Riddle us this: How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb? At the Kansas City Public Library, it takes exactly zero. That’s because we’ve got folks like Operations Manager Jerry Houchins to keep the lights on, the buildings warm, and all the facilities clean and running smoothly.

Whether it’s trimming the trees at North-East, replacing the book drop at Sugar Creek, checking the sprinklers at the Plaza Branch, or making sure the Missouri Valley Special Collections are protected in case of a disaster, no job is too big – or too small – for Houchins and his team.

In fact, it’s hard to think of areas that aren't affected by Operations in some way. Conducting renovations, ensuring fire and building safety, promoting energy efficiency, helping with events and exhibits, managing the janitorial staff – these are just a few of this department's charges.

“Anything that’s behind the scenes at the Library, that’s us. We touch more of everything than any other department,” Houchins says.

Houchins has worked backstage at the Kansas City Public Library for the better part of 10 years, a time that’s seen ups – and downs.

In July 2009, Houchins left his post as Plant Operations Manager for what he thought would prove greener pastures, working maintenance for a property management company. Houchins eventually found he’d made a bad move.

The recent release of Mark Twain’s uncensored autobiography has set the literary world ablaze. And that excitement was in the air a few weeks ago at the Central Library, when one of the editors of Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, Robert H. Hirst, came to give a presentation before a crowd of nearly 450 “Twainiacs.”

What’s fantasy, you ask? There’s no single, accepted definition, but the giveaway is usually magic. Whether it’s The Lord of the Rings or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if the world described in the book features some difference from Earth that is the result of magic or other unexplained phenomena, you’re probably holding a fantasy novel.

How Life Imitates Chess book jacket

For Garry Kasparov, life really does imitate chess. The top-ranked chess player in the world for nearly 22 years, Kasparov retired from international competition in 2005 and took on an even more challenging career. He entered Russian politics and became the leader of the opposition movement, playing democracy’s white against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s black.

Eric Petersen and Hank Shivers

For many people, job searching today is a full-time, well, job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are out of work. Kansas City’s unemployment rate, while better than the national rate, is an unsettling 8.5 percent, and area job seekers face many challenges, from negotiating public transportation to navigating the online employment maze. The Central Library’s H&R Block Business & Career Center is here to help.

Business Librarian Eric Petersen is presenting Use the Library to Get That Job, a free class for anyone who’s in the market for work, on Tuesday, November 30, at 9:30 a.m. at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.  The class will offer practical tips on finding and landing a new job, such as using employment-listings sites effectively and crafting a strong résumé and cover letter.

“Librarians have assisted job seekers since the profession began,” Petersen says.

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Second Annual Book Lovers and Book Clubs Conference. For this local event’s first year, founder and organizer Kim Riley held the gathering at a small community center and was overwhelmed with the positive response. This year, Kim looked to her local library for assistance, and the Kansas City Public Library was happy to oblige.

Held on Saturday, November 6, 2010, the conference brought in five popular and critically acclaimed African-American authors to meet loyal fans and readers in a casual setting. Victoria Christopher Murray, Trisha Thomas, Victor McGlothin, and Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant gave presentations on their books, current projects, relationships with their readers, and their own favorite reading. The authors continued to connect with fans during a book signing.

Drawing inspiration from sources such as 1984 and The Running Man, as well as the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, Suzanne Collins raises the bar in the dystopia genre with her gripping trilogy about survival and mass media gone too far.

In the not-too distant future, society has collapsed. Risen from its ashes is Panem, a collection of city-states, “districts,” held together under iron-fisted totalitarian rule. Districts close to the capital benefit from that nearness by having a higher quality of living, faster services, and luxuries. But life in the outer, poorer districts is a grim scramble just to meet basic needs, to make it from one week to the next.

Here at the Kansas City Public Library, we like to think big. Brobdignagian books line our parking garage, baffling bloggers worldwide. Our collection is huge, numbering over a million titles. And as the 2010-11 Script-in-Hand season of free public plays shows, we like our drama big, too.

What’s big about Script-in-Hand? The abilities of the actors and directors from the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre – which has produced this program for all of its’ five-year existence – are tremendous. And the plays they deliver each year are towering works of literature.

But most of all, in this 2010-11 season, it’s the ideas that are biggest.

Don't go there. Seriously, don't go there. Wondering where to take your next road trip or how to squander those frequent flyer miles? Instead of suggestions for where you should visit, how about a list of places to avoid?

Catherine Price has cobbled together a host of hotspots (not) on the road less traveled, and best they stay that way. If you're one of those travelers who prefers to go off the beaten path you need 101 Places Not to See Before You Die.

Some of these locations will require a passport and some simply an overactive imagination. Price has listed some actual places in her travelogue of decidedly untropical locales, and some she’s made up or can’t prove exist. Such as “The Room Where Spam Subject Lines are Created” or “Hell.”

Price is fairly certain that there must be some staff lounge somewhere with too much Mountain Dew and three hyper guys thinking up intricate ways English can be manipulated to capture your attention while scanning your email. And she doesn’t know about you, but she has no plans to visit Hell or any of its circles any time soon.

Polsinelli-Shughart office

In his preamble to the Fall 2010 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly Lewis Lapham writes, “Pericles conceived of ancient Athens as the expression of man’s humanity to man.” Though this notion seems a far shot from today’s Midwestern cityscapes, a recent battle over an old building in the heart of Kansas City shows that people feel a definite, human connection to our city’s defining places.

Juxtaposing texts from history and literature over the centuries with essays by contemporary thinkers, the Fall LQ (most of which is readable for free online) explores the evolution of the city in civilization – and our relationship to it over time. From expressions of the greatness of gods and kings in ancient times to today’s sprawling conduits of commerce, cities have shown the aspirations and limitations of society – a constant push and pull between higher ideals and economic expediency.

When it comes to finding quality health care information in Kansas City, many minority communities are underserved. It’s a problem that needs more than a figurative band-aid.

“There is undeniable evidence that the African-American community suffers from higher rates of many chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and sickle cell disease,” says Jeannine Glore Midgett, Director of Community Outreach for Truman Medical Centers.

She says that the lack of access to quality healthcare resources, including educational information, only makes the problem worse.

The Internet is crawling with health information, but can you trust the top few results of a Google search? And if you do manage to find actual medical information, how do you make sure you’re interpreting it correctly? Your health, after all, is on the line.

It’s no wonder that people have increasingly been turning to public libraries for health information. As a result, more and more libraries are creating specialized services to help people manage their health.

If your only experience of Beowulf is the 2007 3-D film, there’s one thing you know for sure – Grendel’s mom is hot! That film rather imaginatively recast the monstrous swamp mama as Angelina Jolie. I like eye candy as much as the next moviegoer, but the film’s creators were quite misleading.

It takes a community to raise a mural. This past October, working with Northeast neighborhood kids and parents, the Hip-Hop Academy covered two walls outside the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library with graffiti goodness. Watch a video documentary of the project on our blog.

Whether she’s teaching ESL classes to customers from Ethiopia, organizing a Cinco de Mayo fiesta, or speaking at a local school about her own Thai culture, Sukalaya Kenworthy is spreading multicultural awareness from her station at the Westport Branch.

A library associate of five years at the Kansas City Public Library, Sukalaya – “Su” for short – spent half a year as a technical assistant at Trails West before transferring to the Westport Branch as a library associate.

A native of Bangkok, Thailand, Su came to the States in 1996 to get her Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language at the University of Central Missouri (then called Central Missouri State). It was there that she met her husband, Curry Kenworthy.

Why did she choose KC?

“I was working in Thailand at a government office that helped people find places to study abroad. I looked through schools [for myself], and this just felt like the part of the country where I wanted to be – in the middle,” she says.

Now, she’s in the midst of a diverse of array of activities at the Westport Branch. In addition to managing regular teen gaming and crafts activities, she facilitates the KC Metro Poets monthly meetings. This past summer, she organized summer reading programs and spearheaded the Cinco de Mayo festival at the Westport Branch, which had neighborhood kids performing traditional dances and breaking a piñata.

Hattie heard the strangers approaching long before they reached her father’s tobacco farm. The groan of straining wagon wheels. The thudding of horses’ hooves on the hard Missouri dirt. And as she lay worrying and waiting for what was to come, she looked out of her upstairs window until she finally saw their shadowy shapes form at the edge of the yard.

She crept out of bed and headed downstairs, wondering who would visit their home in the middle of this stifling August night night. Was it a neighbor in need or a band of raggedy soldiers seeking shelter?

Hattie, the heroine of Susan Salzer’s dramatic Civil War-era novel Up From Thunder, was about to find out.

Outside, she heard men yelling and Pa’s scuffled footsteps on their warped wooden porch. The front door flew open like it had been forced by an invisible wind, and a group of scruffy men with guns hurried a fellow rider inside. They marched him up to the tiny attic with a large trail of blood following behind them.

Through the light of Pa’s flickering lantern, she looked at the face of the wounded man as they carried him by. He was pale, but handsome, with sharp cheekbones and a boyish face. She had no idea who he was, and she turned to Pa quizzically. He looked back with worried eyes and whispered, “Hattie, I am going to need your help.”

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