University Heights Tool Library

Submitted by Asia Bonacci

The University Heights Tool Library in downtown Buffalo, NY, seeks to connect community members with tools needed for basic home improvement projects. The organization’s tagline—“Borrow and build. We provide communities with the tools they need to create the change they want”—is a nice distillation of the mission of sustainability: it empowers communities to find solutions to problems while fostering shared use and keeping down costs associated with individual ownership for expensive single-use items.

The brainchild of Buffalo resident Darren Cotton, the University Heights Tool Library was hatched in 2011, around the time Cotton was living off-campus while a student at the University at Buffalo. He recognized the need for renters like himself to have access to tools to make repairs some landlords weren’t responsive to; with a friend who was getting a degree in business, he created a business plan for the Tool Library and received $15,000 in seed money from the City of Buffalo. From these meager beginnings, the Tool Library now has a membership of almost 650 people and an inventory of over 1,700 tools. 

How does it work? Much like membership at a public library, residents can join the Tool Library with a photo ID and proof of residency. Operating costs are offset by a reasonable $10/year membership fee and a variety of available membership levels. A Belt Membership costs $20 and allows a single person access to 5 tools per year; a Box Membership costs $50 for a single person to use 25 tools per year; and a Barrow Membership, at $100, allows two people the use of up to 50 tools per year.

The Tool Library exists to empower individuals to DIY, but also build community. Recent community-wide projects include Bailey Fights Blight, a collaboration with the Bailey Avenue Business Association, which seeks to secure abandoned storefronts along Bailey Avenue and use public art to beautify and foster a sense of place, and Retree the District, which strives to build partnerships with the shared goal of planting 1000 trees throughout the University District over the course of two years. Retree the District has successfully planted 785 of those 1000 trees, and an increased sense of community has come to fruition as well. “In a neighborhood where tension between student renters and homeowners can sometimes run high, this provided an opportunity for both populations to work side by side to make this long term investment in the community,” Cotton said in an email. Read more about each project here:

The University Heights Tool library is a great example of sustainability in action. Says Cotton: “It's definitely a lot of hard work and always a struggle to keep the all-volunteer organization afloat, but the projects I get to participate in and the people I meet make it all worthwhile.” For more info, visit the University Heights Tool Library site or contact Darren Cotton at

Some of the tools available at the University Heights Tool Library

Photo by Darren Cotton

Students and community members paint a wall as part of the Bailey Fights Blight project.

Photo by Darren Cotton


Students and community members plant a tree as part of the ReTree the district program.

Photo by Darren Cotton




The Sustainability Spotlight is a weekly series that highlights community-driven, environmentally sound, and economically responsible programs and projects in libraries and other organizations. You can find more projects in the Sustainability Spotlight Archive or visit NYLA's Sustainability Initiative to learn more about how you can get started with sustainability in your library.