The Library of Things

GoPro Camera_SmallHow’d you like to go to your local library and check out a GoPro camera, a sewing machine, or an acoustic guitar? If you’re in Sacramento you can, at the Arcade Library’s Library of Things. In addition to being a great tool for building community, it’s also a fantastic way to efficiently use resources through sharing objects that might otherwise be purchase by multiple people who barely use them, which is just up Stuff You Don’t Want’s alley. Branch supervisor Justin Azevedo was kind enough to answer a few questions about this new venture.

1. What prompted you to open a Library of Things?

The Library of Things was funded by a project called Library Unexpected which sought to challenge people’s perceptions of what a library is and what it can do for them.

2. Has it brought in a new constituency into the library?

Guitar_smallYes. One of the first people to check out one of the guitars was a homeless man who wanted to use it to have jam sessions with friends that got together in a nearby lot to play during the evenings. He worked with us to ensure that he could keep the instrument here while it was checked out to him so it wouldn’t get damaged or stolen.

The board games have also brought in new patrons. A large number of the people who check them out introduce them to friends and family members in order to encourage further gaming together. I make it a point to ask the patrons what they thought of each game as they check them in, partly to check for missing pieces but mostly because I love games myself and want to hear their feedback so we can serve them better.

3. How did you determine which items to offer initially? Which have proven to be the most popular?

Sewing machine_smallerThe items in the Library of Things were 100% patron-selected. We polled the public for suggestions and built the collection based on that feedback.

One of the key staff members affiliated with the project was very interested in sewing machines, while another staff member and I had a particular interest in video and board games, so our input had some influence. Overall, though, the patrons of Sacramento chose the items that began the collection.

The sewing machines and the GoPro cameras are two of the most popular items in the library.

4. Now that it’s been open almost a year, what’s been most surprising about the process?

Board games 1_smallThe program was implemented at one of our more visible and highly frequented branches, which serves a socioeconomically mixed area and is close to a number of schools. Anyone in Sacramento can place a hold on the items, but they have to go to that library to pick them up and return them.

By doing this, we’ve made it into a destination library. Now patrons from other parts of the county can discover some of the other unique services we have, such as our 3D printing lab and makerspace, when they check out items.

5. Would you encourage other libraries, like those in Los Angeles, to start a similar program? Any specific tips you could offer?

Yes. There are few other libraries who offer a similar services already.

We based the general idea of the Library of Things on similar collections that other libraries have offered, such as tool libraries and rentable musical instrument libraries. We also have a history of loaning nontraditional items here at Sacramento Public Library, including a seed library, multiple read-and-feed gardens, and a collection that includes museum passes, art kits, and electricity usage meters.

6. Any final thoughts?

Libraries will always be about equitable access to information for self-directed, lifelong learning, whether the medium is a book, the Internet, or something else. The Library of Things is simply an extension of that idea.

For example, all libraries carry books on sewing patterns and how to use a sewing machine, and many offer programs for local crafters in the community to come together and share knowledge. We also happen to offer the actual machine so for hands-on practice.



  1. Sheila Rosenthal says:

    Have you heard of any other libraries that have decided to do what Sacramento did?

  2. Allison Olsson says:

    Any ideas what to do with clothing / cloth that is worn out, other than landfill?

    • stuffyou says:

      Generally places like Goodwill bundle up worn clothes and send them overseas, although this is starting to change and the market is drying up for them. That’s why it’s always worth buying better quality clothes that last longer.

  3. stuffyou says:

    Nope, but I hope more places do it!

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