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Local Tool Library Empowers with Access, Redefines Ownership

Libraries are popping up across the country, but they’re not lending books. They’re lending tools. The HNL Tool Library is part of a nationwide movement prioritizing access to tools over ownership. Tool library director and local entrepreneur Elia Bruno is on a mission to connect often underused tools with the people who need them. HPR Reporter Ku’uwehi Hiraishi spoke with Bruno and takes us on a tour of the tool library. 

That sound would likely get you kicked out of any library, but this library is different.

HNL Tool Library Founder & Director Elia Bruno opens up shop for the day.

BRUNO: Once you’re a member, the tool library pretty much becomes your garage. 

Elia Bruno is the founder and director of the HNL Tool Library in Kaka?ako.   

BRUNO: We have an inventory of over 500 tools, and just by being a member you are able to borrow as many as you want for up to a week at a time. 

Community members donated more than $13,000 worth of tools to the library. Membership ranges from $35 a year to $85 a year, depending on how involved you want to be with the inventory.

BRUNO: Our members usually approach us for two main reasons. One is necessity. For example, something breaks in their house. Calling a professional will cost a lot of money. But now they have the opportunity to do it themselves. And then on the other hand we have these creatives the people that don't need to make something but they have this idea, they have this vision in their head and they come in and using the tools to make it happen.

Edward Poh, one of the tools libraries newest members, checks-in the tools he borrowed.

Edward Poh is a little bit of both.

POH: This is my first project. I just joined last week. I'm doing my kitchen so I'm doing a lot of cabinet work. I just wanted to check it out to see if it works and so far it's been great.   

Poh checks in the tools he borrowed with Jean Chee a library-in-training. Chee recently moved here from Portland, Oregon, where she often utilized tool libraries.

CHEE: I just needed a hammer sometimes or a ladder and I would go to the tool library as a way to like not have to buy a new hammer to use you know one time. 

Librarian-in-Training Jean Chee checks-in tools borrowed from one of its members.

Since launching in November of last year, membership has grown to 140 with a core cadre of volunteer librarians and tool doctors running the show. Summer workshops on how to use power tools and complete your own bike repairs are on the agenda. The Tool Library is becoming the Do-It-Yourself DIY hub, but Bruno is looking to move beyond tools.

BRUNO: There are so many other things that we buy that can easily be shared for example, camping equipment. How many times do you use your camping stove that you paid more than $100 for. Party equipment, kitchen appliances. If you think about it, we could be doing this with most of the things we own. It’s just about making that mentality shift.

The HNL Tool Library has an inventory of more than 500 tools to be borrowed by members.

The sharing economy concept is growing across the country, and Bruno sees such a crucial need for alternatives to consumerism especially for us here in Hawai?i.

BRUNO: We cannot just keep importing this stuff that we barely use and put it in our landfill. If we could just make better use of the stuff that’s already on the island before it enters the landfill to maximize the benefit to our island and to our community, I think that’s the right mentality that as island people we should have. 

To become a member, sign up for workshops or volunteer visit HNLToolLibrary.org

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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