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Collection Development and Maintenance: Libraries of Things

Libraries of Things

Libraries have circulated books since the 19th Century, and, as AV materials became available, so did the ability to circulate music and movies (in whatever format was currently available). In the past decade, however, there has been an uptick in libraries circulating materials considered “non-traditional.” These "Libraries of Things" help make library patrons' day-to-day lives easier by providing access to items that they might not be able to purchase due to financial reasons, space restrictions, or simple practicality.

To get started with a Library of Things, complete a community needs assessment and identify areas of interest within the library's service area.

Fund the collection by using community donations, applying for grants, or requesting local businesses or companies to sponsor a collection. When purchasing items, make sure they are durable and can withstand repeated circulation. Remember, you don't have to build the collection overnight. Start small, and let it grow organically.

Finding space in the library to house these new items doesn't have to be difficult. Depending on the collection, consider repurposing other library furniture, using rolling carts to keep the space flexible, or even holding the items behind the circulation desk or in storage and having photos of the available items that people can use to decide what to checkout. A simple filing cabinet or binder with plastic holders is a great way to store spare parts, extra paperwork, and any rules or directions to keep the "extras" from spilling into the rest of the work space.

To promote the collection, consider a slow rollout that let patrons use items in-house. The library can do this by hosting programs around the new items such as storytimes showcasing outdoor adventures kits or a DIY class to get people comfortable with new craft items. Displays, word-of-mouth, and social media are also other easy ways to promote the diversity of items the library has in its collections.  

Below are additional resources to help get your Library of Things started:

Sample Collections

Below are items to consider adding to the library's collection:

  • Children's items: toys, dolls
  • Children's equipment or "caretaker collection" for items related to temporary/weekend care of a child: Pack&Play play yard, stroller, high chair, etc.
  • Health items: Fitbit, blood pressure monitor, light therapy lamps
  • Kitchen gadgets: air fryer, pasta machine, cake pans, canning equipment, chafing dishes, dehydrator, cookie cutters, ice cream maker, etc.
  • Outdoor/camping equipment: bike lock, life jacket, fishing pole, tackle box, Go Pro, tent, air mattress, campfire skewers, binoculars, yard games, wheelbarrow, garden tools, umbrella, outdoor gear, sleds,  snowshoes, orange caution cones, etc.
  • Household Items and Home Improvement: Roomba, sewing machine, metal detector, label maker, phone chargers, leaf blower, caulking gun, infrared thermometer/thermal camera, energy usage meter, soil tester, tools, gardening tools, seeds, etc.
  • AV materials: Roku, projector, blueray player, music mixer, bluetooth speaker, noise canceling headphones, green screen, instax mini camera, mobile hot spots, etc.
  • Craft items: sewing machine, knitting needles, crochet hooks, scrapbooking equipment, fabric patterns, etc.
  • Costumes: Santa suits, halloween costumes, dress-up, cosplay, etc.
  • Ceremonial items: 2-foot scissors, gold-plated shovel, large "key to the city", prize wheel, podium, etc.
  • Artwork
  • Education Materials: Science To Go backpacks, robotics, STEM items, homeschool curriculum activities, STEAM on the Go! kits, etc
  • Experiences passes: Local museumszoos, parks, science centers, gardens, season tickets for sports teams, etc.

Explore the collections below to feel inspired!

Tips and Tricks

Broken pieces and replacement parts don't have to be a worry either with a few simple tricks:

  • Call the last patron and tell them exactly what is missing. Oftentimes, they’ll find it lying around and return it.
  • Don’t allow returns in the book drop. Some libraries assign a small fee to accounts when items are not returned directly to the circulation desk.
  • Have patrons sign a waiver that they are financially responsible for any damages.
  • Laminate any cards or paper pieces and reinforce game boards and instructions to extend their shelf-life.
  • For puzzles, have patrons place a small sticker on the box where a missing piece is located.
  • Use corner-to-corner rubber bands (or sewing elastic) on box corners to keep them closed or purchase rubber totesHanging bags to keep all of the parts together.
  • Only replace completely necessary parts. Can the game be played without the card or can the drill operate without a specific drill bit?
  • Boardgame companies may send you replacement pieces for free if you contact them.
  • 3D print replacement parts.
  • Purchasing replacement parts is often cheaper than replacing the entire Thing.

Board Game Collection Resources:

To catalog items, all you need is a simple record:

  • List item as a Visual Material.
  • Use an in-house alternate title (For example, to make searching for board games easier, have the alternate title be BOARD GAME Yahtzee and the regular title would remain Yahtzee).
  • When looking for records already on OCLC/Worldcat, search by ISSN, SN, or Publisher.
  • Contact other libraries that have similar items and ask to see their records.


Checking in this new collection will take a bit longer than your other library materials. However, the following tips may help the process go smoother:

  • Create an inventory sheet for all of the items included. This can be sent with the Thing so that patrons know what to return and then used at the library for inventory purposes. Example Inventory Sheet
  • Keep a record of an item’s weight and weigh the item upon return. This works great for Lego kits or other construction kits.
  • Decide which items need to be inventoried. Does a board game need its board? Yes. Does it need all 712 cards? Maybe not.
  • Put small pieces in labeled bags. This makes it easier for you and the patron.
  • Remember that inventory isn't a problem for items like life jackets and snowshoes. Those items only need to be prepared for the next user by making sure they're cleaned off or nicely organized in a box.


If you add a Library of Things to your collection, you may need to modify your existing policies to cover any loss of items, loaning permissions, and returning procedures.

For example, you may consider not allowing Things to be loaned via ILL or requiring that they are returned to the desk instead of the book drop. Additionally, you may consider having patrons sign a waiver that releases the library from all liability for use of the item. This should include verbiage that librarians are not required to know how to use the equipment and cannot be expected to provide instruction or training.

If you're concerned about theft, you may consider the additional amendments to your policies:

  • Require patrons to have a library card in good standing for a certain amount of time before they can check out materials. This prevents brand new patrons checking out Things and never coming back.
  • Have patrons sign a waiver (and add it to your circulation policies) that they are financially responsible for the full cost of a new Thing.

Policies of Libraries of Things from around ND and the US:

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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.