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Temescal Library thinking outside the tool box

on May 27, 2009

Books?  No, give me a wrench, ask many Oakland residents who use the Temescal Library.

The branch holds 29,000 books, and rents out 4,000 books, CDs and movies a month.  Its Tool Lending Program, started in 2001,  checks out 3,000 tools a month and that number is growing.

“People need this now more than ever,” said Ty Yurgelevic a senior library assistant and tool specialist.

On a recent Saturday morning, a line waiting for tools gathered in the back of the library and looked on as a library assistant switched the sign in the front door from “closed” to “open.”

“Of course I’m tight like everyone else,” said Elaine Forward, an Oakland resident. “I would have to buy these tools otherwise, so this has been good.” Forward now checks out  gardening tools at the library and goes to the hardware store for advice on how to use them.

The library has about 3,000 tools including everything from a wrench to a large drain snake.

Victoria Alvarado opened the back of her sky blue Toyota Highlander to place the saw she  checked out for three days.

“I don’t want to spend money that I could save by borrowing from the library,” said Alvarado who will be taking the tool back home where her son will be helping her with the backyard.

Keith Reese found out about the program six-years ago and hasn’t turned back since. “The rental fees for some of these tools are $50 a day,” said the East Oakland resident. “I have tools at home but I check out the ones here I can’t afford myself.”

Like books, there are late fees—$1 to $20 a day depending on the tool. Just ask Darlene Perdisatt, who paid a few dollars for being one day late. But it was the library’s  5 p.m. closing time, not the fees,  that borrowers complained about most.

“If only they were open a little longer,” said Perdisatt who said about the fees, “It’ a good cause so you don’t feel so bad.”

Perdisatt began using the tool library five years ago when she bought her home in Oakland. “When you are a renter you’re not encouraged to take care of things yourself,” she said.  “I’ve redone my bathroom with so many different little tools. Grout. Scraper. When are you going to tile again?”

The library, Perdisatt said, is changing, evolving and keeping up with the times.

Even the homeless need tools.  Terry Burrell dragged his two Safeway carts close to the library, turned  them on their bellies, and headed into the library.

“Some people say this is trash but it’s treasure to me,” said  Burrell of his occupation picking up discarded plastic and aluminum cans.  “I do this from 4:30 in the morning to 7. While everybody is asleep I’m doing this.”

Burrell walked out of the library with a wrench and began the surgery- switching the wheel on one cart and attaching it to the other.

Done,  he inspected his newly refurbished cart while scratching his salt and pepper beard and then headed out.

Tool lending libraries are ubiquitous in the Bay Area – including San Francisco,  which started lending out tools in 2001 and Berkeley, which began in 1979 – but they are a rarity in the nation.

“It’s an example of how libraries are thinking outside the box,” said Barbara Roberts, president of the California Library Association. “We are no longer just a place for recreation and learning. We are sometimes social service agencies. Libraries are answering the call any way they can.”

“People are finding us,” said Roberts. “It’s like when you’re little you’d go to church with your parents and then leave. In a crisis you find yourself back. Same with the library. There’s a crisis and people are hurting.They’re finding the library is still there and still free.”

Lead image: Ty Yurgelevic helps distribute about 3,000 tools in the library.


  1. Oakland North » North Oakland Now 05.28.09 on May 28, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    […] check out our recent story on the Temescal Tool Lending Library, where business is booming thanks to the […]

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