Like many renters, Milagros Buschfrers had a problem: the branches of a tree near her house kept hitting her building during windy days.
And also like many renters, Buschfrers struggled to get her landlord to fix the issue.
Her solution? A visit to The Tool Library.
Located just 10 minutes from South Campus on West Northrup, The Tool Library allows members to borrow a variety of tools for $30 a year, providing community members (UB students included) with access to tools they’d otherwise not be able to afford.
“It’s great because there’s so many broke college students around here who just want to fix up their apartment,” Buschfrers, a senior civil engineering major and Tool Library volunteer, said. “I just got a pull saw, cut them [the branches] off… and fix[ed] the problem in one day.”
UB alum Darren Cotton struggled with a similar problem. He noticed the many unaddressed “odd jobs” there were at his University Heights apartment, jobs that he felt comfortable working on but didn’t have the tools for.
As a then-urban planning student, he was interested in urban issues like “blight, abandonment and affordable housing” that affected much of Buffalo. Finding inspiration in tool libraries around the country, he realized he had found a tangible way to address some of these issues in his community and founded his own in 2011.
One thousand one hundred seventy active members and over 4,500 tools later, The Tool Library is now a vital part of the University Heights community.
Neighborhood residents — including homeowners, renters, gardeners, hobbyists and college students — come together at the library to share resources, swap knowledge and discuss their latest projects, according to Lissa Rhodes, Operations Manager at The Tool Library. She describes the library not as a single community, but as “10 communities all coming together in the same place for different reasons.”
The organization is run entirely by volunteers. Some of those volunteers, including Buschfrers, are UB students who enjoy working with tools and are looking to connect with their community.
“I did volunteering in high school — I’ve always been very hands-on, and I wanted to keep that going when it came to the library… back home that looks like fixing bikes,” Rufus Nguyen-McDowell, a senior industrial engineering major, said. “Here, that looks like helping people get the tools they need. I found this place a perfect fit and I reached out, went to a training and was able to come down and be a tool librarian two to three hours a week.”
Volunteering regularly has allowed Nguyen-McDowell and Buschfrers to connect with people in the neighborhood and develop new skills.
“I’ll give a tool out one week and the next week the same person will come in, and I’ll be like ‘How’s the project?’” Buschfrers said. “Sometimes couples will come in who are remodeling their house, so they’ll come in and get a couple of tools every week, and I get to hear about the progress of that. There was one person who was turning a bus into a library, which was really fun to hear.”
Volunteers don’t need a lot of experience in order to participate. Launched during the fall 2022 semester, UB’s new work study program with the library encourages students of all experience levels to participate.
Sara Abdalla, a sophomore architecture major and work-study student, fell in love with the Buffalo community through the program after a tabling event in a local park.
“[It] really gives you a sense of the community and a sense of Buffalo that you don’t really get when you’re only limited to campus,” she said. “The park cleanups, the trip planning… just knowing that it exists and knowing that all this is here is amazing.”
The library also hosts various community events, including the ReTree the District program — which has planted over 1,400 trees since its inception in 2014 — and their monthly Dare to Repair Cafes, where volunteer fixers repair individuals’ broken items for free. One volunteer specializing in video game consoles even fixed Cotton’s Nintendo from 1991.
“They’re from all over the place,” Cotton said of Dare to Repair volunteers. “It's people who enjoy repairing, who are tinkerers, who like taking things apart and putting them back together.”
The event aims to encourage a circular economy, where individuals extend the lives of their broken items instead of throwing them away. Participants are able to watch the fixers repair their items and learn valuable skills on how to problem-solve if they have a similar issue.
Cotton is proud of the library’s impact on the community and hopes to provide a blueprint for others to do the same.
“You’re saving money, you’re learning new skills and to date we’ve diverted more than two tons of usable items from landfills.” Cotton said. “Again, how could every community potentially do this and what would that impact look like?”
Learn more about The Tool Library at thetoollibrary.org.
Jasmin Yeung is a features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org