Almost a decade ago, University Events Director Shelly Signs realized there was an opportunity to better utilize event resources, while also helping support campus sustainability goals and support groups and programs with limited budgets. Her team had already created an online planning guide with best practices for making events successful, and she was looking for other ways to support the campus community in addition to offering full-service event planning across the university.
When she realized that some of the items that University Events owned were spending a large amount of time in storage, it occurred to her that when they weren’t in use, they could be made available to other university partners, free of charge. The idea was to create a lending library of sorts, where university community members could borrow items they needed to host events, free of charge, as long as they returned them promptly and in good condition.
“I have a background in the rental industry, and I saw that we had things we were only using a few times a year,” Signs said. “Also as a state agency using state and donor funds, I feel like we’re responsible at the end of the day to maximize the use of every penny, as a way to further our investment. My goal was not to compete with local businesses but to best use and reuse our own resources.”
So Signs created a borrowables menu that enables university employees to check out items on-line and use them everything from parties to student presentations to conferences. She included University Events-owned items, but also soon realized there were other groups on campus who had previously purchased items for events that they could not store. So the collection of borrowables grew and now includes everything from vases and frames to banners and easels. Several of the items are branded, which also helps raise the visibility of the OSU logo.
“I consider it multiplying good will to share resources with people around campus,” Signs said. “From the University Relations and Marketing standpoint, it gives us a further opportunity to get the brand out there. We also recognize that people have limited budgets and can’t afford to purchase everything they need.”
There are items for a broad variety of needs. For instance, if a faculty member is attending a conference and wants a table drape at the booth where they’re selling their latest book, they can grab one and fold it up to fit in their suitcase. If a department wants to liven up an event but can’t afford to purchase flowers, they can find creative ways to utilize vases and fillers to individualize their look and be both frugal and sustainable.
The program is working. During the last fiscal year, 83 different clients used borrowables for their events, saving the university more than $116,000 by reusing items instead of purchasing them.
“We loaned out almost 20,000 items last fiscal year,” Signs said. She suggested that staff examine the online list of borrowables available from University Events as they’re planning to see if items can be borrowed rather than bought.
“This also prioritizes sustainable thinking,” Signs said. She also hopes the borrowables program brings more eyes to University Events to remind the community that when they need more than just some fan bunting or a Beaver flag, they can also hire Events staff to help out.
To learn more about the borrowables program, see https://communications.oregonstate.edu/events/tools-planners/items-borrow.