November 24, 2017

The Fix is Free | Programs That Pop

What do you do with a broken toaster, a lamp with a frayed cord, or a shirt with a loose button? Toss it? No way! Massachusetts’s Westborough Public Library and the Rotary Club of Westborough partnered to offer Westborough’s first Repair Café at the library in March 2016.

Repair cafés are free meeting places that are all about repairing things together. The concept began in the Netherlands in 2010. The aim of the Repair Café Foundation is to reintroduce the art of repairing back into communities as an alternative to throwing things away, thus saving money for patrons and removing waste from landfills, which is good for the environment. (For more on repair cafés, see The Future of Stuff) It also helps users develop new skills and confidence. Knowledgeable volunteer repairers are available at the cafés to help make all possible repairs for free. Unlike a “fix-it” shop where people drop off items to be repaired, people stay while their items are being fixed. They can watch, help out, and visit with neighbors over coffee and donuts. The library got the idea when a presentation on Repair Cafés was held at a local Rotary Club meeting and the idea sounded so great that the Westborough library and the Rotary Club decided to partner on a café.

Gearing up

The library began by registering, for a fee of 49 euros, with the Repair Café Foundation to become an official Repair Café. This enabled the library to use a customizable logo, be added to its world map of ljx161001webpoplocations, and receive a starter kit on how to organize a café.

We picked a date and the search for volunteer repairers began. The Rotary Club emailed its members, and Westborough’s library director Maureen Ambrosino (a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker) and I approached several people we knew to see if they could assist us as repairers. Sixteen people (who brought in their own tools) volunteered to staff the café. The Repair Café was open for people to bring whatever they would like to be mended, but we decided to advertise that our repairers specialized in items from the following categories: small appliances, vacuum cleaners, lamps, computers, clothing/textiles, jewelry, bikes, and outdoor power equipment. Knives, scissors, and garden tools could also be brought in to be sharpened.

We did all the usual marketing but also added a few extras: advertised on an electronic bulletin board and a billboard that the town uses and had handouts available (thanks to the Rotary Club) at a town meeting, which took place a week before the opening of the Repair Café.

All stations go

The Repair Café was held on March 19 from 9 a.m. to noon. Stations were set up in the library’s meeting room and outside on the front lawn. We had a refreshment table with coffee, tea, and donuts; a reading table with books on repair from the library; and a laptop for looking up parts/repair manuals. People filled out a registration form, were directed to the appropriate station, and asked to return to the registration table after they were done to fill out an evaluation and, with their permission, have their picture taken with their refurbished item(s).

The fix is in

We were amazed with the number of people who came in with their broken items. Some even went home and came back with more that needed mending. The busiest stations were for sharpening and electrical appliances, but every station had their share of activity and many of the items were fixed! Some people left with information about getting parts, and even the people whose items were beyond repair left grateful that someone had taken the time to see if a repair were possible.

All 65 people who attended asked if we were going to offer another café, and the answer is a resounding yes! We are planning to hold three cafés a year at the library in partnership with the Rotary Club.

Fixing up the café

Based on evaluations from the attendees and the repairers, we will be making a few minor improvements at the next Repair Café: better signage, more volunteers to help direct people and answer questions, an orientation session for the volunteers at least 45 minutes before the café starts, and some basic parts to have on hand (bicycle inner tubes, lamp sockets, glue, etc.).

The Westborough Repair Café was a great service to offer the community to advocate the library as a place to come and gather around a shared passion and expertise. As Sari Feldman, American Library Association (ALA) president, said, “Today’s libraries are not just about what we have for people but what we do for and with people.”


Donna Martel is Adult Services Librarian, ­ Westborough Public Library, MA

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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