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07.23.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Gabe Meline
Sharp Dustin Zuckerman's library is one of 200 in the U.S.

Free Tools

Like a good neighbor, the Santa Rosa Tool Lending Library is there

By Gabe Meline


Six years ago, Dustin Zuckerman was working a routine landscape job. The client wanted a stone pathway that required a tool called a tamper, and, not owning one, Zuckerman went to the hardware store with a familiar quandary. "It was about $35 for a tool that I was going to use once," he says, sitting at his kitchen table. "So I went online to see if anyone loans tools, and I ran into the Oakland Tool Library and the Berkeley Tool Library. And I said, 'This just makes too much sense.'"

Zuckerman, 37, who has worked in book libraries for eight years but calls reading "not my favorite thing to do," has founded the Santa Rosa Tool Lending Library, and in the past two months alone, with only word-of-mouth directing people to the library, he has loaned out tools from his shed to over 50 patrons.

The idea is simple: Just like a book-lending library, patrons can check out tools at Zuckerman's library for an agreed-upon length of time. When they're done, they return it. If a tool is returned late or damaged, a fee will be charged, but otherwise the library is completely free.

So far, community support has been unanimous in the form of donations—cash, tools and services—and Zuckerman currently has his mind set on filing official nonprofit status and expanding the library to serve the community at large. As anyone in need of a $35 tool that they'll use just once can attest, his efforts could result in one of the greatest things to happen to Sonoma County.

There are only about 20 tool libraries in the United States, and many of them are electric-tool-only libraries operated by utility companies. Using Oakland, West Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., and Columbus, Ohio, as models, Zuckerman, even in the library's infancy stage, has amassed an inventory of over 200 tools. He also has received supportive offers of free legal help, free tool audit and maintenance and free advisory services from plumbers and construction workers.

Aside from covering costs—the largest being insurance—making money seems to be the last thing on Zuckerman's mind. This is in stark contrast to his Beverly Hills upbringing in the family pawnbroking business. Tools at the family pawn shop were always coming and going, but the practice didn't align with Zuckerman's vision. "Everyone's wheeling and dealing," he says, "and you have to be clever. This is in some ways a reaction to that. It's very simple and honest."

After setting out on a bicycle trip in 1998 from Eugene to Los Angeles ("I was pulling a Forrest Gump," he says), Zuckerman stopped off in downtown Santa Rosa where he was offered a job, on the spot, at Sawyer's News. Since then, he's worked at both the Sonoma County Library and the SRJC Library. Between his pawnbroking knowledge and his library experience, there's no reason to predict his tool-lending library will be anything but wildly successful.

More than anything, Zuckerman loves offering people the ability to perform their own tasks, such as changing their own oil or unclogging their plumbing line, both of which, he says without hesitation, are within anyone's grasp. "There's just something so grounding about self-sustainability and self-reliance, especially when you're always depending on people," he says. "To be able to do anything on your own—even something as simple as unscrewing something—is pretty empowering."

The library's most popular tools right now are the power washer and the rototiller, although the tree pruner and high-pole saw are commonly requested as well. So far, no one has stolen a tool from the library or returned a tool late. Area hardware stores, in fact, have lent their support to the concept, operating under the notion that greater accessibility to home improvement is always good for business.

In fact, there's only one person against the tool library. "My dad!" Zuckerman jokes. "My dad does not get this at all, 'cause my dad's a money man."

But when the library passes its development stage and starts expanding to serve the community, Zuckerman's dad will have every reason to come around. "I told him that under 'Founder,' even if I have nothing to do with the library anymore, it will always say 'Dustin Zuckerman,' and this will be my legacy to the community. And when he heard that—'legacy'—he was OK, and started to get it."


The Santa Rosa Tool Lending Library is online, with inventory, instructional videos and checkout procedures, at www.borrowtools.org.


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