July 24, 2014

Toronto’s Kitchen Library Brings Appliances to All

Patrons have long been able to borrow a cookbook from the library. In some places, they can even borrow a cake pan to go with it. But what if that cookbook calls for a pasta maker, food dehydrator, yogurt maker, or other specialized kitchen equipment they don’t already possess? Now, if they’re in in Toronto, they’re in luck, since the city is home to The Kitchen Library, a new non-profit kitchen tool lending library. For a $50 (Canadian) annual fee, members can borrow space-taking and often expensive kitchen appliances for three to five days. The Library, which opened October 15, is currently open 20 hours four days a week, including weekends. At present, the collection includes about 40 items.

The Kitchen Library was founded by Dayna Boyer, who also works full time as the senior web and copy editor in the communications department of Toronto’s George Brown College. Boyer got the idea for the project from the Toronto Tool Library (TTL), whose 1,900 square-foot East End branch also houses The Kitchen Library. The TTL, which launched in March 2013 and is run by the local non-profit Institute for a Resource-Based Economy (IRBE), has a collection of close to 2,000 hand and power tools, enabling its 300+ members to do everything from yard work to plumbing. According to Ryan Dyment, Executive Director of the IRBE and a TTL co-founder, the TTL was inspired by similar initiatives, especially the Tool Lending Library, which has been part of California’s Berkeley Public Library system since 1979.

A TTL volunteer, Boyer was helping the organization with its website and social media efforts when it occurred to the cooking and baking enthusiast that a similar program for kitchen items would be great for “for big-city living, where people tend not to have a lot of space.” In August, Boyer presented her idea to Dyment, who was enthusiastic, and, said Boyer, “He immediately offered The Kitchen Library space in the new branch of the TTL,” which was due to open in October. (At both TTL branches, volunteers renovated the space and the tool library pays a reduced rent—$2,000 a month at the East End branch. The Kitchen Library does not pay rent; instead, said Dyment, “The TTL takes a percentage of its membership fees.”)

Boyer spread the word about The Kitchen Library, and donations from members of the community and her own immediate circle “filled my living room pretty quickly,” Boyer said. Appliances continue to come in, and “Now I’ve got a lot of ice cream makers!”

Kitchen Library by Corbin Smith Toronto’s Kitchen Library Brings Appliances to All

The Kitchen Library’s collection, stored at the Toronto Tool Library. Photo by Corbin Smith.

Currently The Kitchen Library has about 20 members, some of whom are also members of the TTL; Boyer hopes membership will increase to about 100 by the end of the year. The fledgling Kitchen Library has five part-time volunteer staffers and a three-member Board, which Boyer predicts will also grow within the next few months.

The Kitchen Library’s collection is “rolled into the TTL’s inventory management system,” so members can check out appliances from any of the on-site staff or volunteers. “Every item is given a four-digit code and entered manually into our system,” Boyer explained. “We use a program called Local Tools to organize all of this information—membership, inventory, et cetera—in one place.” Local Tools, from Seattle-based online rental/management software and technology provider myTurn, is a web-based library management system.

Nuts and Bolts

While Boyer would love to see the inventory expand, she plans to limit the collection to small-to-medium-sized appliances, to ensure the Library’s collection remains accessible to space- and cash-strapped urbanities: “The biggest pieces of equipment we have are the countertop roaster, and the KitchenAid stand mixer. All of the items can be carried by just one person, and we’re pretty close to public transport. We don’t want anything that will require anyone to rent a vehicle,” she said.

As the collection grows, Boyer hopes that The Kitchen Library’s size itself might increase: “In our current location, space is pretty maxed out. Within in the next year or two, I’d love to have my own space, with room for classes and workshops in the back—800 square feet, and maybe 500 appliances.”

In the meantime, and despite its limited space, the Kitchen Library is still looking for donations, including but not limited to juicers, food processors, meat grinders, vacuum sealers, and knife sharpeners. The library is also looking for volunteers to work at the front desk, in donation management, or as a cleaning specialist, marketing coordinator, or event/workshop coordinator.

Cooking … and Cleaning

In keeping with the Kitchen Library’s DIY aesthetic (and its limited budget, currently financed by Boyer), “We encourage people to return clean equipment, and we meticulously hand wash and dry everything after it’s been returned.” Because the inventory is donated, “We can’t guarantee the appliances haven’t been in touch with peanuts,” or other allergens, but “we hope to get more industrial-style cleaning equipment,” such as a sanitizing dishwasher, soon. And Boyer hopes that eventually the Library will be able to duplicate popular items, and designate certain appliances solely for vegetarian or vegan food preparation.

From library to library

The Kitchen Library is not affiliated with the Toronto Public Library, but that doesn’t mean the institutions might not find ways to work together in future. When asked about The Kitchen Library, Toronto Public Library City Librarian Jane Pyper commented, “We’re interested in knowing about local initiatives and open to looking at ways of supporting them,” adding that unlike many independent lending organizations, the Toronto Public Library does not charge a membership fee, and also loans objects that go beyond traditional (or digital) materials.

“At Toronto Public Library, we also loan laptops, pedometers, and passes to museums and cultural organizations around the city,” Pyper went on. “We’re going to be introducing digital innovation hubs, spaces where people can innovate, design and create digital media or use a 3-D printer. The hubs are similar to initiatives like the [Toronto] Tool Library, in that people can book the equipment for use in the library. These are all ways of increasing access to information that align well with our mandate.”

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