When Ben Franklin started his library, books were unusual items that many people could not afford. Lending objects, the Ann Arbor District Library feels, is an appropriate extension of the library’s mission, reducing barriers to technology use and promoting creativity.
Circulating objects include:
- Games -Ping-Pong table, giant chess board, disc golf.
- Musical instruments-synthesizers, amplifiers, guitar pedals.
- Science tools -telescopes, microscopes, Arduinos, MaKey-Makeys, Finch robots.
- Learning kits (come with books & objects)- dinosaur fossils (replicas), colors, anatomy.
- Art tools - sewing machines, spinning wheels, die cutters, input tablets.
- Home tools- air quality meters, thermal camera, solar power pack.
They started small with art prints (used by art teachers in the classroom) and power meters. Each object is cataloged with instructions (text and video) right in the catalog. They are checked out in sturdy cases such as the ones made by Gator and Pelican. The current budget for objects is $100,000 and comes out of general funds. A synthesizer is the most expensive object ($1000) - but most are $100-200. Staff is trained in small repairs.
Tips for circulating objects:
- Find community partners. Ann Arbor partnered with the college astronomy group, a sewing group, etc. They can teach classes and troubleshoot technical issues.
- Publicize collection by creating a “demo” area with rotating items.
- Create buzz with programs that pair with objects. -Ann Arbor had a Mini-Moog music festival and a telescope party at the Science Museum.
The most popular items are the Theremin, the spinning wheel and the telescopes. Circulating objects has brought in patrons who don’t use the library as much, such as musicians and twenty-somethings. One patron made an album solely with musical instruments checked out from the library.
Principles for choosing items::
- Check out is 7 days, so they should be appropriate for short term use.
- Fill an infrequent need- tools such as hammers and saws are used too often.
- Should be more expensive than most patrons want to purchase, but they would use.
- Evaluate risk - Ann Arbor doesn’t circulate power tools.
- Get feedback from the community on items they would like -start a conversation on social media.
- Research objects before you buy.
Plans for the future: more kits for the classroom and summer day camps, more DIY kits, a 3-D printer.