kitchen gadgets
The Berkeley Public Library will start lending culinary tools in the spring. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

By the spring of 2020, if you need an exotic and expensive kitchen gadget, you won’t have to buy it. You can just take it out from the Berkeley Public Library.

The city’s popular Tool Lending Library is expanding its offerings to include kitchen appliances, making it one of the few libraries in North America — and the first in California — to lend items like canning tools, sous vide machines, instant pots, slow cookers, pans, and more.

The decision to add kitchen implements came after more than 4,000 Berkeley residents filled out a survey indicating they were interested in food items, according to Aimee Reader, who handles communications for the library. The library added an extra day to the Tool Lending Library as well in response to the survey, she said.

The addition is a reflection of just how central food is to Berkeley. The library’s cooking and food programs, such as the series on how to cook seasonal and healthy foods and how to make cheese and butter at home, routinely fill up.

“Cookbooks are amongst our top circulating materials and our culinary programs draw dozens of attendees at all of our locations,” said Elliot Warren, acting director of library services. “Food is a huge part of the culture of Berkeley and we strive to be as responsive to our community with all of our collections.”

In order to decide which culinary items to include in the new kitchen section, library officials want people to complete a survey. Do patrons think they would check out a dehydrator or Dutch Oven or cider press or electric grain mill?

“We want to know what items the community would like us to purchase,” said Reader. “Community input is really important to us, so we haven’t made any firm decisions yet in terms of items and quantities. And, even after we launch, we’ll continue to shape the collection as patrons check out items and they provide feedback.”

The private Berkeley Public Library Foundation will be paying for the culinary collection, said Reader.

A handful of libraries are already lending out kitchen appliances. The first to have done so appears to be the Toronto Public Library, which launched a program in 2013. The Green Tree Library in Pittsburgh, PA also lends kitchen tools, as does the Hillsboro, Ore. “Library of Things.”

A few people have banded together to create private kitchen tool lending libraries as well where people pay a nominal sum to borrow items for a few days.

Berkeley library officials hope that the new lending library doesn’t just appeal to experienced cooks, but serves as a way for the curious to experiment more.

“Our hope is that the items will be used to introduce patrons to items they would not otherwise get to experience either because they did not know it existed or for due to financial reasons or both!” said Reader. “Either way it provides access, core to the Library’s mission.”

Update 12/31/19: The library won’t be accepting donations to the culinary collection but instead will be buying new items funding by the Berkeley Public Library Foundation. The library may accept donations after the collection is up and running, said Reader. Library staff has consulted with the Berkeley Environmental Health Department to ensure that proper hygiene practices are developed, she said.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...