Hackney councillor Jon Burke wants libraries to lend out power tools and kitchen appliances

Jon Burke

“Essentially I want to pilot a physical lending library”: Cllr Jon Burke

A Hackney councillor wants local libraries to lend out electrical appliances ranging from power tools to bread makers.

Councillor Jon Burke, the cabinet member in charge of library services, said the scheme would mean people would not have to buy their own devices, thereby cutting waste and the cost of living.

He said he wanted to launch the service as soon as possible and suggested residents could donate their possessions, which would then be safety checked before being put into circulation for the common good.

In the case of particularly popular types of item, the council could buy multiples to meet demand, he said.

Cheerleaders for capitalism might argue such endeavours reduce consumer choice, however, and could potentially harm the economy and reduce VAT tax receipts.

Cllr Burke said: “Essentially I want to pilot a physical lending library through which people will be able to come and borrow items they would otherwise have to buy.

“The main purpose of this is to reduce upstream waste, but it would also have an impact for the people who are at the margins.

“If they need a drill, for example, they wouldn’t need to have to go out and purchase one.”

Environmental groups like Friends of the Earth regularly point out the wastefulness of private consumption of material goods, arguing high levels of consumerism and private ownership of resources are unsustainable and destroy nature, for example through mining for metal components.

They say sharing machines among households, rather than each one buying its own, means fewer greenhouse emissions being released into the atmosphere. Car-pooling is an obvious example of this.

“If you’ve got people coming round on the weekend and you want to bake bread, why not have a breadmaker in a physical lending library?” Cllr Burke said.

“With something you’re not using four or five days a week, it seems to make abundantly good sense to me that you would borrow those items on a one off basis, and I think the ideal location for this kind of enterprise is in the library service.”

But Tim Knox, director of the influential free market thinktank Centre for Policy Studies, said he was “very sceptical” about Cllr Burke’s idea and questioned whether buying bread makers or power tools on the public’s behalf would be a good use of a council’s resources in straitened economic times.

He said: “It’s pretty hard to see how libraries would be able to look after these kinds of products and update them often enough.”

He added he was not altogether opposed to sharing goods – provided this was delivered by the market rather than the state.

“It’s important to say this already happens to an extent in the sharing economy,” Knox told the Hackney Citizen. “There is a sort of Airbnb type service which lets you rent your neighbour’s power tool for a very small amount, so the market is already responding to this and I imagine it would respond far more effectively than a council that has no real expertise in this area.”

A lengthier version of the Hackney Citizen’s interview with Cllr Jon Burke will be published shortly