- The library should be open, and start lending, by August
- The group hopes to promote home improvement efforts for those without tool access
PROVIDENCE — It didn’t start with a hammer or drill, a table saw or palm sander, a power washer or a steam cleaner.
Providence’s newest library, one that lends out things instead of books, started with three software developers excited about the idea and the philosophy of lowering the barrier to entry for everything from home repair to badminton to camping.
PVD Things founder Dillon Fagan said, early on, he “fell in love” with the idea of the tool library. The libraries have popped up across the country, in the Portlands on both coasts, Phoenix, Baltimore, Detroit and Denver. When he finally decided to turn the idea into a reality, he posted online looking for help. By January 2021, a group was meeting by Zoom. By March, they were incorporated as a nonprofit.
Now the group is moving into small space off an alleyway on Olneyville Square for a large area that should be big enough for all the stuff, and a little breathing room for gatherings.
The group plans to open to the public in late June or early July, as they muster volunteers to work as librarians and build their tool collection. So far, their number of members is 70, but they hope that will grow once they open.
Starting a nonprofit cooperative lending library
When they incorporated in March 2021, the biggest problem was always finding a space to physically store the things being lent, from small things, hammers and drills, to big things, like a snow blower and a power washer. Being in the middle of a pandemic didn’t make it any easier to collect, store or distribute the objects.
“We didn’t seem to get much support from the city and, as people say, the rent is too damn high,” Fagan said.
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The group initially shared storage space in a semi-public building in January. That led to the biggest setback — by the time the building closed in late May, most of the items they had been collecting, including many that the committee members had donated themselves, were stolen.
“Luckily, people have stepped up to help out and we’re slowly building the inventory back up,” Fagan said. “We just got some donations from DeWalt.”
After losing most of the inventory they spent a year building up, including an extensive donation of hand tools, the group is looking to the community to fill in the gaps. They are holding a donation drive on June 25, from noon to 3 pm at their new building, at 12 Library Court in Olneyville.
Steering committee member Sarah Summers said getting the Olneyville space is a huge step forward, and allows them to actually open to the pubic.
“It’s been like a year and a half of planning without a space, starts and stops, and it’s so much easier to engage people, in getting donations,” she said.
Eliminating barriers to entry
While much of the group’s focus is on tools, they want to collect all kinds of items. Games, cooking gadgets, folding tables and chairs, pop-up tents, camping tents and supplies, audio and video equipment, bicycles, scooters, fishing rods and reels, snowshoes, a meat slicer and stand mixer, a sewing machine and yarn winder.
Summers said eliminating the barrier to entry to not just home improvement, but to everything — camping, sewing, hiking, photography, cooking and gardening — is part of the group’s ethos.
“Not having a tent is a barrier for going camping,” she said.
Summers said she is hoping someone donates a few pairs of snowshoes because she would like to try it, but isn’t willing to spend at least $150 for a single pair.
Reducing the cost of using specialized equipment to a lifetime membership, $20, and an annual contribution, lets people do things they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
Fagan said when they first started researching the idea, they looked into tool rentals from retail stores but the costs are “totally extractive.”
“It makes no sense to rent a tool and basically, pay full price for it when you’re only using it for a few days,” he said. “It’s absurd.”
Seeking community input and help
The group is still trying to figure out what people in Providence want to borrow from the library, and to that end, has put together a survey.
“We’re coming at it from our own experiences and our own knowledge, and there are big gaps in our understanding of what people need,” Summers said. “That’s a constant struggle and we’re making sure we’re engaging lots of different groups and doing outreach.”
Finding volunteers is also a major priority for the group. They need people for labor and time-intensive chores, like lending out items and picking up donations; and volunteers with specific skills, like accounting, fundraising and legal help. Perhaps the most sought-after volunteer is the one who can fix power tools, she said.
The group is also looking for members for its steering committee, the group that makes day-to-day decisions, although the members also dedicate a lot of time doing more mundane tasks, like inventory, and donation pickups.
Partnering with the Providence Public Library
Last September, PVD Things partnered with the Providence Public Library to lend out many of its basic tools — power drills, hammers, levels, a stud finder. In many cities, including the oldest known tool library at the Grosse Pointe Public Library in Michigan, started in 1943, public libraries have become the focal point of tool lending.
“I wish I could say we’ve had a ton of people using the tools, but we’ve only had a handful,” Library Head of Information Services Sam Simas said.
Simas said he thinks that people just don’t know that they have tools that are free to borrow.
“People are generally really happy about it,” he said. “The receipt gives you the value of whatever the item is, so when things are taken out, a couple of times, with the drill set, we’ve had them say, ‘Oh my god, I saved $120!”‘
The one item taken out the most has been the power drill.
“I wish that people used it more,” he said.
It’s especially important for renters who often don’t have the space to store tool sets, but do need them once in a while.
Anyone with a library card can borrow the items held at the library.
Challenges include time, space and battery packs
While PVD Things is taking donations of items, one of the biggest challenges is likely a familiar one for power tool users: a menagerie of batteries from the many manufacturers of cordless tools.
“One common problem people have when they get power tools is the battery goes dead, then you need a new battery, and it ends up being like buying ink for a printer, and exorbitantly expensive,” steering committee member Louis Langer said. “We’re going to be using the co-op in a way to basically have a stockpile of good batteries and chargers.”
Wanted: Your unused things
Langer practices what he preaches, the donation of material goods for the common good. That meant many of the items he initially gave to the group were stolen.
He is working toward rebuilding the library of things through work he does on the side, helping people downsize their homes or move.
Many people have lots of tools, camping gear, rackets, lawnmowers, shop vacuums that haven’t been used in years, sitting idle in garages and attics and basements across the state. The group is trying to reach those constituents to get them to donate those items so they can be put back to work.
“We’re really interested in alleviating the problem of space that people develop with all their clutter,” he said.
How to donate or volunteer
The group is seeking donations of things — power and hand tools, gardening devices, games, cameras, lighting equipment, and anything else someone is willing to donate.
A donation drive is being held on Saturday, June 25, from 12-3 pm Donations can also be coordinated by emailing [email protected], the same address for those looking to volunteer.
The group also accepts cash donations, to cover expenses, like rent, and to buy things that are missing from the library.
A full list of the things available, and some of the things that are still wanted, is on their website, at https://app.pvdthings.coop/
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