Tool library keeps ratcheting up interest
Demand may not be high for the 20-foot level recently added to the Mundelein Tool Library's inventory, but like the 1,180 other items available to check out, it's there if you need it.
That's the premise of the all-volunteer organization that operates like a typical library -- offering tools rather than books -- out of an old public works building at 428 N. Chicago Ave. in downtown Mundelein.
There is a voluntary membership fee of $20, but there's no charge to check out items, which typically are due back in a week. The tool library is open from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays.
Since the concept was introduced to Mundelein officials about three years ago, the library has organized as a nonprofit, secured space from the village, and grown beyond expectations in the number of members (about 450) as well as tools and geographic reach.
"We think we're doing a good job," said Van Miller, a retired physical education teacher and founding member.
Miller said he was overwhelmed after visiting three tool lending libraries in Portland, Oregon, and wanted to see if the concept could work in Mundelein.
Things have gone well since the library, said to be the first of its kind in Lake County, opened in June 2021.
In October, the Mundelein village board amended the lease for its space so it will automatically renew every year. It also allowed the organization to expand into the northwest part of the building, where 2,200 square feet is being fitted for a wood shop, with plans for woodworking classes and instruction on the tools.
"We think it's a great public service," Mark Wilson, an associate board member, told village officials while making the pitch.
"Tool libraries are an innovative development and are being recognized around the country as a novel, interesting, exciting way to engage in the sharing economy, as it's been labeled, and it can put Mundelein on the map as an innovative community," he added.
The tool library's geographic footprint has expanded since opening for Mundelein residents only. Membership was extended to neighboring communities and, in recent weeks, made available throughout Lake County.
"The more the word gets out, the better," said Pete Duffy, a volunteer and resident expert. He said he came opening day to sharpen some tools, signed up to be a volunteer and "started fixing things."
The allure is that the library has a tool for nearly anything and any season, from typical household chores or projects to hobbies and more specialized needs. Some of the tools are pro- and industry-grade.
The common denominator is the library operates as a community resource for those who don't have space to store tools or for those who prefer not to buy something for a one-time use.
"I saw it one day and was intrigued, so I stopped in," said Gary Berthold, who moved to Mundelein about eight months ago and became a patron.
On a recent Tuesday evening, Berthold needed a tool to dig a hole and drive posts into the ground to secure a large holiday decoration. He also stopped by when his lawn mower broke -- and when he needed a leaf and branch chipper.
"They've saved me a ton of money," Berthold said. "Most of the guys who work here can guide you, and they'll tell you how to do it and what tool to use."
A few minutes later, Viviana Brennan stopped by looking for a tool to shorten a door after having carpet installed. She had driven past the library since moving to town in August and decided to try it.
Duffy suggested a circular saw.
"This one is nice and light," he told Brennan. After checkout, he showed her how to use it.
Volunteers with expertise are in short supply, according to Miller, who had the vision -- but admittedly not the complete expertise -- to develop the library.
"I've learned all the names of tools, but I don't know how to work them," he said.
That will become particularly important as the wood shop is designed and set up. The new offering has been made possible by Joe Brull of Vernon Hills and Tom Sashko of Mundelein, who donated their personal wood shop tools.
The library also has table saws, jointers, disc sanders, band saws, planers and a lathe.
"We've got a lot of stuff in process right now, but we don't have enough people," said Duffy, a former manufacturing manager turned high-end handyman.
"We need more people with tool knowledge," he said.