Library Expands Offerings with DIY Day

2013-09-22T00:00:00Z Library Expands Offerings with DIY DayBy Kate Newton Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

An unlikely venue is set to become a one-stop shop for the local do-it-yourself community at the end of the month.

Proving it has much more in its repertoire than just books, the Joel D. Valdez Main Library will host its first annual DIY Day on Saturday. The free event will connect visitors with local experts in fields ranging from hypnosis to yogurt making, giving them the chance to learn a new hobby or skill in the span of a single hour.

Inspired by the success of the How-To Festival at the Louisville Free Public Library in Louisville, Ky., the Pima County Public Library staff was convinced a similar event could also find an audience in Tucson, a town already well-versed in the concept of DIY.

“We’re a creative community. I think there’s a lot of talent and skills that are based right here in Pima County,” says Kenya Johnson, the library’s community relations manager. “Locally, we knew that there’s an interest.”

While the county’s library branches — more than 25 of them — have hosted classes, talks and activities ranging in diverse topics on a daily basis for decades, the staff knew originality was key in making DIY Day memorable for both regular and first-time visitors. Early this summer, a committee brainstormed more than 100 ideas for presentations and began soliciting them by word-of-mouth, social media and within the library locations themselves.

The ideas were meant to act as a jumping-off point for potential volunteers, says librarian and committee member Karen Greene, but were hardly meant to prevent community members from pitching their own DIY-worthy concepts.

The response was much more varied — and endearingly strange — than expected. “Bike-tography,” “Pole Fitness” and “How to Win Prizes and Sweepstakes” eventually earned a spot on the schedule, while experienced presenters — among them the League of Women Voters, Pima County Bike Ambassadors and the librarians themselves — came forward to represent their niche of choice.

“That’s been very rewarding, seeing all of the different things, the passions, that people want to share,” Greene says.

Brandon Merchant, an avid gardener and DIY Day presenter, personified that passion so well to the librarians at the Himmel Park branch that they personally reached out to him once the event’s planning was gaining momentum. Merchant launched his business, Southwest Victory Gardens, in March, and specializes in organic vegetable garden installation, design and “garden coaching,” where he plants alongside clients in their personal gardens. The librarians thought he seemed like the natural fit for a gardening-related presentation, which could help fill the home-improvement-related category most people associate with DIY.

Merchant’s presentation, “Creating Organic Pest Controls for Your Garden,” represents a long-held personal “philosophy,” he says, to wean gardeners off store-bought and often harmful pesticides, and instead inform them of a more holistic, homemade solution.

“A lot of (pesticides) are toxic to bees, toxic to fish and other wildlife even though they’re organic,” Merchant says. “I really want to help people learn that even organic pesticides should be a last resort.”

Gardening enthusiasts are only one demographic that should feel welcome at DIY Day. Faced with the commitment to offer something to everyone, as a public library caters to “toddlers, senior citizens and everyone in between,” Johnson says, the majority of the 36 presentations are family-friendly and geared toward visitors who may have never visited any of the local library locations before. Falling at the end of National Library Card Sign-Up Month, DIY Day seemed like the perfect way to reach out to this untouched demographic.

“The library wants to really be a resource for the community as a whole, and if there’s something they need, we want them to think about us first,” Johnson says.

Holding DIY Day at the Joel D. Valdez branch shares the “clean slate” symbolism behind the event itself. The surge of new restaurants, housing and business ventures in the downtown area has generated a “buzz” that can only benefit DIY Day, according to Johnson. Other downtown events — like Startup Weekend Tucson, which aims to unite entrepreneurs and technical experts to generate business ideas this weekend — speak to a growing trend toward collaboration in the Tucson community.

This collaboration can occur regardless of skill set or experience because in the DIY Day presentations — spread out across several floors of the library and occurring in one-hour rotations — the emphasis is put on learning the basics, meeting other visitors and, of course, getting creative. Presentations such as “Tie Dye 101” and “Friendship Bracelets” will give visitors something tangible to take home, while more high-concept ones such as “How to Make a Big-Budget Video Game in 31½ Days” might spark an interest that can pay off in a more long-term sense.

Finances are one of the driving factors behind people choosing DIY options, many of which explode into national trends. Couponing is one high-profile example, having transformed in recent years from a commonplace household activity to a full-blown shopping gauntlet. “How to Coupon” presenter Stacie Gonda, who joined DIY Day after reading about it on Facebook, aims more for the former, blending the practical approach she learned from her mother with helpful resources on the Internet to cut down on the time, effort and unprecedented energy that couponing demands.

“My big thing is, there is a way to organize coupons and do coupons that doesn’t take the time commitment of an extra full-time job,” says Gonda, who balances her hobby with raising her 10-month-old daughter. “Even with the small amount of time that I do put into it, we still save hundreds of dollars each month.”

If the skill-building proves too taxing during the five-hour day, food trucks, now well-known figures of Tucson thriftiness, will also be at hand: the Twisted Tandoor and Chef’s Kitchen trucks will begin demonstrations at 10 a.m. Johnson says the library will closely observe the success of the presentations and event as a whole.

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