They Lend What??? The Magical World of Unique Lending Libraries

by Sandra Hoyer, former Head Editor, INALJ Washington
previously published 9/26/13

They Lend What??? The Magical World of Unique Lending Libraries

sandra1I have always been fascinated by unusual lending libraries and the spectacular items they have for users. I think libraries (whether private, public, academic or special) in general could truly benefit from taking an untraditional approach to lending what their users may need, whether that be therapy dogs or art. 

Here are just a few exciting lending libraries that have caught my eyes over the years:

Doggies for everyone! Yale Law School embarked in a three day pilot program in which Monty, the lovable terrier mix pooch, could be checked out in 30 minute increments. A catalog entry for Monty can be found here: Monty Yale Law School Catalog Record. Personally, I think adding an adorable dog to the catalog for the benefit of stressed law school students is an excellent idea.

Lending out a wheel, or two. While out on vacation in California earlier this month, I came across Cruz Skate Shop in Berkeley which offers a roller skate wheel lending library to its patrons. This lending library is really great because it allows their customers to try out pricey wheels before they commit to any particular set.

Tooltime! While doing research on unusual lending libraries, I came across the Oakland Public Library Tool Lending Library. This lending library boasts over “3,500 tools available for loan, as well as books and how-to videos and DVDs”-  perfect for any homeowner or repair first-timer. The tool library is open to area residents of Oakland, Emeryville, and Piedmont on most days excepting Monday and Sunday.

Vinyl records for that original sound. The Vinyl Library in London, England allows its users to borrow from an “eclectic mix of donated records.” The whole aim of The Vinyl Library is to provide an inviting space where people can share music and their love for music face to face.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Another unusual lending library can be found at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. This college art museum allows its patrons (students and professors alike) to rent out one to two famous pieces of art each semester. Students and professors pay a nominal fee of $5.00 in order to host amazing pieces of art within their own residences. It’s reported that this program is a response to the gallery’s lack of space and has run successfully for over 60 years.

And of course, seed libraries and Little Free Libraries: Two lending libraries that have been hot on the radar lately are the much regaled seed libraries and little free libraries. Seed libraries have been popping up in many public libraries and allow patrons to share and exchange a variety of flower and plant seeds. You never know what you will find at a seed library- perhaps your next heirloom jewel. Little Free Libraries, a community movement in large part, work on the principle that users can borrow a book while giving a book. This allows little free libraries to constantly provide different and varied reading opportunities to its users.

What are some innovative lending libraries that you have come across? Help build this list by commenting down below.

  9 comments for “They Lend What??? The Magical World of Unique Lending Libraries

  1. Sudha
    February 11, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    A school library in New York that I run circulates board games to students.

  2. Dev
    February 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    I love the circulating dog! I would love to see the MARC record there… (Hmmm… I wonder if he can be ILLed? ;) )

  3. February 9, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Several nearby public libraries (like Staunton City and Augusta Co., VA) lend tickets to local sites like plays at American Shakespeare Center and admission to the Frontier Culture Museum. I love that they offer that service!

  4. December 30, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    You can find a map of lending libraries (especially tool libraries) at:

    and there is a nice cloud based platform that makes it easy to manage them (Toronto and about 50 others are using it):

  5. Ramona Romandia
    October 2, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    We at the John Steinbeck Branch of Salinas Public Library in California have a Toy Lending Library. The Willow Glen Branch of the San Jose Public Library had a collection of Stuffed Animals they loaned out, but I believe it has gone by the wayside after the branch was rebuilt.

  6. Kelly
    September 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Kanga Mamas (a baby wearing group in Rhode Island) has a lending library of carriers for members. This enables people to try different types and brands before purchasing their own.

    • Sandra
      September 29, 2013 at 10:43 am

      What a great idea for new parents! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Gabrielle Gaedecke
    September 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    The Toronto Tool Library (TTL) is Toronto’s first community space that specializes in loaning electrical and hand tools to both experienced and inexperienced community members who are interested in repair, maintenance and building projects.

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