Saving cash — and reducing waste — by heading to the library
Hoping to check out single-use goods, seasonal tools, one-time experiences, or new hobbies? Your local library may have you covered.
The Tool Library at Brookline Public Library’s Coolidge Corner branch.
By Gracie Warda, Globe correspondent

Ahead of a weekend camping trip, Jacob Brier bought a tent for his family. Afterward, it was tossed into the back of a closet, forgotten after its one-time use, just like the finished-but-not-framed puzzles on the top shelf. Several years later, Brier was reminded of the now-dust-ridden dwelling when he saw a tent available to borrow — for free, with a swipe of his library card — at his local library in Barrington, R.I.

The Barrington Public Library is one of many libraries nationwide that have collections — called Libraries of Things, Tool Libraries, Technology Borrowing, and the like — where members can check out items other than books. Since each item is available on loan, the selection often veers toward one-time or temporary-use products. Offerings range from palm-grip sanders, bow saws, and ladders from the Tool Library at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner branch to a Nintendo Switch set and a metal detector at Ipswich Public Library’s Library of Things.

Some seasonal items have even accrued waiting lists of holds, rivaling those of a buzzy, new work of fiction — at the time of publication, 18 borrowers await a power washer with garden hose adapter at Watertown Free Public Library, while a Little Tikes Jump ’n Slide bouncer has seven patrons in line at Waltham Public Library. A Bissell carpet cleaner at Watertown has 23.

Looking for a locale to utilize your newly borrowed bird-watching kit or a hiking pack? “We have a pass for the Massachusetts State Parks, and it's a two-week borrowing timeframe,’’ Amanda Hirst, the director of libraries for the Brookline Public Library, said. (An annual pass is currently $60 for Massachusetts residents.)

The concept is not new, but the offerings vary from library to library and are in constant flux. Somerville Public Library's Kerry O’Donnell said that a Library of Things is typically stocked using library funds, but sometimes they accept item donations from patrons.

Brier said he now turns to his library for new puzzles to satiate his family’s near-nightly tradition, and in turn, has donated ones they’ve completed. Board games have a similar limited-use appeal, with novelty and classic titles making their way to libraries’ stock — for example, Somerville Public Library’s range features Taco Cat, Dixit, and Settlers of Catan, plus an extension pack.

“It’s not necessarily that you couldn’t buy whatever it is that you want to use, but [this approach is] reducing consumerism,’’ Brier said. “It’s a perfectly good thing for a community to share amongst themselves, and the library is a great facilitator of that.’’

Suzanne Hall, the Leicester Public Library director, believes that reducing and reusing are habits just as important to the environment as recycling. She explained that loaning out single- and limited-use items means they are getting more use before ending up in landfills, and fewer items are being purchased and produced.

“As a community, we can co-own those things,’’ Hall said.

Hall, a patron of Charlton Public Library, once borrowed a kilowatt meter to measure how much electricity was being wasted by appliances that were “off’’ or in sleep mode in her home. Using what she learned, Hall said she was able to shave down her electric bill by unplugging offending appliances.

If she had purchased the kilowatt meter, which can cost roughly $30 when new: “It’s more plastic in the world and something else I have to store in my house,’’ she said. “I support my town library with the property taxes I pay,’’ she said. “[Borrowing] doesn’t cost me anything extra.’’

Hall also noted the benefit of a “try-before-you-buy’’ approach. After a successful trial run with an air fryer from her Library of Things, she purchased one for keeps.

Gracie Warda is a senior at Emerson College studying journalism.