Expanding Collections with a Library of Things

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Library of Things kits on display
Tigard Public Library, photo by Lindsay Delaney

The Library of Things model has grown in popularity and expanded on the types of items that libraries keep in their collections and check out to the community. We were pleased to host the webinar, Library of Things: The What, Why, and How of Lending Objects, with librarians Dania Souid and Lindsay Delaney who shared strategies and inspiration for creating a Library of Things. Some of the highlights and tips from the session are captured in this webinar recap. In addition to a link to the recording from the webinar, you’ll find that the event page is filled with resources to support your exploration, including a helpful Learner Guide (doc) for you to use alone or with others, to inform your next steps and decisions.

Getting Started: Planning, Budgeting, and Creating Your Library of Things

Dania’s library, Baldwinsville Public Library (located in upstate New York) launched their Library of Things in 2018 with their Leap Into Dirt growing kit and an electricity monitor. Two years later, they added a record player, and then began expanding offerings through their Innovation line, which includes items such as LEGO sets, musical instruments, technology items, and passes to local museums and parks.

A key piece of advice Dania shared is that starting and planning a Library of Things requires coordination between library departments. She also recommended researching how other libraries and museums approached the planning process for their Libraries of Things. When considering items to offer, Dania suggests starting small. Choosing one or two items, and then building the collection gradually. This can help make the process easier as both patrons and staff learn about the resources.

A few questions and suggestions to keep in mind when selecting items include:

  • What can supplement a popular collection? For instance, if books on health are popular, you might add a blood pressure monitor or step counter to your collection.
  • What do people want to try?
  • Use social media and advertising for inspiration, and for what’s popular in your area
  • Utilize local resources when possible, for learning about or purchasing items for your collection.

Some of the more important decisions to make when starting a Library of Things relate to budgeting and funding for the items, associated materials costs, maintenance, and labor. It’s also important to determine how and where the items will be stored when they aren’t checked out, and whether fragile items (such as technology or electronics) might need extra packaging or protection to ensure longevity. Taking all of these areas into consideration will help to create a more accurate budget.  

Choosing Items 

Lindsay Delaney shared strategies and inspiration for creating a Library of Things collection specifically for children, based on her experiences at Ann Arbor District Library (Michigan) and Tigard Public Library (Oregon). Including children’s items is important in order to expand access to materials relevant to their interests and developmental stages. Additionally, children’s items are popular among library patrons and can increase overall engagement. When planning her library’s collection, Lindsay focused on these three elements:

  • Categories or genres—musical instruments, games, toys, etc.
  • Priorities—focus on your library’s priorities, for example, services that are important to the library such as being multilingual, inclusive, accessible, and environmentally friendly.
  • Practicality—factors such as item sturdiness, and whether missing pieces would affect the functionality

Lindsay also pointed out that you don’t need to start the selection process from scratch. You can look to other libraries, museums, and schools for inspiration. Compiling a list of popular topics at your library can be another way to spark ideas.

Helping Patrons Discover Items through Catalogs and Displays

Once your items are on hand, Dania suggests adding them to the library’s catalog, making them easy for patrons to discover. To facilitate this, Dania recommends including detailed information such as an interesting description and some examples of how the item can be used. Another strategy that can help patrons discover your Library of Things is to create a visual display in well-trafficked areas of the library.  

Another important component that should be part of the planning and implementation process is deciding if the library will need to require a waiver that outlines any rules for use of items as well as an acknowledgement of responsibility for lost or damaged items. There are a handful of examples of waivers listed on the event page.

Keep Up the Good Work: Assessment, Expansion, and Sustainability

Library of Things bulletin board and display shelf
Tigard Public Library, photo by Lindsay Delaney

Reviewing the implementation and usage of the Library of Things will help to assess success and decide if any changes are necessary. The assessment can include patron feedback, ease of use, cost of maintenance, turnaround time, and circulation numbers. If an item isn’t working well for your Library of Things, you might consider offering it for in-library use instead. The key factor is flexibility and openness to trying different approaches.

If you started by offering just a few items, this might also be a good time to expand your Library of Things, applying these planning techniques and incorporating staff and patron feedback.

As with all library programming and services, collaboration and planning are key to creating a successful Library of Things. The strategies outlined in this webinar can help your library to navigate the process and offer your patrons new ways to learn, engage, and have fun!

Start your own Library of Things

For a deeper dive and a wealth of examples, be sure to check out the full webinar, which can be watched anytime. The event page also features the full slide deck, learner guide, and the chat so you can review all of the ideas shared in the live session. You can also find other resources and tools to help your library get started on your own Library of Things, including examples of Library of Things collections, video tours of Library of Things, cataloging resources, and waiver and indemnification form examples.

A few highlights from resources collected on the webinar's event page include: