked at other models, including the nationally-known Richmond Grows Seed Lending library in Richmond, Calif.

"I know it might seem like a stretch that a library might provide seeds, but to me, seeds are about stories," Garboden says. "[YDL] tries to preserve local stories, like we do with our Ypsi Stories podcast, and seeds are a part of that."

She says her family had lots of stories to go with seeds that they saved over the years, and she loves "knowing that other people in the community are growing those seeds and building their own stories around them."
"Thing-o-Rama" event at the Ypsilanti District Library to introduce the Library of Things.
The Seed Library is housed in filing cabinets at the library's downtown and Whittaker branches, and it's self-serve for those who want to pick up or drop off seeds.

"There's no obligation to return anything, but we want to let people know that it all depends on donations," Garboden says. "It's pretty depleted right now. We got a huge anonymous donation of 500 seed packets this spring, but it's pretty much gone now. It doesn't matter whether it's something you grew or bought or even leftover partial seed packets. We take all fruit, vegetables, culinary herbs, and flower seeds."

Garboden notes that YDL recently eliminated fines on late items, and while that may not seem related, it's all a part of YDL staff's mission of meeting community needs.

"Between going fine-free and expanding the types of things you can get at the library, we want to invite community members who maybe previously weren't patrons to return or try it out for the first time," Garboden says. "It's all about meeting people where they're at. It's about making sure we are meeting the needs of people like we should. And that is a moving target, and we want to be responsive."

More information about the YDL Seed Library is available here. More information about the LOT can be found here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.