You can now borrow surfboards, saucepans and spanners at the library

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Imagine you are down at the beach for that once a year holiday. There’s a great ocean swell, and you feel like going for a surf, but you’ve left your surfboard at home.

What do you do? If you’re visiting Victoria’s South Gippsland coast you could always duck into a local library – yes, a library – and borrow a surfboard.

Fresh off the shelves: Locals Jo O’Reilly Stubbs (left) and Hanna Lofgren check out surfboards at Inverloch library, with staff member Sarah Cantwell looking on.Credit: Joe Armao

Smashing the idea that they’re simply temples of books, our libraries are catching the wave of the “library of things” movement.

As well as novels like Pride and Prejudice or The Shining, if you surf your local branch’s catalogue these days you might find the free use of sewing machines, virtual reality goggles or even frisbees.

Jane Cowell, president of the Australian Library and Information Association, said borrowing or sharing rather than buying items made sense as patrons embraced sustainability.

Cowell, who is also the chief executive of Yarra Plenty Regional Library, in Melbourne’s north-east, said the library’s Thomastown branch lends out sewing machines to take home. Its Lalor library has a popular toy library, offering everything from puzzles to dolls and toy cars.

Elsewhere, City of Melbourne libraries lend patrons synthesisers, gaming kits and equipment for podcasting.

Geelong Regional Libraries lend mobile scanners that allow you to digitise precious family photos.

Cowell said many libraries now have “makerspaces” for people to create things on site, some boasting 3D printers which can be used to make a screw or spare parts, or even create figurines.

Leanne Williams is chief executive of the Myli – My Community Library network which manages 18 libraries east of Melbourne. She said the surfboards, stored at Wonthaggi, Inverloch and San Remo libraries, are often used by holidaymakers seeking to “try before they buy”, or who don’t want to buy a board if they surf once a year.

Surf’s up: Inverloch Library staff member Sarah Cantwell (right) and Mirjam White, holding a surfboard, with Henry, 5.Credit: Joe Armao

Inverloch library also offers stand-up paddleboards for loan.

Soon to be added to Myli’s catalogue of non-literary things will be cooking packs including baking trays and cake tins.

Myli’s Pakenham library recently started lending sports equipment. “There are families who can’t afford to buy soccer balls and netballs,” Williams said.

“So they can come and borrow them at the library, take the family out to the park and use those things at no cost.”

Libraries of things

  • Thomastown: Sewing machines
  • City of Melbourne: Synthesisers, gaming kits, podcasting equipment
  • Geelong: Mobile scanners for digitising photos
  • Wonthaggi, Inverloch and San Remo: Surfboards
  • Inverloch: Stand-up paddleboards
  • Pakenham: Sporting equipment

Angela Savage, head of Public Libraries Victoria, said many libraries lend home energy efficiency audit kits that help residents reduce bills and help the environment. Portable induction cooktops can be borrowed to help people decide whether to transition, say, from gas to induction cooking.

Seed libraries that help you grow fruit, vegies and other plants – and to donate seeds – have also sprung up at many public libraries. Outside government-run libraries, community-run “libraries of things” have also taken off.

Preethi Subramaniam, president of the non-profit, volunteer-run Brunswick Tool Library, said many users are renters who can’t afford to buy tools – some of which cost over $1000 – or don’t have the space at home to store them.

Other people want to reduce waste. The aims of the Brunswick Tool Library, which charges an annual membership, include reducing needless consumerism and sharing resources. Over the past week, 113 members borrowed 358 tools from the library.

Karen Elsbury, founder of Elwood Kitchen Library, is proud her volunteer-run group has saved over half a tonne of kitchen items from landfill in almost two years, operating out of the Elwood St Kilda Neighbourhood Learning Centre.

The library’s 10 party packs with reusable cups, plates and cutlery, are in constant demand, with users making an environmental difference. “It’s all around reducing the use of single use disposable items,” Elsbury said.

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