February 17, 2018

The Latest Public Library Loan? Electricity Meters

Spurred by concerns about conservation and cost, public utilities across the country have begun to partner with libraries, enabling loans of portable Kill A Watt electricity meters, which can be used to gauge home power usage.

Once home, a patron plugs the meter into the wall, plugs an appliance into the meter, and enters electricity rate information. The meter then shows how much power the appliance uses and how much that power costs.
Such initiatives have been underway in several library systems over the past year or so, including the Boston Public Library (BPL) (announced in June 2009), where the initiative is a partnership with the city and the power company, and the SPL (announced in May 2010), a partnership with the local power company.

Broad interest nationally


The meters are a huge hit in some libraries: at the Seattle Public Library (SPL), there are currently 660 holds on 100 meters, according to the SPL’s online catalog.

A program instituted by the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) in Atlanta began in August 2009, funded with a one-time grant through a state agency, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (now called the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority). “Ours was definitely not the first,” GPLS Communications Director David Baker told LJ, adding that at the time there had already been smaller programs in Illinois, Maine, and New Hampshire.

The latest libraries to embrace the trend, according to an article on the San Jose Mercury News site last week, are in Santa Clara County, CA, including branches of the San Jose Public Library and those in other jurisdictions. That initiative involves Silicon Valley Energy Watch, a partnership including the city of San Jose and Pacific Gas & Electric.

Popular for now

In Seattle, where the initiative is fully funded by public utility Seattle City Light, the meters have been a hit with patrons. According to SPL spokesperson Caroline Ullmann, the library system doubled its supply of meters for loan from 50 to 100 in the past three months in order to keep up with demand. (The Kill A Watt model 4400 available in Seattle currently retails in the $20 range.)

The Kill A Watt meters appear to be popular in Santa Clara County, as well. According to the Santa Clara County Library’s online catalog, there are currently 96 Kill A Watt EZ Meters available for loan—with 179 holds. (The Kill A Watt model 4460 available in Santa Clara currently retails in the $30 range.)

Whether patrons’ enthusiasm will last once the novelty wears off remains to be seen. At BPL, for example, where the meters have been available for more than a year, only one of the 48 meters in BPL’s catalog is currently checked out.

Loaning the unusual

These initiatives are examples of how non-media items can fit into a library’s circulation system.

The Berkeley Public Library, CA, for example, has a Tool Lending Library, the Richmond Public Library, CA, has a seed-lending library, the Iowa City Public Library loans art, and there are several libraries in Rhode Island that loan fishing gear.

(Update: The trend continues. On August 18, the Jefferson County Public Library, Lakewood, CO, announced that it was making 20 Power Check electricity meters available for checkout, supplied by power company Xcel Energy. Power Check meters were also made available at the Grand Forks Public Library, ND, in June.)

David Rapp About David Rapp

David Rapp (drapp@mediasourceinc.com) was formerly Associate Editor, LJ.

Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.