Hair care and car repair: Whitehaven Library hosts first Do-It-Yourself Festival

The Whitehaven Library hosted its first How-To-Festival on Saturday, April 27 at 4120 Millbranch Road, where Memphians learned to expand their skill set. Classes for do-it-yourselfers spanned a range of diverse topics like natural hair care, sheetrock repair, car oil changes, pickling and photography.

While the event was a first for the Whitehaven community, how-to programming is trending at libraries across the country with events planned in Louisville, KY to San Diego, CA. The Whitehaven event was inspired by the Germantown Community Library which is getting ready to host its sixth annual How-To-Festival on Saturday, May 18.

“People are like ‘I need to learn how to clean the gutters and change your own oil,’” said Melissa Sierra, manager for the Memphis Public Libraries’ Connect Crew, which is the library’s community programming department.

These are things your grandpa definitely would have done all the time. Now we get so specialized in what we do at our jobs that we forget this is part of being an active and engaged adult in your community taking care of your family, your house, your area,” added Sierra, who taught pickling at the event.

Library staff chose the lineup based on available instructors and community insight gleaned from daily conversations with customers. Jamie Griffin, branch manager for Whitehaven Library, said customers frequently request information on how to repair sheetrock and change a car’s oil.
Sheetrock repair was part of the lineup for the How-To-Festival at the Whitehaven Library held on April 27. (Kim Coleman)
He brought together instructors on these topics as well as experts in natural hair styling and care, calligraphy and photography, which were popular classes for the festival.

Class size ranged from one to 10 people at a time. They were casual sessions where participants were free to wander in and out of each class at their leisure.

“We always want to bring things to this community that they haven’t had a lot of exposure to before. We’ll see how it works from there and then grow it at that point,” said Griffin.

Another well-attended class, especially with youth, was the pickling demonstration. Lacking a kitchen area, Sierra prepared a brine the previous evening and explained the process to the class. Students learned how to pickle cucumbers, onions, jalapenos, and even leftover Easter eggs which proved a timely recipe.

“The kids loved them. They had to peel them, and they still had the decorations on them,” said Sierra.

She gave students printed out instructions that detailed how to pickle at home.

The How-To-Festival is just one of numerous programs and events that are held throughout the year at the Whitehaven branch.

Melissa Sierra, Connect Crew manager for the Memphis Public Library system, talks about the process of making brine for a pickling class at the How-To-Festival, held at the Whitehaven Library on Saturday, April 27. (Kim Coleman)

To get the word out about the library’s activities, the branch publishes “The Haven Monthly,” a digital publication available via email subscription. For example, from May 4 to 5, the branch will host a yard and book sale with a focus on the history of Whitehaven.

They also host a continuing Tween Speakers Series that features talks in subjects of interest to preteens.

“We ask the kids first, ‘What would you like to know about?’ before we start lining up the speakers,” said Griffin.

A grant from the Met Foundation paid for a sound system as well as stipends for the guest speakers. Past talks have been given by members of the Memphis Police Department, The Grizzlies and a specialist in natural hair care.

The Whitehaven branch has also had success with outreach through other organizations in the area, such as the area Whitehaven Community Center and the YMCA, to promote library card sign-ups and the monthly publication.

“The How-To-Festival is an extension of other things that we do for this community. We feel like we owe it this community. This community built us,” said Griffin.

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Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.