Editorials, Opinion

A library that is truly the center of the community

When the Kanawha County Public Library in Charleston re-opens next week, it’ll feature quite a few upgrades. There are the traditional expanded study and conference spaces, but there will also be some more … unusual additions.

Like an “Idea Lab” that features 3D printers, laser etching capabilities, recording booths and sewing machines. Possibly even cooler, it will also debut a “Tool Library,” where community members can check out a variety of tools the same way they would a library book.             

The Tool Library especially caught our attention. From the pictures the KCPL have shared of the fully stocked room, it looks like you can borrow everything from hammers, shovels and wrenches to saws, power drills and extension cords to industrial fans, shop vacuums and air compressors. And all you need is a library card to check one out.

The beauty of the Tool Library is it fulfills a community need. Tools are expensive, and few people are willing to shell out cash for something they’ll use once. And not everyone has a neighbor they can share with.

The Tool Library and the Idea Lab, with its modern-day basics, will prove a boon to the area’s students as well. Between high school home-ec classes and big college projects, young people often find themselves needing expensive supplies in order to make the grade.

We’d love to see these innovations come to Morgantown.

Now, we know the naysayers are already betting all the tools at KCPL will be stolen by the end of the month, but tool libraries across the nation have had great luck with tool and equipment loans that use the honor system. There are at least three in Pennsylvania, three more in Ohio and another in Maryland. One successful tool library is the privately owned Ashland Area Tool Library in Kentucky, which routinely lends out over 1,000 tools a year and has no trouble getting them back.

In other words, this is not an entirely unique idea and other states have executed it successfully. But KCPL is the first to do it in West Virginia, and, if it works, we’d like to see the concept take root in libraries across the state.

In an age when nearly all the world’s knowledge  can be found on your phone, this is one of the ways libraries remain not only relevant, but an essential part of the community.