University Heights Tool Library knows the drill

Library features over 2,500 different tools on loan, community engagement initiatives for students

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Your next DIY project doesn’t have to break the bank. The University Heights Tool Library can help save students money on everything from cordless drills to handsaws.

 The library, located near South Campus, is a non-profit program dedicated to helping University Heights and Buffalo community members. The library has over 2,500 tools on loan, from automotive and bike tools to garden and plumbing tools. The library also spearheads community engagement efforts such as tree planting and urban decay improvement initiatives. 

 A membership at the tool library costs as low as $20 per year with the “Tool Belt” membership, which allows members to borrow up to five tools at a time. Other memberships include the $50 per year “Tool Box” and $100 per year two-user “Wheelbarrow” package, which allow members to take out up to 25 and 50 tools at a time, respectively.

Darren Cotton, founder of the University Heights Tool Library, said he started the library in 2011 after realizing a need for tools in the neighborhood. There are over 1,000 members and at least 15 volunteer staff members at the tool library, according to Cotton.

Cotton, a ‘12 alum, said he doesn’t want class to be a barrier to people and it’s something the Tool Library wants to always keep in mind.

“Our membership is super affordable. So if someone’s borrowing a drill or a sander, the cost of that tool alone is already making up the money you spent on the membership,” Cotton said. “Even with the $100 membership, if you take out a trap saw, which is typically around $150, you’ve already made a good investment. So especially for students who want to be a bit more handy and want to do jobs around their apartment or house, it’s really a great low cost way to do that.”

Aside from checking out tools, students can also get involved through a number of services the tool library offers in the community.

The library administers ReTree the District days, where volunteers have already planted over 1,000 trees in Buffalo. Additionally, volunteers have also helped restore areas on Buffalo’s East Side through art initiatives and revitalization efforts. 

“It’s obviously great to have a storefront where people can come to have access to the tools they need, but the bigger picture was always more about empowering the community through some of these things,” Cotton said.

“I think the tool library is a really great catalyst to show that you don’t have to have a million dollars to have an impact in the community, sometimes it’s just about bringing a small group of dedicated people together.”

 A number of University Heights residents and members of the library appreciate the library’s ability to save them money and engage residents with the community at-large.

Charlotte Hsu, news content manager for UB Communications, is on the library’s board of directors.

Hsu, who owns a home near South Campus, said the library’s tools helped her save money over the years on household projects such as painting stairs, stenciling walls, fixing broken thresholds and assembling furniture.

For Hsu, she said one of the essential features of the library is its environmental contributions.

“Reducing my impact on the planet is a value that guides much of my decision-making in my personal life,” Hsu said. 

“The tool library is an awesome resource because it enables the community to share things like a power drill or wheelbarrow that you might not use on a daily or even weekly or monthly basis. This cuts down our collective carbon footprint. It also helps to reduce clutter, so you don't have a bunch of unused tools sitting around your garage or basement.”

Mickey Vertino is the president of the University Heights Collaborative. Vertino said from community garden efforts to tree planting, he’s impressed by the overall sense of community the Library has brought to the Heights.

Matt Straub, a senior architecture student, has been a tool library member and volunteer since his freshman year. He said anyone looking into joining the library can stop by and find out if they can use tools on their project or use the library’s CoLab event space.

“We can always use more help keeping the shop open for our members,” Straub said. “I think the shop has been useful for my roommates and I when we need to hang stuff on our walls, build more furniture, or trim an out-of-control hedge blocking our sidewalk. At [as low as] $20 per year, it's hard to beat.”

 The University Heights Tool Library, located at 5 West Northrup Place, is open from Tuesday to Friday, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Benjamin Blanchet is a senior features editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.comand @BenjaminUBSpec.