Climate & Social Justice

New Olneyville Library Puts Tools in Circulation


Louis Langer, left, Alicia Pratt, middle, and Sarah Summers serve on the volunteer steering committee for PVD Things. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — The whole thing started because Dillon Fagan needed a ladder but didn’t own one, or so the origin story goes.

It was November 2020, and Dillon, a member and co-founder of Starboard, a small software-developer cooperative in Rhode Island, had an idea to change the way people own and use things.

Starboard created open-source software for a library of things that people could check out rather than buying and storing in their homes.

Then Fagan connected with Sarah Summers and some other people who were keen on the idea, including Alicia Pratt and Louis Langer, and together they formed a steering committee with the aim of making the concept of a library of things a real thing.

On Sept. 28, PVD Things opened its doors to the community.

PVD Things functions like a library, but instead of books, it lends out power tools, gardening tools, sporting equipment, and, of course, ladders.

The organization is located, fittingly, on Library Court in Olneyville on the first floor of a three-story building. The walls of the two-room library are lined with tall modular shelves bustling with tools and small appliances.

According to steering committee member Summers, “Tool libraries and libraries have been around for a couple of decades.” A company she worked for when she lived in Cincinnati started a tool library. But, when Summers moved to the Providence area, nothing of the sort existed, and so she was excited to connect with Fagan.

“I think everybody else who has jumped on board was just really excited about the idea and wanted to bring it here,” she said.

PVD Things is app-based, and people can browse online, or they can come in during PVD Things’ open hours — currently Wednesdays, from 6-8 p.m.

The group is trying to recruit more volunteers and raise money for a full-time position so the library can extend its hours.

PVD Things tools
Gardening tools are available to check out. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)
PVD Things Household Items
In addition to tools, members can also check out small household appliances. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

Assessing the needs of the community

“When we were setting up shop here, we went to the Olneyville Neighborhood Association meetings … and talked to community members about what tools they want, and what services they would like to see come from the library,” Summers said.

However, despite initial outreach, the limited hours and reliance on a technology-based operation has meant that many of PVD Things members are disproportionately younger and whiter, and don’t hail from the immediate area.

“That is something we hope to work on through more outreach,” Summers said.

With Pratt’s fluency in Spanish — she works full time at Coalition for a Multilingual Rhode Island — and more in-person outreach, PVD Things is building membership in Olneyville.

Pratt created Spanish-language signage and marketing materials for PVD Things. And she hopes the organization can empower people, especially lower-income renters, by giving them access to tools to make improvements to their living spaces.

“When we talk about the housing crisis in Rhode Island, we also talk about absentee landlords and things that are going unfixed because people have financial barriers to having the tools to fix things. … That’s something that, to me, matters a lot about this project.”

Langer noted small repairs can save renters and homeowners money. “We were talking about weatherproofing for winter, showing people how to put a weather strip on their door. Something like that can really change the amount of gas or electricity you’re putting into heating and that can really affect your bottom line. Simple solutions like that are really important,” he said.

Something for everyone

A co-operative nonprofit, PVD Things charges an annual membership fee on a sliding scale — $1 for every $1,000 of a member’s income. Someone making $50,000 would, for example, pay $50 a year. Each item can be checked out for one week and can be renewed once. In early November, PVD Things had 100 members.

In addition to lending tools, PVD Things plans to host skills-building workshops on topics such as plumbing and weatherproofing.

“Right now, we’re just looking to be sustainable. Be open more days of the week, build up a volunteer base, and probably bring someone on [full time],” Summers said.

PVD Things has the support of several local libraries and sees that as a potential way to scale up the operation and bring its resources to farther-flung communities. Currently, Providence Public Library carries 30 of their things, which are available to anyone with a Providence library card.

Most of the items lining the shelves at 12 Library Court have been donated, and PVD Things has a wish list that includes: board and video games, a drain snake, carpet cleaner, balls, recreational equipment, food dehydrator, projector, folding tables, outdoor pop-up tent, camping equipment, hiking poles, laser level, and snow blower.

Community ownership of the tools and equipment at PVD Things will extend the use of tools, reduce the barriers to tool access, and empower renters.

“I think of the tools that my parents bought for one job, and then they stayed in the garage forever. And I think of all the use that they could have gotten,” Pratt said.

To volunteer or to donate a thing, email [email protected].

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  1. This is a very unique thing for our area. The only places that I knew where you could borrow tools was Home Depot and a few independent hardware stores.
    Every community should have library of this kind.
    The results of improvement to the community could be substantial.

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