Repair Elsewhere: Repair Cafés

We want to help spread awareness of like-minded projects that foster repair, reuse, consumer empowerment, and community building throughout the world. So we’re highlighting these “kindred spirits” in a series of posts on “Repair Elsewhere.” Look for other posts in the series within the “Repair” category in our post archives.

Repair Cafe logo, consisting of the words in stylized font alongside  two interlocking cogs

A Repair Café is a community meeting organized and hosted by local residents or organizations where members of the public work together with volunteer guides to repair a variety of household items, such as small appliances, clothing, electronics, bicycles, etc. The gatherings are typically free and held in public spaces, and the goals include not only waste reduction, but also sharing of knowledge, consumer empowerment, and building a stronger sense of community through cooperation. Sound familiar? It should, since the concept of Repair Cafés helped shape the idea for the Illini Gadget Garage (IGG)!

The notion of having some form of technology repair center on campus was proposed and revised among staff members at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) working on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) for many years, as I explain in my profile on the IGG site (I’m IGG adviser and ISTC sustainability specialist, Joy Scrogum, if we’ve not met. Thanks for reading our posts!) Despite many attempts, my colleagues and I weren’t able to obtain funding for those previous iterations of the idea. Eventually, I learned more about Repair Cafés, which don’t focus specifically on a particular type of consumer product. I thought, that’s what we’re really trying to start–a Repair Café for electronics! And that’s how I would describe it to people. (For those on the UI campus I’d also say the idea would be a bit like the Campus Bike Center, but for electronics–but we’ll talk about that project in a separate post.) This helped make the concept understandable, relatable, and appealing, and thankfully we ultimately received seed funding from the UI Student Sustainability Committee, as well as donations from HOBI International and iFixit to launch the project.

But I digress–back to the story of Repair Cafés. The concept was created by Martine Postma in Amsterdam in 2009. Martine was a former journalist and mother of two, who found herself considering the environment more after the birth of her second child.  In an excellent article on the concept from a 2012 edition of the New York Times (“An Effort to Bury a Throwaway Culture One Repair at a Time” by Sally McGrane), Postma explained that she was struck by observing the tendency to throwaway items that were not “that broken.” From the Times article: “I had the feeling I wanted to do something, not just write about it,” she said. But she was troubled by the question: “How do you try to do this as a normal person in your daily life?” She drew her own inspiration from a “a design exhibit about the creative, cultural and economic benefits of repairing and recycling,” and fixed her sights on helping people fix things as a practical approach to waste reduction.

That design exhibit was called “Platform 21=Repairing.” The organizers created a “Repair Manifesto” which encouraged people to “Stop Recycling. Start Repairing.” I personally wouldn’t go that far, but totally agree that recycling alone is not enough, and that repair and reuse are absolutely essential sustainability strategies. The exhibit was held in a former round chapel in Amsterdam that continued to serve as a workspace for the organization Platform 21 for a few years. See http://www.platform21.nl/page/133/en and http://www.platform21.nl/page/6026/en for more information on that project.

Smiling woman sitting at a work table covered with various tools. In the background, people work together on repairs.
Martine Postma, from the Repair Cafe web site.

Martine held the first Repair Café in Amsterdam in a theater foyer. The idea was taken to multiple other public venues, and ultimately inspired the formation of “spin offs” in countries around the world. According to the Times, funding is provided to the Repair Café Foundation through grants from the Dutch government, support from other foundations, and small donations, which pay for staffing, daily expenses, marketing, and a Repair Café bus. (Don’t laugh, but I’ve totally thought of having something like that for the Illini Gadget Garage–like a book mobile or mobile science center for fixing things! Someday perhaps. Anybody want to donate a vehicle??? 🙂 ) The project’s web site provides information on how you can set up your own Repair Café–for a small fee you receive a manual, the logo and marketing templates, and listing in their online directory, which can assist in connecting your project to like-minded projects near you. The Illini Gadget Garage chose not to become an “official” Repair Cafe because of our more narrow focus on electronics and small appliances, and also because we thought there would be greater value in associating our identity with the University of Illinois, where we launched and operate. In this part of the world, at this point in time, “Illini” is more immediately meaningful for people than “Repair Café.” Plus, since we’re trying to build a culture of repair and community spirit around repair and reuse right here in the home of the Illini, a more “customized” identity seemed right.

Visit the Repair Café web site to learn more about Repair Cafés worldwide, including several in the US. In Illinois, Repair Cafés exist in Oak Park and Chicago. If you’re on the UIUC campus, contact us to visit our physical workshop or arrange a “pop-up” clinic at your building. On campus pop-ups are currently free thanks to the support of our sponsors. If you’re off campus, we conduct community pop-ups with support of sponsors (consider a donation to help us spread the repair spirit), and for a fee we can bring a pop-up to your organization or business for a special employee engagement event. If you want to become a volunteer, we’d love to have people from any academic discipline, and staff and community members as well as students. Join us–repair is not only great for the planet and pocketbook, it’s also a lot of fun!

A pair of women sit at a sewing machine working together, while additional women can be seen on each side working with cloth and mending by hand.
Image from the Repair Cafe International Facebook page.

Tinkering Teens

This past Tuesday, two staff members had the pleasure of going to the Champaign Public Library and setting up a fun Pop-Up during Teenspace, an after-school programming for middle and high schoolers.  The intention behind this Pop-Up was to show local teens how fun tinkering is, and in turn, how easy it is to repair your own tech with the right tools and resources.  With the intention of disassembling and putting them back together with the teens, we brought in two Dell Venue 8 tablets, one iPad, one MacBook Pro, and one Windows Surface.  We had our usual Pop-Up kit in-tow, including our iFixIt Toolkits, Magnetic Project Mats, and some guitar picks.  When the kids came in, we paired two or three teens with one device.  Using tear-down guides from iFixIt.com, they gradually took apart and put together the devices.

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Unscrewing the motherboard off a Dell Venue 8.

Most of the teens were ecstatic about “breaking apart” the devices, but were hesitant on what tools to use.  There were a few who let us know how easy it would be to simply stab the pieces out of the device, or that they would be willing to jump on the device in order to bypass the tricky opening.

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Working on a Dell Venue 8.

The best part about the event was seeing the teens realize that opening up an intimidating device was not only easy, but a lot of fun!  They dismantled the devices collaboratively, some unscrewing, while the others told them where and why they should unscrew.  Others applied circuitry basics learned at school in identifying parts and let their knowledge guide them in disassembly.

Teens working on an iPad.
Teens working on an iPad.

The teens were utilizing the tear-down guides, but all of the tinkering was led, and done, by them.  The IGG staff stepped in when they needed help with stripped screws or especially frustrating ribbons, but the majority of work was youth-led.  While the teens worked, they asked two main questions, “Why is this so hard to open?” and “Why can’t I just use one bit to get all the screws out?”  These questions started conversations that focused on usability and accessibility of technology and hardware, their right to repair, and the lifespan of technology.  We talked about patented screws (check out our blog post on the history of Right to Repair), what happens when phones or other personal devices get recycled or thrown away, and how they can help the environment by fixing their devices instead of getting new ones or upgrading.  The teens were pushing their boundaries on how they interpreted and reacted to technology, and analyzed how they used their devices and what happened to their devices when they were done with them.  This was all due to simply opening and exploring the components of devices.  It’s pretty amazing what individuals discover, and what questions are asked, once they get involved with how their device works.

Interested in opening up your own devices? Want to tear down the devices that the teens worked on? Or looking to host a similar Pop-Up with your organization?

We want to hear from you! Send us an email or follow us on Facebook to connect with our staff!

Tech Tuesdays!

So you have some faulty technology, but you have class or another commitment during our open hours, we understand and that is why we are hosting “Tech Tuesdays” at the UGL. Every Tuesday, from 6-9 PM, we will have one of our associates in the media commons. Feel free to bring your damaged device or discuss the issues that you may be having. If we can’t help you on the spot, we can at least advise you on the best course of action and you may find it worthwhile to bring your defective item to our Research Park location. Furthermore, this is a good opportunity to discuss volunteering options, for any of you that may be interested. Additionally, we are looking to add “pop ups” at other locations. If your organization is interested in having us, just fill out the following form, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1xp8I4lK_CWeW8cM2PwqKkBhExyq0mvxkzJc_WtmvVDI/edit.  Don’t strain your budget or fill a landfill with harmful electronic waste, instead check us out on a “Tech Tuesday” and see what we have to offer!

University Collaboration with the IGG

One of our campus projects is to allow university classes to utilize the space, be it through hosting workshops where students can learn skills like soldering, understanding the Technical Writing Initiative via class projects, creating an iFixIt Guide, or volunteering at the Garage. The School of Information Sciences has a class, Introduction to Networking (LIS 451), that requires students to partner with a community program and the Illini Gadget Garage has been proud to be one such program. The final project for LIS 451 asks the students to not only volunteer at least once a week, but also put together a tangible product to present at the end of the semester. This past Fall semester we were given the great opportunity to partner with LIS 451 and one group of students, Amanda Elzbieciak, Kelsey Riggs, and Geoff Jacobs. They were invaluable assisting in the physical transformation of the space, brainstorming different ideas for workshops to be held at the IGG, marketing, and hosting the workshops. With their help, we were able to put on two workshops: a Grand Opening, where we invited the community to see our newly remodeled space, and a Holiday themed Recycled Crafting party, where the community was welcome to come in and create seasonal ornaments and gifts. The students were able to use pictures, videos, and reflections as proof of their hard work for their project, assisting the Garage in opening our doors to the public.

Check out the final product by going to their website!

Illini Gadget Garage Closing Physical Location for Renovations, Hosting Pop-Up Clinics

This post originally appeared on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) Blog.

The Illini Gadget Garage, a collaborative repair center for student and staff owned electronic devices, will be closing its physical location (INHS Storage Building 3) for the summer on Monday, July 11, to allow for renovations associated with making the site compliant with ADA requirements. Renovations should be complete prior to the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester, and there will be a grand opening of the site at that time. Be sure to check the new Illini Gadget Garage web site, as well as its Twitter and Facebook accounts for details of the grand opening later in the summer.

We appreciate the ‘test pilots” who have come in this summer to work with us on their devices! To continue to serve the campus community during the renovation process, we will host pop-up clinics at various locations until the physical location is open for the public. Pop-up clinics will continue, even after the physical location is open, to make it more convenient for the campus community to practice sustainability through electronic product stewardship.

Two pop-up clinics are scheduled at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC; 1 Hazelwood Drive in Champaign), in the Stephen J. Warner Conference room:

  • Monday, July 11, from noon to 5 pm
  • Monday, July 18, from noon to 5 pm (Note: a Sustainable Electronics Campus Consortium meeting will occur in the conference room from 1:30-2:30 PM; feel free to come early or stay after the meeting to work on your devices!)

If you plan to come to either of these clinics, we suggest you fill out our online diagnostic form ahead of time. This will allow volunteers to do some preliminary research on the problem you’re facing, and make use of your one-on-one time more efficient.

If your department, residence hall, or student organization would like to host a pop-up repair clinic, please fill out the “Host a Pop-Up Clinic” form to express your interest. We’ll be in touch to work out the details.

Students, faculty, and staff with any degree of technical skill–including none whatsoever–are invited to sign up as Illini Gadget Garage volunteers. We want to empower everyone to feel comfortable with the idea of troubleshooting and repairing the electronics they own, to keep them in service longer and thus, out of the waste stream. Even if you’ve never fixed anything before, you can be part of our process of coming together to solve problems. We also could use help with marketing, social media, arranging pop-up clinics, developing educational programs, and other tasks, so if this project intrigues you, come be part of it! Stop by one of the pop-up clinics, or fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch.