Hosting Repair Events in Libraries
by Gabrielle Griffis, June 27th, 2021
Originally published on the Blue Marble Library Blog.
A repair event is a free all-ages community activity in which people try to fix their broken items with the help of a skilled volunteer. Sometimes called Repair Cafés or Fixit Clinics, the first Repair Café was coordinated in 2009, by Martine Postma in an Amsterdam movie theater. Since then, there have been over 2,000 repair events worldwide. In addition to libraries, repair events are held in many contexts: schools, churches, community centers. These gatherings are a prominent part of the right-to-repair movement, which emerged as a response to tech and automotive companies making it more difficult, and often illegal, for consumers to fix their own things. Whether it’s a busted toaster, a finicky lamp, or a torn pair of jeans, repair events divert items from the landfill, teach valuable lifelong fixing skills, foster a culture of stewardship, and bring neighbors together.
By hosting repair events, libraries have an opportunity to help create a culture of stewardship. Libraries unable to host full repair programs, can still raise awareness and support local initiatives through advertising, informational materials, talks, and pop-up events which are dedicated to just one type of fixing skill, such as bike repair. Libraries can also support local fixing initiatives by hosting tool libraries, or adding tools to their library of things. Items such as handheld tools and electronic repair kits are easy additions to any collection.
So how do libraries go about planning a repair event? There are a lot of considerations when starting out, such as assessing program space. Tables, chairs, and electrical outlets are needed to create work stations where people can sit and troubleshoot their broken stuff. With adequate space, the next step is to consider partnering with local organizations such as a recycling committee or environmental organization. Having a solid team of dedicated volunteers will help with task delegation and ultimately bring more people into the event. Other critical considerations include: program duration, publicity, supplies, refreshments, set-up, clean-up, resources, and coach recruitment.
Often referred to as “fixing coaches,” these volunteers bring a range of expertise to assist participants in troubleshooting their broken items: mechanical, electrical, industrial, digital, carpentry, book-mending, jewelry, sewing, and more. Typically, coaches should be recruited at least a month to two months in advance of a repair event. Word of mouth, creating flyers, and calls for volunteers through social media and local papers are a great way to enlist coaches. Prior to the program, it’s important to have a repair coach meeting, so everyone can go over tools they might need to bring, as well as the mission of the repair event. A common misperception about repair events is that people just bring their broken stuff to be dropped off and fixed. However, that is not how repair events work. Far from being passive, participants with broken items are guided by fixing coaches on how to do their own repairs. It’s a hands-on learning activity, not just about mending, but acquiring new skills, including social ones!
Repair events are powerful programs that help communities have conversations about how both people and the planet are treated. Historically, companies have little incentive to steward the people and environment where their items are sourced, manufactured, and eventually disposed of. Linear-degenerative economic systems do not design repair and reuse into the life-cycle of a product, but rather, often plan for obsolescence so that consumers have to replace their things. While repair events cannot address all the problems associated with our broken systems, they can be part of the solution in creating a circular-regenerative economy, an economy that values the people and ecosystems from which our things are created.
Repair Revolution: How Fixers are Transforming Our Throwaway Culture by John Wackman and Elizabeth Knight