Books and laptops, soccer balls and garden rakes? Spokane Community College’s Library of Things offers myriad items for students

October 18, 2017

Linda Keys, the librarian at Spokane Community College, is close with a student in the school’s baking program – a single mother of three who sometimes struggles to buy needed pastry utensils.

“She has to be cutthroat with her budget,” Keys said, “so she didn’t have money for her fondant tools.”

The cost of school supplies can add up fast, especially in vocational programs that require specialized tools for building engines or decorating cakes.

That’s why SCC created the Library of Things, a place where students can check out more than books and laptops. To name a few of the items available: footballs and soccer balls, garden rakes and shovels, exercise weights, board games, musical instruments, cookware and Raspberry Pi computers for beginning programmers.

At a grand opening this month, Christine Johnson, the chancellor of Community Colleges of Spokane, called the Library of Things an innovative way to help students succeed both in and out of the classroom.

“Libraries are now really about providing all kinds of services to students,” she said, “no matter what their needs are.”

In addition to needed school supplies, the Library of Things offers what Keys described as “quality-of-life items.”

For example, SCC’s acting president, Kevin Brockbank, noted the library has a camping tent so students can “recharge” during a weekend nature getaway and return to campus ready to study. He called it one of the “little things” the school can offer on a tight budget.

Library staff pitched the idea last year and asked for $5,000 of SCC’s technology fees, which students pay along with tuition for school computers and system upgrades.

During the back-and-forth of the budgeting process, school administrators recommended that the Library of Things get only $4,000 in startup money, Keys said. But the student government, which oversees the technology fees, loved the proposal and decided on its own to allocate $10,000.

The Library of Things came to fruition with help from Bill Powers’ project management class, where students surveyed peers about the kinds of items the library should offer, studied government purchasing rules and helped develop the library’s checkout system.

For now, the Library of Things is based in a small room just off the main library. Keys hopes it will grow as the school accumulates items for checkout, such as backpacks and other basics. It will get some assistance from the Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation, but donations are also welcome, she said.

“We’ve got a ton of automotive students who might want to take a set of tools home,” she said.

Keys said if students can save money by checking out an item, they might be able to spend on things that enable them to focus on school.

“We can help them eliminate any little barrier whether it’s another tank of gas, a few hours of child care, whatever,” she said.