- Associated Press - Sunday, June 29, 2014

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - In many respects, the library, well-hidden on a side street in the Washington Neighborhood, is just like any other.

Patrons must apply for and receive a card prior to checking items out. Those items circulate for a week and then must be returned, lest the borrower face a late fee.

But unlike its literary counterparts, the Washington Neighborhood Tool Library, 345 E. 18th St., doesn’t deal in Dickens or Hemingway.

Black & Decker or Dewalt are more its style.

“A lot of it’s for low-income people,” said library volunteer Harlan Doty, explaining that many Dubuque residents have a fixed income. “If you don’t use (an expensive tool) often enough, why would you ever want to buy it yourself?”

The Telegraph Herald reports (http://bit.ly/1uYFqfX ) Doty has been with the library for more than a dozen years. He and 17 other volunteers each work three shifts per week at the site, which is open from 1 to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays.

All Dubuque residents who meet certain income guidelines are eligible to check out tools. The library has everything from hammers to electric lawnmowers and table saws.

Patrons must place a $20 deposit on tools valued at more than $100, but the money is refunded when the tool is returned intact and on time.

“I’m going to say probably 99 percent” of people return items on time, said Library President Tom Oberhoffer. “Some we’ve got to go door-knocking or send a letter to.”

Though library staff accept donations, much of the funding comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program. The city, which administers the local distribution of the federal funds, allocates $11,284 to the program annually.

The library dates back to the 1973 and is considered to be one of the oldest - if not the oldest - entity of its kind in the country. About 500 people use it each year, Oberhoffer said.

With the collective knowledge of its experienced staff at each patron’s disposal, the library is a valuable resource, according to Dubuque City Council Member David Resnick.

“It’s a bit of Dubuque that is wonderful, especially because of the advice and instruction you get from the volunteers there,” Resnick said. “That’s at least as valuable as the tools themselves.”

Flooding issues motivated Marni Chandlee to check out the library Friday. After a discussion with library staff, Chandlee walked out with a snaking drain cleaner and an industrial vacuum.

“I think it’s great,” Chandlee said. “So many times you have a job you have to do with expensive equipment, but they’re just kind of one-time jobs. It’s nice not to have to go out and buy that equipment and just be able to come here and borrow something.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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