When Ritchie Momon thinks of his history at the Kansas City Public Library, the image that stands out is of an open door.
The door stood across a courtyard at Southeast High School. Beyond it lay the school's library, where Momon would head every day after school and during summers as a kid.
Later, in his freshman year at Southeast, he would go through that door to work the card catalog as a library clerk.
It was there that Momon learned to become a steward of knowledge.
"Before the computer age, when you needed to know something, books were the first line on information, the first place you'd go," Momon says.
Now, 31 years after his first job at Southeast, Momon is about to become director of one of the biggest libraries in the city, the Kansas City Public Library's Plaza Branch, where he will succeed the recently retired Dorothy Elliott as Branch Director.
Like so many great librarians, Momon worked his way from the ground floor up, moving through just about every department in the system before turning branch manager. He worked through college and while getting his MLS at the University of Missouri (for which he took a year off, the only year he hasn't worked in a library in three decades).
After graduating high school, Momon got his first full-time job at the Library. It was in the Community Services department (now called Outreach Services) in the old Main Library. Next, he worked as a clerk at the former Prospect Branch.
He then moved to the newly built Bluford Branch, then hopped to the North-East Branch as a technical assistant. From there, he went back downtown to work as a computer technician in ITS as the Kansas City Library Consortium was being formed.
After a stint in Youth Services, he moved up to branch manager at Trails West, the Library's only Independence location, where he has spent a successful six years.
What's made those years a success? Momon's dedication to customer service.
"People who come into the library have a choice about where to go, and they choose us," he says. "We are one of the only free public services in the metro area. Everywhere else you go, there is some membership fee, and our membership - a library card - is free."
"Even though we're free," he continues, "we're a choice they've made, and we want to make the best of people's choices."
While Momon is a firm believer in providing consistent and fair service to all customers, he also places value on learning patrons' names and faces, sussing out when people are having a good day - or a bad one.
Last year his acts of relationship building paid off when a couple bequeathed $182,000 to the Trails West Branch.
"When the man passed away a few years ago, he wanted contributions to go to Trails West in lieu of flowers for his funeral," Momon explains. (The branch received several hundred dollars at the time.)
"And then, when she passed in 2011, we were one of 10 local institutions that received contributions from their estate."
Byron and Betty Widmier of Independence were big readers. Byron was a Trails West regular, checking out books and jazz and also using the collections and Library computers to do research for their many travels. Though Momon and his staff helped the Widmiers on a regular basis, they probably never envisioned reaping such dividends.
"It was for the service that we offer as a Library," Momon says. "That's something we did as a team."
Now he's poised to lead the staff at the Plaza Branch just as he did at Trails - by promoting a spirit of collegiality.
"When I went into Plaza Branch a week ago, I asked the staff if they were willing to train me. Most of them said yes," he laughs.
As for the community the Library serves, Ritchie's door will always be open.
About the Author
Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.