Surrounded by shelves of books on the main floor of the Salem Public Library, a humble metal shelf hosts the first results of a years-long project, among them ukuleles, laptops and a laser leveler.
Just like a book, they can be checked out by patrons.
Bridget Esqueda, who leads the “library of things” project, browsed the hanging clear plastic bags full of one popular checkout: molded cake pans. She pulled out one in the shape of a skull
“Sometimes, I mean, how often are you going to buy a skeleton, other than like, Halloween?” she said.
Same story with another pan in a wreath shape for the holidays.
“A lot of the purpose of the library of things is to provide something for people to either use it once to see how they like it, kind of try it out, or maybe they can’t afford it,” she said.
Library employees are working to process shelves full of new purchases, buy more items and launch an improved website in the weeks to come.
In 2020, the Salem Public Library Foundation received a $43,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Quality’s “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink!” grant program for the project.
The original deadline to spend the funding was 2021, Esqueda said, but that deadline has been extended twice due to the pandemic. The library has until May to spend the remainder – about $20,000.
There’s only one staff member who processes the new items to prepare them for checkout, Esqueda said. On March 1, some items being processed were GoPros, Nintendo Switches and woodworking tools.
In 2020, the library surveyed members about the kinds of items they’d be interested in checking out, and are still using those answers to guide purchases.
“We found that a lot of the things that were on there are things that, pretty much, are very popular and still trending now,” she said.
In addition to the initial survey, members who check out items are prompted to submit suggestions for new purchases, and the library makes note of items people frequently inquire about.
More recent suggestions prompted Esqueda to buy calculators for upcoming SAT exams, and magnifying tools for readers.
In a downstairs room labeled “Staff only,” two large shelves and a table hold items awaiting processing. That included inflatable kayaks, a 10×10 tent, a robot to help kids learn to code, a knitting machine and more.
Esqueda said she was looking forward to checking out some of the board games on a top shelf, which included “Risk,” “What Do You Meme,” and “Taboo.”
She shuffled some objects on a middle shelf around to reveal cooking equipment.
“Also, like, I don’t own a panini press – but maybe I can try it out and see if I would like one,” she said.
Many of the items revolve around adventurous recipes, like a fruit extractor for mulled wine or juicing, and an alternative milk maker for oat or almond milk. The latter is large enough that the library is trying to figure out what container to use for checking it out.
Anyone who checks out an item is asked to sign a waiver, with the understanding that if they hurt themselves with things like a butane burner or power tool, they are responsible.
Some highly-requested items are too dangerous for the library to take a chance on, though, like a tiller.
“That one was a little bit too, ‘red flag,’” Esqueda said, between figuring out packaging, keeping it clean and user safety. “It’s all blades at the bottom.”
Esqueda said that they try to buy at least two of everything, assuming that the items bought with grant funding won’t last forever. The items are free to check out with a library card, but users will be asked to pay for unreasonable damage or lost items.
Esqueda said the library is preparing to advertise the collection more once it polishes up the web page and improves the display. In that time, they’ll continue to process items and make them available to check out.
Of the items already available she said the most popular are the ukulele, followed by a sewing kit and a scanner that makes digital copies of film. To view available items, visit the library catalog.
Esqueda’s next planned purchases include a radon detector to test home air quality, and more musical instruments. She said residents can email suggestions for other items to [email protected].
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.