Whitehaven Library transforms for community Super Bowl party

Millions of people gathered last night to watch Super Bowl LIII. Unfortunately, it would end with the lowest score in Super Bowl history, the lowest television ratings in a decade and one of the least exciting championship games in recent memory. 

Fortunately for the roughly 130 people who attended the Super Sunday at The Haven event at the Whitehaven Branch Library, the game mattered less than the party.

“I think it’s a good event for mainly the kids to come out and not be in the streets,” said Antonio Pickens, a former resident of Whitehaven who attended the Super Bowl watch party.

“You don’t hear too much about businesses opening up their doors for the community to come out and enjoy the game [for free],” he added. 

A Super Bowl party might seem like it’s out of a library’s wheel house, but libraries around the country are working to be relevant and responsive community partners across a variety of needs, including entertainment.

In fall 2017 Memphis Public Libraries launched their Start Here rebranding campaign to show that whatever a customer may need — from a safe place to watch a football game to learning how to fix a car or speak English — the library is the place to start. 

The party included two big screen televisions and a feast of pizza, wings, fried chicken, chips and soda. The library also offered its full range of services during the party including access to computers and collections.

One of the highlights of the night was the halftime hot wing contest. In a blind taste test, six randomly selected judges decided which were the best wings in Whitehaven. BJ’s Buffalo Style Wings and Things and Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken tied for first in the competition, which also included Crumpy’s Wings and More, KFC, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, and D’Bo’s Wings N More. 

The event was sponsored by Friends of Whitehaven Library. Uncle Lou’s, Popeyes and KFC each donated food.

“This community has been supportive of us, very good to us,” said Jaime Griffin, branch manager of the Whitehaven Branch located at 4120 Millbranch Road.

“We always want to try to do something that brings families together, and we know that there are a lot of people who can’t watch Super Bowls in the family environment for whatever reason. We wanted to provide them with that.”

The Super Bowl party was a first for the Whitehaven Branch Library and something the staff were eager to host. Of the branch’s 15 staff members, 10 were on hand for the party.

Ten of the Whitehaven Branch Library's fifteen staff members were on hand for the event to serve food, assist customers and enjoy the game. Branch Manager Jaime Griffin stands center in the #10 jersey. (Cole Bradley)

“I am so impressed with our staff. I know that people have family and friends of their own. I didn’t make it mandatory that people had to come out and work on this day. Before I committed us to doing this, I checked,” said Griffin.

“So many of them were like, ‘Yeah, I’m good, I’m down, I’ll do it. It’s a great cause, let’s have some fun, let’s do it. Very impressed, very amazed at how our staff is so unified.’”

Griffin said that the entire Memphis Public Libraries system recently extended its hours in response to community needs and feedback.

“It’s open for the first time on Sundays that I know about,” said Carrie Mitchell, a senior who’s lived in Whitehaven for four years and attended the Super Bowl party.

Mitchell came originally to use the computer but decided to stay for the game. She said she didn't especially care who won since her beloved Cowboy's didn't make it, but she enjoyed the festivities.

“The library, of course, is in the business now of trying to make it fun and fresh and transformative,”  said Griffin.

Young viewers react with excitement after a play in the first quarter. Carrie Mitchell sits in the foreground on the front row and behind her sits Antonio Pickens. (Cole Bradley)
The Whitehaven Branch recently held a children’s storytime event with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra providing background music, and its Teen Haven launched in August 2017. Teen Haven is a STEAM-focused space for teens to hang out and get creative. It offers youth between the ages of 13 and 18 the chance to use technology like laptops and tablets in activities and self-guided work related to math, science and the arts. Around 30 teens attend daily.

The Haven Monthly, the branch’s event publication, has 1,500 subscribers. Its February edition has 15 pages of events for kids and adults, including tax prep and computer classes.

“One thing I wish people would know about the library is that it’s here for the people,” said Rick Middlebrook, circulation representative with the Whitehaven Branch Library. “If there’s an event or something that is not offered here, they can come in and make a suggestion and perhaps it can be offered.”

“We want Whitehaven to identify the importance of the library, we want to say that we’re part of this community,” said Griffin. “We want people to understand that for whatever needs they may have, even if we can’t provide them with that need, we can at least get them where they need to go.”
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Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.