A New Resource for Makers in Kensington

A lot of the news out of Kensington nowadays is dark, but Kensington Tool Library co-founders Kaelyn Anderson and Steph Davis always keep a bigger narrative in mind. When Davis moved to the area more than ten years ago, she says she “knew that it had that rich creative economy.”


Kensington was once known as “the workshop of the world,” Anderson notes, a dynamic community of manufacturers and makers. And today, it retains its “very DIY spirit as a neighborhood.” She thinks that an organization to lend out home-improvement and artist tools to people who need them is “an idea that Kensington folks can really wrap their heads around.”


Anyone who needs a reminder of the neighborhood’s brashly creative self-made spirit can check out the annual Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby—and once the Tool Library is up and running, Anderson and Davis hope that it’ll be a resource for contestants down the block and across the city.


The Kensington Tool Library laid its groundwork in 2016, with a grant to New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) that let the founders join the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance’s 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses program (Anderson is NKCDC’s director of economic development).


After a six-month study group, the Tool Library founders entered two months of planning workshops with Philly business consultants Elysian Fields, and a team of about six core steering committee members have been meeting monthly ever since. They’re moving out of the NKCDC umbrella, working on standalone status thanks to a new partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s grad student-powered Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic. Anderson and Davis expect that the Tool Library’s 501(c)3 non-profit status will be finalized as soon as this May, and then they’ll begin looking in earnest for the right location to set up shop.


What will the Tool Library offer? Hard to say right now, just as donations are starting to come in and the non-profit develops its model. But Davis, an artist herself who has worked in metals and ceramics, remembers the “void” on Kensington Avenue when the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym (which offered access to gear like welding equipment) left when it closed down. Ultimately, she hopes to restore tools like that to the neighborhood with the Tool Library, but it’ll also be great for people working on various home or civic improvement projects.


That’ll mean tools like rakes or shovels for neighborhood clean-ups, plus more heavy-duty gear homeowners might need for one-time projects, like digging fence posts. “Tall ladders are generally not something people have around,” Davis adds, hoping this is an item folks can nab as needed from the Tool Library, rather than having to purchase one. The leaders are working on a lot of community outreach to gauge what’s needed.


Members of the Kensington Tool Library. Photo courtesy of the Tool Library

And once a location is up and running, the founders hope to add workshops or studio set-ups for on-site creations.

Ultimately, Davis and Anderson hope the project will draw workers and makers from across the city (like the West Philadelphia Tool Library does): “We don’t want to limit this by geography,” Davis says. “We want anybody to have access to this.” But they think the concept is ideally suited to live in Kensington.

“Kensington itself does face a home-repair issue,” Davis says. “A lot of the homes are crumbling, and we want to empower people to make their own repairs.”  


If you have artist, yard-work, or home-repair tools you’d like to donate, drop-offs are accepted during all NKCDC open hours, 9am-5pm Monday through Friday (2515 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia). To learn more or get involved, e-mail: kensingtontoollibrary@gmail.com.