License to Lend

One of only a handful of its kind in the country, the Santa Rosa Tool Library expands to downtown storefront


For Dustin Zuckerman, it’s all about the tools. The founder and executive director of the Santa Rosa Tool Library asks just three things of his board members: (1) to accept that a fee will never be charged for the library’s services; (2) to realize that the organization will never promote sociopolitical causes; and (3) to understand that the organization exists for one thing—loaning out tools.

“The biggest challenge has been trying to keep it simple,” says Zuckerman. “Too many libraries have folded because they got too ambitious at the beginning.”

Zuckerman began the Santa Rosa Tool Library with decidedly humble ambitions in August 2008, running it out of his one-bedroom apartment where tools inhabited every space (“Except for maybe the refrigerator,” he says, not joking). But on April 4, one of Sonoma County’s most unique community resources will make its biggest leap yet—into a downtown storefront on Fifth Street, fulfilling one of Zuckerman’s earliest visions for the venture.

Modeled after tool libraries in Berkeley and Oakland (Portland, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Columbus also have them, but few other major cities do), the tool library’s idea was originally conceived after Zuckerman bought a $35 tool that he only used once. He started cataloguing his own tools on a Microsoft Word document, and created a system whereby people could borrow and share saws, sanders and hammers instead of buying new ones.

As first reported in the Bohemian in 2008, the tool library’s process is simple. First, patrons register by filling out a borrower’s agreement with a valid photo ID and a recent piece of mail with a matching address. Patrons can then choose from hundreds of tools, which can be checked out for between four and seven days. Late fees are just $1 to $2.

Zuckerman, who works days at the Santa Rosa Junior College library, will run the downtown front desk from 5pm to 7pm on weekday afternoons. In an innovative co-working situation, the tool library shares space with an architect and two attorneys in a spacious, high-ceilinged brick building. Zuckerman says the shared arrangement keeps overhead low, so that the library can focus on accumulating more tools and creating as efficient a system as possible.

“I started the tool library based on the premise of whether there was a need for this service,” says Zuckerman, seated between buckets of saws and empty shelves in a back room soon to be filled with rentable tools. “If I start to see that there seems to be a need for the service, let’s let it grow based on the demand.” Now, with over 600 patrons and increased media attention, it’s clear that the community is clamoring for services like this one.

Zuckerman attributes the positive response to the organization’s roots in two tried and true institutions: a tool rental company and a public library. “We don’t charge a membership fee, we don’t hold a credit card number. There’s no barrier to using the library. It’s very palatable,” says Zuckerman.

With the new storefront, he looks toward an increased level of confidence from both patrons and potential funders, especially as the tool library takes on an expanded public presence. “We’ve received funding, but when you are run out of a house, it doesn’t quite give the confidence that you have something that could sustain itself,” says Zuckerman.

While one could presume large hardware outfits like Friedman’s Home Improvement fearing the tool library cutting into their profits, the locally owned Friedman’s has actually donated resources to the library—including two large shopping carts, which will be converted into dollies for transporting the bigger items. “Folks are so much more in tune with collaborating and sharing resources, especially in this county,” says Zuckerman. “It just gets people excited. It’s kind of a feel-good type of thing.”

The Santa Rosa Tool Library opens Monday, April 4, at 642 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. Monday-Friday, 5pm-7pm; Saturday, 9am-2pm. 707.576.0590.