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Many public libraries offer a collection of non-traditional items to check out called a “Library of Things,” ranging from musical instruments to board games to seed packets. One of the things that I love about the Library of Things is that from library to library no two are the same, as they are unique reflections of the communities they serve. At the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, we started planning our Library of Things (LOT) in 2021. Thinking about how this collection could take shape and the ways that it could benefit the community brought us real joy during some dark pandemic months.

Our library’s mission is to inspire lifelong learning, and what better way to do this than to provide an innovative collection to engage and delight customers and attract new customers to the library as well? We also appreciated how this shared collection would encourage sustainability and provide access to items that customers may not be able to or want to purchase.

There seemed to be endless possibilities to explore, but we realized quickly that we would need to identify the scope of this first phase of the LOT because it could grow unwieldy if it wasn’t contained. We brainstormed pages of ideas and had lively discussions about the areas of interest in the community and also what we thought would be feasible to start out with given conditions during the pandemic. Some items, such as musical instruments, seemed very challenging to maintain (we had visions of broken strings and staff trying to keep all those ukuleles in tune circulating between 10 branches). Others, such as home exercise equipment, seemed like a good idea for a time after COVID improved.

In the end, we settled on four categories for the first phase of the Library of Things:

  1. Outdoor games so customers could try out and enjoy games such as Badminton, Bocce, Croquet, Kanjam, Pickle ball, Spike ball, Ring toss, and Yard Dice (unexpectedly popular!).
  2. Energy-saving & environmental devices to help customers identify leaks and measure air quality and electricity usage. Many of these items are used only occasionally, so are excellent candidates for a shared collection.
  3. Early literacy packs to support Grow a Reader principles like “Reading,” “Singing,” and “Writing.” These packs were the result of a collaboration between Collection Services and Youth Services staff and feature books, interactive activities, and a guide for the parent or caregiver to use with the child.
  4. Craft Kits to introduce adults to a new hobby, such as cardmaking/stamping, crochet, embroidery, knitting, watercolor painting, and woodburning. These have a book and tools that need to be returned and consumable supplies that are used as part of the learning process. (Launching in January 2023)
Some of the outdoor game kits available via the Library of Things

As soon as the Library of Things launched in early 2022, it was immediately very popular. While there were no items on shelves in the branches for months due to high demand, creative signage with QR codes advertised the collection so customers could learn about and reserve items. Many customers expressed appreciation for the ability to try out games like Spikeball, Jazzminton, and Croquet to see if they liked them before purchasing, or just to have fun with a new activity.

We are poised to start circulating craft kits in January 2023. One unique aspect of these kits is their creation involved staff with craft expertise from all departments in the library, who came together in a subcommittee to select items and develop how-to guides. We are excited to see how these will be received in the community since craft programs and books are very popular.

Some of the craft kits available via the Library of Things

What’s next?

We have several things planned for the next phase of the Library of Things at CRRL. Building on the success of the Grow a Reader packs, we will be launching developing literacy packs themed around Bob Books, complemented by additional books and activities.

There is strong interest in expanding the LOT to include hand and gardening tools. We would also love to expand the environmental and energy offerings since those are so practical and popular.

And after that…who knows? We are open to community and staff input, and the sky’s the limit with where this collection can go. Maybe we will even figure out how to keep all those ukuleles in tune after all.

–Adriana Puckett, Collection and Customer Services Coordinator, Central Rappahannock Regional Library

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