Library Life

Apple users rejoice! Two weeks after rolling out our KC Library mobile app for Android and most other mobile platforms, it is now available on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It’s a free download from the App Store – just search for “kc library.”

The KC Library app puts the Library’s digital services in the palm of your hand. With it, you can:

  • Search for books, music, and more in the catalog.
  • Place and manage holds.
  • Renew items you have checked out.
  • Get hours, locations, and maps for all locations.
  • Find the latest special events, classes, story times, and other programs.
  • Ask a librarian a question via phone or email.
  • Read our blogs for book reviews and stories from behind the scenes.
  • Connect with the library on social networks.

So far, we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback about the app. In fact, Droid-using patron @CallMeFin tweeted this message over the weekend.

Let us know what you think! Download the app, give it a test run, and tweet your feedback to @KCLibrary or post on our Facebook Wall. And if you dig it, we'd love for you to rate it and post a review in the iTunes store.

The app is also available for Droid and many other smart phones and tablet PCs. Visit our app developer's site,, or use your QR reader to get the app directly by scanning the code below:

QR code for KC Library mobile app

(iPad users: The app will work just fine on your device, but a bigger, iPad-optimized version is coming soon.)

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

10.3.11 – As patrons browsed the shelves and logged in to the public computers at the Central Library, elsewhere in the building, a cadre of community-minded business professionals discussed how information moving at light speed could change life in Kansas City.

As Joe Cox, president of the Social Media Club of Kansas City, put it, "Google is coming here to build the sandbox and fill it with sand. It’s our job to get the Tonka trucks and build the sandcastles.”

When Google announced that it would choose Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, to serve as a test market for a new high-speed, fiber optic broadband Internet connection, local groups such as the Social Media Club began uniting the tech community to devise a roadmap for how the city can take advantage of Google Fiber.

Those efforts came to fruition this past Monday, when the Kansas City Public Library hosted the landmark Building a Gigabit City ideation workshop and public forum. In the daylong workshop, the Brainzooming Group led a diverse group of 80 plugged-in locals brainstorming ways Google Fiber can be used in the areas of K-12 schools, higher education, urban and suburban living, libraries, health care, and community activities. At the end of the day, the group presented its results before a crowd of 162 people from the public.

The video below gives a quick peek into what was a truly rich and almost overwhelming day of top-caliber idea generation and communal dialogue.

Check the Library’s online Media Center in a few days for full video of the evening session (full audio is available now).

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

The wait is over. Kindle e-books are now available at the Kansas City Public Library. Users of the Amazon Kindle e-reader and mobile or web-based Kindle apps now have their choice of more than 2,000 titles, all free with a Library card.

With the addition of Kindle compatibility, the Library is now able to provide e-books for the vast majority of e-readers and mobile devices, such as the Nook, Kobo, iPad, and any smart phone or tablet PC with app capability. (Get full instructions for using e-readers with our collection.)

But considering that the Kindle – the most popular e-reader in the world – has for years been incompatible with school and public libraries, our patrons online seem thrilled with this new service.

“I’ve already downloaded several books,” said one patron on our Facebook Wall. “The process is so easy, and it’s great that I can get and return my books without leaving the house (my two-month-old thanks you, too!).”

The process does look pretty easy, and if you have a wi-fi Kindle, you can do it from anywhere with an Internet connection. To see how it works, take a look at this video produced by OverDrive, the Library’s e-books provider.

If you’re ready to start checking out e-books for your Kindle, head to our OverDrive catalog and do an Advanced Search for Format: Kindle Books.

Learn about other e-reading resources and get step-by-step downloading instructions in our online e-books tutorial.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Julie Robinson remembers the first thing Irene H. Ruiz ever said to her: "How long will you stay at my library?" Robinson's answer: "Until they tell me I'm going somewhere else." Now, eight years later, Robinson has built a reputation for her branch as a unifying force in the community it serves.

After moving to Kansas City from California, Robinson worked as assistant manger and children's librarian at North-East. After five and a half months, she was asked to fill in as interim manager at the Irene H. Ruiz Biblioteca de las Americas. The branch had seen three managers come and go in the past three years - hence the skepticism on the part of the building's namesake.

One of Robinson's favorite memories is of the day in 2006 when the Ruiz Branch dedicated its portrait of Mrs. Ruiz, painted by local artist Bob Walkenhorst. Mrs. Ruiz had just been named the first woman "Hero of the Year" by Primitivo Garcia Elementary School, and people flocked to Robinson's branch to show support.

"We had never had anything that showed who she was, just the name of the branch," Robinson remembers. "We had a lot of people come who had known her for many years, as well as Library people. It was a truly great moment."

Irene H. Ruiz served first as a teacher, then as a librarian from 1976-1996, beginning at a time when the Library was tied to the school district. As the librarian at West High School, she developed the Latino-dominated neighborhood's first Spanish-language collection.

She also recorded a series of oral histories of the Westside neighborhood - stories told by first-generation immigrants. A consummate community builder, Ruiz is one of the few Hispanic females in the country to have a public building named after her.

And Robinson is more than following her example.

From changing the entire tone of the branch through bi-weekly teen lock-ins (which were so popular when they began in 2007 that incident reports dropped to three in a single year as teens put on their best behavior); to helping build the Back-to-School Pep Rally into the Library's single biggest Outreach event; to sowing the seeds of Switzer Neighborhood Farm; to working with Public Affairs to nurture a relationship between the Library and the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City; Robinson has made her branch into an active hub for the entire Westside.

"Being accepted by the community has been a real achievement," Robinson says. "I don't speak fluent Spanish, and yet the community has always accepted me as being one of them, as being a Westsider."

Help Robinson celebrate the Ruiz Branch's 10 years of service on Friday, September 30, at 6 p.m., with a musical showcase featuring the Alta Vista Middle School Mariachi Band and the Solis Family Band. Refreshments will be provided, and tours of the newly remodeled library will be given.

And don't be surprised if you see Mrs. Ruiz herself in the stacks.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content guy at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

When the Library declared it would reach 16,000 kids and teens through this year's Summer Reading program, it quickly became an all-hands-on-deck proposition. Reaching more readers than ever would require advocacy at all the branches, with staff promoting it from the front desk to the childrens' areas and beyond.

It would also take the biggest Summer Reading Outreach campaign to date, with a team of librarians led by Outreach Manager Carrie McDonald conducting reading programs at 20 non-Library locations in hopes of signing up 2,500 kids.

It would be nothing less than Building a Community of Readers from the ground up. And when the numbers were tallied a few weeks ago, the Library found that it had built an even bigger community than it planned.

According to Children's and Youth Services, 20,770 children and 4,724 teens participated in Summer Reading through reading, program attendance, or both, for a total of 25,494. (Last year's total was approximately 15,000, according to Youth Services.)

"The results more than met any of our expectations," says Helma Hawkins, director of Children's Services. "We definitely brought in kids we hadn't reached before thanks to the Outreach program, and we also reached new children inside the Library."

And that, Hawkins says, was thanks in large part to the efforts of frontline employees. "The staff was enthusiastic in promoting reading all summer long," Hawkins says.

Additionally, the completion rate (children who read 12 or more hours) increased over last year from 49% to 53%.

Teen readership also saw a significant increase.

"We changed up the program this year, which seemed to be attractive for teens as we more than doubled our participation from last year," says Crystal Faris, director of Teen Services.

Instead of asking teens to log reading hours, the Library asked teen participants to write book reviews - via handwritten card, email, or SMS text - to earn Library Bucks and entries into a drawing to win a Netbook. (See examples of reviews on the Teen Blog.)

Here are some more numbers from a truly landmark Summer Reading Program.

2011 Statistics

Children's participation: 20,770
Children's enrollment in reading: 9,505
Children enrolled through Outreach: 2,700
Children's completion rate (read at least 12 hours): 53%
Children's program attendance: 8,707 (at 177 events)
No. of Royals tickets awarded to families of readers: 8,000

Teen participation: 4,724
Teen program attendance: 2,501 (at 168 events)
Teen book reviews submitted: 2,233
Teen book reviews submitted via text: 180

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content guy at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Kansas City Public Library cardholders will soon be able to check out e-books for the Amazon Kindle. Within the next week, the Library’s e-books catalog will be outfitted with Kindle-friendly downloadable e-books that also work on any device, such as a smartphone or PC, that is equipped with a free Kindle app.

Though Nooks, iPads, and other supported devices have long been compatible with public library e-books, Amazon’s Kindle — the most popular e-reader on the market — had famously not. That’s why e-reader fans’ ears perked up earlier this year when OverDrive, the library world’s biggest provider of downloadable e-books and digital audiobooks, announced an impending deal with Amazon to be finalized later in the year.

That time has finally come, and OverDrive is working quickly to convert its client public and school libraries with Kindle-formatted e-books – at no cost to libraries or patrons. Expect the Kansas City Public Library’s OverDrive e-books catalog to be updated within the next few days.

How Will It Work?
Though we haven’t had a chance to test it yet, the process for downloading Kindle e-books from the Library looks like it will be fairly straightforward. The e-books will work on all Kindle models (3, DX, 2 and 1) and on platform apps such as the Kindle Cloud Reader. All you’ll need is a Library card and a free account. For those already familiar with downloading our e-books, note that the process with regard to Kindles does not involve Adobe Digital Editions software. (More about downloading e-books.)


  • Visit our OverDrive collection at
  • Browse or search for an e-book.
  • Click the “Get for Kindle” button. This opens the website. You may be required to sign in with your account if you are not already logged on. (Sign up for a free account.)
  • Select a Kindle device or Kindle reading app. Click the “Get library book” button and sync your device or app to download the book, or choose to send it directly to your Kindle via USB.
  • You can also deliver e-books wirelessly to your Wi-Fi-enabled Kindle.

For more details, read OverDrive’s official press release and Amazon’s Kindle lending page.

Update, Sept. 28, 2011: Kindle e-books are now available. To get started, visit our e-reader tutorial page.

Got a suggestion for an e-book the Library should purchase? Make a purchase suggestion on our website.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content guy at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Did you know you can download the adventures of Tom, Huck, Becky Thatcher, and Injun Joe and listen to them on your iPod on the go? The Big Read Podcast is live, and it features The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as read by a huge cast of Kansas City luminaries.

Chapter 1 features Mayor Sly James setting the scene in St. Petersburg, Missouri. He’s followed by our own Library Director, Crosby Kemper III, rendering the Glorious Whitewashers scene in Chapter 2.

Other upcoming readers include KCPT host Nick Haines; Nelson-Atkins Museum Director Julián Zugazagoitia; Star writers and editors Steve Kraske, Miriam Pepper, Steve Paul, and Mary Sanchez; Missouri State Senator Jolie Justus, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts CEO Jane Chu, and many more.

The podcast also features dialogue performed by Park University theatre students, including Patrick Kastor (as Tom) and Mindy Reynolds (as Becky).

How to Get It

Each day around 9 a.m. a new episode of the Big Read Podcast will be available at the podcast main page starting Wednesday, September 21. And, by the way, you don’t need an iPod to enjoy it. You can stream it directly on the page or download it as an MP3 for the player of your choice. You can also subscribe to it using iTunes, set up an RSS feed, or sign up to receive e-mail notifications when new episodes are posted. (It’s so easy, you practically have no excuse not to listen to it.)

Other Big Read Programs & Events

The Big Read is in full swing at the Library. We’re hopping with special events, book discussions, works of art, and, most of all, reading. Keep up with the Twain mania at

Jason Harper

Update (October 10, 2011): The mobile app is now available for iPhone, Android, and other mobile devices. Learn more.

Thanks to our brand-new mobile app, smartphone users can now access the Kansas City Public Library from anywhere. From searching the catalog to renewing items, placing holds, and downloading e-books, a bevy of services are available through this totally free app.

The app was built by to our specifications by Boopsie, a leading company in mobile development for libraries. The app is currently available for Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and many other devices. It is not yet available for the iPhone, but it will be very soon. (Stand by, Apple fanboys!)

How to get the app:

  • Android: Launch the Android Market and search for "KC Library."
  • Others: Visit on your mobile device, or scan the QR code below.
  • iPhones: Coming soon.

KC Library mobile app

Here’s a quick tour of the app’s features:

My Account
View what items you have checked out, renew items, manage holds, and check your fine balance.

Catalog Search
The app’s unique autocomplete functionality is geared toward mobile users, making it easy to find the book you want without a lot of typing. Just enter the first few letters of each word in your search term, and the app does the rest. For example, to find Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, you could just type “ha po go fi.”

Locations & Hours
Find a Library location, check  its hours of operation, tap to call the front desk, and Google Map it right on your device. You can also come here to view upcoming events and classes at each branch.

Events & Classes
Get info about all the Library’s upcoming events, including author events and lectures, classes, movies, and programs for kids and teens.

Contact Us
Call the main line or email us a reference question.

Catch up on the latest Library news and book and movie reviews from our four blogs: KC Unbound, From the Film Vault, Keyword:Kids, and the Teen Blog.

E-books and Audiobooks
Connect to the OverDrive catalog to download e-books and audiobooks directly to your mobile device.

Access databases that offer mobile versions, including OverDrive, Mango languages, and EBSCOhost.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
Find us on Facebook, view our latest Twitter updates from @kclibrary, and watch our videos on YouTube – right on your device.

View the Full Website
Takes you to our full, non-mobile-formatted website.

What do you think?
Send us feedback (in the comments or by emailing the Web Team) and tell us about your experience using the app.

Jason Harper is the web content guy at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

The grandson of Iowa farmers, Thomas Hoenig began working at the age of 9. Now, at 65, he is about to retire after 20 years as the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, where he was the longest-serving leader in Fed history.

For a very special edition of KCPT's The Local Show, Library Director Crosby Kemper III – himself a former banker – sat down with Hoenig to talk about his distinguished career and recently earned reputation as a dissenter against the policies of the very institution he served.

Watch the half-hour interview below.

As many joint KCPT and Library fans know, this isn't the first time our Director has gone all Charlie Rose on us. The critically acclaimed Meet the Past with Crosby Kemper III series has seen our boss get deep with the likes of Amelia Earhart, Charlie Parker, and Harry Truman, among other figures of local historic import. Launched this year, the brand-new Cradle of Entrepreneurs series of public interviews by Crosby has drawn audiences hungry to hear the wisdom and experience of Kansas City business owners, including John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing Co. (watch a clip from their interview).

So, if you're looking for a sophisticated, conversational interviewer who'll do his homework well in advance, you'll find a pretty good one down at 10th and Baltimore. Just don't get too ambitious – the guy does have work to do here at the Library.

-- Jason Harper

Robert W. Butler is a movie critic’s movie critic. He knows his early Buñuels from his later Godards and can talk Hollywoodese with the layman. When you prick him, he bleeds Peckinpah. It’s no wonder why, when Butler’s four decades at the Kansas City Star came to an end this past May, Roger Ebert summed up his feelings on Twitter in a single word: “Damn.”

In a journalism industry where longstanding local movie critics are being cut in favor of cheaper, syndicated wire content, writers like Butler are forced to look for new outlets. Fortunately for KC’s cinema-soaked crowd, Butler has found his way to the Kansas City Public Library. And we couldn’t be happier to have him. 

A movie critic at a library, you say? It’s a plot twist worthy of Hitchcock, to be sure, but when you think about it, it’s a natural fit.

As anyone who has descended to our Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault or risen to our Rooftop Terrace for an Off-the-Wall screening knows, the KC Public Library has built a reputation for bringing creative, challenging, and inspired film programming to the public many nights a month, always free of charge

With Butler at the helm, this programming is going to get even more daring. Starting September 2011, Butler will take over the selection of all movies shown in our film series, and he’ll be introducing a few select screenings each month in person.

In addition to picking the films, Butler will also keep his writing chops in shape over on his brand-new blog, From the Film Vault. There, our critic-at-large will post expertly written guides to all the movies showing in the Vault, plus reviews of DVDs new to our catalog, vlog-style previews of films, movie trivia quizzes, essays on significant events in film culture, and pretty much anything else he wants to write. Check out his coverage of our September film series "The Golden Door," which complements our exhibit on Emma Lazarus.

While it’s great for the Library to be getting this legendary homegrown film critic, it’s even better for movie fans all across Kansas City. Why? Well, to take it back to Ebert … imagine if the lauded Chicago critic opened his own theater and started showing whatever movies he wanted. Wouldn’t you want to check that out?

As Bogie said to Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

-- Jason Harper

Thursday, August 11, 2011, marked the 10th anniversary of the Back to School Pep Rally at the Irene H. Ruiz Branch. And though it was a milestone for one of the Kansas City Public Library's biggest outreach-oriented events, according to Branch Manager Julie Robinson, the kids who came didn't care.

"What the kids care about is that this is for them -- and for them, it's a really big deal," Robinson says.

It's a big deal for the entire neighborhood. Each year before the start of school, a network of Westside community organizations and individuals circles around the I.H. Ruiz Branch. They put on a giant block party and give out scads of school supplies and books to students in grades pre-K through 12.

This year, the neighborhood schools that benefitted were Primitivo Garcia Elementary, Our Lady of Guadalupe School, Alta Vista Middle and Charter High Schools, and Cristo Rey High.

Around 2,000 people came out for the event, and 189 backpacks stuffed with grade-specific supplies were given to 72 families. Even more backpacks were given out in the ensuing days to families who had registered to receive them.

Each year, the school supplies and backpacks are donated by community members and organizations. This year, donors included Kramer Hardware, Manny's Restaurant, Boulevard Brewing Co., Carthage Marble, Walmart of Liberty, Mo., Perez Food Products and many others. Employees at the local U.S. Department of Homeland Security office even held a three-day drive to collect supplies for the event.

Kids from around the neighborhood, like fiver-year-old Daryl Stevenson, had a blast on air castles.

The Pep Rally was organized chiefly by the I.H. Ruiz Branch, the Westside Community Action Network (CAN) Center, and the Tony Aguirre Community Center. Kansas City Parks and Recreation provided the inflatables and hot dogs, and day laborers from the CAN Center helped with setup and teardown.

Twenty vendors from around Kansas City set up tables to give out information and prizes. Truman Medical Center, LINC, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Arvest Bank, El Dorado Architects, the American Red Cross, the Fire Dept., and Kansas City Public Television were among those represented.

Providing the manpower to help the event run smoothly were 28 Kansas City Public Library volunteers under the direction of Volunteer Coordinator Katie Taylor. In the days leading up to the event, Robinson organized other volunteers to stock backpacks with items from the KCMSD school-supply list. An additional two dozen volunteers from the neighborhood helped out, too, as they do year after year.

"My kids come to the Library all the time. One of the reasons I help out is that I'm giving back," said neighborhood volunteer Kenny Posey.

Several members of the Friends of the Library also rolled up their sleeves. In years past, the Friends have donated money to purchase the books that the Library gives to every child who attends. But this year, FOL board members Tom Platt and Susan Bailey and volunteers Eric Patterson, Carole and Dave Rowmer, and Don Biggs joined in the work -- and the fun.

Ruiz Branch staffers Emily Iorg and Richard DeWitt gave out books to every child.

Click the photo above for a slide show from the event. You can also view an online gallery of photos taken by the Kansas City Star

About the Author

Jason Harper is the Web Content Developer at the Kansas City Public Library. Connect online at / Twitter: @kclibrary.

Who says you can't rock out in a library? At least, don't tell that to Amanda Barnhart, young adult coordinator at the Trails West Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. And certainly don't tell any of her teens.

Last Friday at Trails, Barnhart organized a teen lock-in to celebrate the end of Summer Reading. Even though the kids present had all been born around the turn of the millennium, they came prepared to celebrate the party's theme, "You Weren't Here: The '80s," wearing headbands, heavy-metal tees, and neon accessories.

Between turns on Rock Band, the kids engaged in activities such as making wallets from felt fabric and cassette tapes and testing their librarian skills on a scavenger hunt through the stacks.

Like much of Barnhart's teen programming, the evening mixed fun with a little learning.

"Teens really keep you on your toes, they're always challenging you, asking, 'Why do you do that?'" Barnhart says. "It's a different outlook on life that I like to be reminded of. It's like being a kid again."

Devin Day demonstrates a new use for discarded audiobook cassettes.

In her nearly five years of working with teens at Trails West, Barnhart has had to get strategic in her approach to engaging younger customers. Times are different than when she first came to the Independence branch of the Kansas City Public Library eight years ago, following a stint in Outreach. In those days, teens were drawn into the Library by the computers. Now that many have Internet access at home, attracting them is more of a challenge.

"You have to involve them in the process," Barnhart says. "That's the only way it works. When they see their own ideas in action, you know they're going to like it."

Last year, the teens chose their own theme for the Summer Reading party: "Pirates & Ninjas" ("Who else is going to come up with a theme like that?" Barnhart says). Barnhart also motivates older teens by putting them in charge of organizing aspects of programs, such as presiding over the gaming room or helping with crafts.

The teens at Trails West also get credit for maintaining two of the most active (and colorfully named) book groups in the Library system: Oh My Teen! and Barely Legal. The former prefers YA fiction, while the latter goes for more grown-up reads in the realms of romance and sci-fi. The teens came up with the names.

Joshua Whorton (left) and Skye Harned work on cassette tape wallets at the teen lock-in.

Barnhart has recently extended her reach into the Library's community of teen readers by taking on administrative duties for the KC Library Teens Facebook page, where she and her team of fellow librarians, including Wick Thomas (Central) and Ashlei Wheeler (Waldo), post book-related quizzes, take readers' advisory requests, and update teens about events.

"Tools like Facebook are helping us change the way teens see literature as 'uncool'," Barnhart says.

Barnhart has already begun using the Facebook page to promote the YALSA Teens' Top Ten campaign, in which teens all over the country vote for their favorite books of the year from a list chosen by official nominating groups. (Barnhart's Trails teens were an official Top Ten nominating group for three years, from 2008-2010.)

For Barnhart, engaging teens on different levels, using different techniques, is part of a bigger goal.

"I hope to change the way teens see the Library," she says. "I hope they see it as a more friendly place that understands what kind of literature they want and can help them request books before they come out."

"We're always fighting that old image of: You're going to be shushed, you're going to be given the evil eye because you're there to use the computer,'" Barnhart continues. "I want the Library to be more welcoming, more friendly – more, What would you like to read next?"

About the Author

Jason Harper is the Web Content Developer at the Kansas City Public Library. Connect online at / Twitter: @kclibrary.

We want to hear from you! What local business owner has inspired you, uplifted your community, or provided a model for doing business? The Kansas City Public Library is hosting a series of public conversations with entrepreneurs who have made KC a better place to do business – and to live. We want your input.

Named for a landmark 2004 address by Kauffman Foundation president Carl Schramm, the Cradle of Entrepreneurs series emphasizes the role of the entrepreneur in making Kansas City great. In each event, Library Director Crosby Kemper III conducts a live interview and Q&A session with a local business exemplar.

So far, Crosby has spoken with Gail Lozoff, owner of SPIN! Pizza, and John McDonald, founder of Boulevard Brewing Co. (Click their names to read re-caps of the events, which drew a combined audience of 655 people.)

Upcoming Cradle of Entrepreneurs events include:

  • October 11: Mary Carol Garrity of Nell Hill’s – Central Library, 6:30 p.m.
  • November 15: Danny O’Neill of The Roasterie – Plaza Branch, 7:30 a.m.
  • November 16: Ollie Gates of Gates Bar-B-Q – Central Library, 6:30 p.m.

But we’re still looking to book more great entrepreneurs – and that’s where you come in.

Tell us which Kansas City business owner you want to see featured in our Cradle of Entrepreneurs series. From seasoned veterans to young upstarts, we’re interested in all comers. It takes all kinds of entrepreneurs, after all, to build a community.

Here’s how to nominate an entrepreneur

  1. Post a comment on this blog entry in the space provided below. (Note: If you post outside of regular business hours, it may take until the next morning for your comment to appear.)
  2. Write your nomination on our Facebook wall. (And be sure to “like” the Library to stay in touch with the conversation.)
  3. Tweet your nomination to @KCLibrary. (Don’t forget to follow us, too!)

The virtual floor is open, Kansas City. Who will you place on the stage?

Video: Cradle of Entrepreneurs conversation with John McDonald.

-- Jason Harper

Last night a crowd of 538 gathered in Kirk Hall at the Central Library to hear the entrepreneurial story of Boulevard Brewing Co. founder John McDonald and drink his beer – 20 cases of Wheat, Pale Ale, and Pilsner, to be exact. In the words of Public Affairs Director Henry Fortunato, we effectively “put the pub in 'public library.'”

But we also learned a thing or two about the beer business.

The August 3, 2011, event was part of the Kansas City Public Library’s Cradle of Entrepreneurs program, a series of public conversations with prominent members of the Kansas City business community.

The inaugural edition featured Spin! Pizza’s Gail Lozoff on June 14, and the next installments will bring Mary Carol Garrity of Nell Hill’s on Tuesday, October 11, at the Central Library 6:30 p.m.; Danny O’Neill of the The Roasterie on Tuesday morning, November 15, at the Plaza Branch at 7:30 a.m.; and Ollie Gates of Gates Bar-B-Q, on Wednesday, November 16, at 6:30 p.m. at Central. (Sign up for our e-newsletter to stay in the loop.)

As Crosby Kemper III led the discussion before a buzzing room of beer fans and business aspirants, McDonald revealed interesting details from his journey as an enterpreneur, as well as his perspectives on bigger issues such as sustainability and regionalism.

Growing up in the north-central Kansas town of Osborne, McDonald began home brewing – and drinking beer – at a young age: like, 12. He and a friend would brew up batches in the basement and sell the beer to teenagers at the local drive-in. Despite this wayward-seeming youth, McDonald later attended the University of Kansas, where he majored in art and did not pledge a fraternity.

After college, he moved to Kansas City to work as a carpenter, but brewing was never far from his mind. When he and his wife won raffle tickets for a trip to Europe, they visited the beer-drinking countries of England, Belgium, France, and Germany, and McDonald began hatching plans to bring good, import-style beer to the people of the Midwest.

John McDonald (center) with Crosby Kemper III (right) and ad hoc drinking buddies.

He had his work cut out for him.

The American beer market has been perpetually dominated by watery pilsner-lagers sold by giant corporations, most notably Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis (which is now owned by a Belgian multinational). The idea of making and selling small-batch, handcrafted ales and selling them locally is even now, in 2011, a relatively connoisseurish enterprise. As McDonald himself pointed out last night, even in the Pacific Northwest, which has the highest concentration of breweries, craft beers still only hold about 35 percent of the market share. In the Midwest, McDonald, it’s around 8 to 10 percent.

Imagine, then, McDonald toting a keg of Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer into KC’s Twin City Tavern, circa 1989. Three old men sit at the bar, their glasses filled to the brim with some form of bubbly gold American beer – no foam whatsoever, so as not to cheat the men out of an ounce of their treasured, tasteless swill. The bar’s owner, Mike Devine, a fan of McDonald’s newly minted, pours three pints for the men.

“One of them wouldn’t even taste it – he absolutely refused,” McDonald recounted. “The other two took sips and pushed their glasses away. As I was leaving, one of them turned to me and said, ‘Young man, that is the worst beer I’ve ever had.’”

The crowd at the Library joined McDonald in laughing at this story. After all, the joke’s on the old codgers’ – Boulevard is now the largest craft brewery in the Midwest, producing more than 600,000 barrels a year, with distribution in nearly 20 states, and a portfolio of around 28 beers.

More significant to McDonald than his brewery’s size, though, is the reputation he’s build for Boulevard as a brewer of high-quality beer that is Midwestern in spirit and environmentally sustainable in the way it is produced.

Boulevard’s own green facility on Southwest Boulevard embodies the latter. Also drawing much applause last night was any mention Boulevard’s new glass-recycling program, Ripple Glass, which has, in the past year, filled an important void in Kansas City’s traditionally behind-the-curve recycling efforts. In addition to placing upwards of 80 containers around town, Ripple has built a high-tech processing facility. When McDonald announced the news that soon Ripple would begin collecting glass from restaurants and bars, the crowd at the Library all but stood up and cheered.

In conclusion, in his 22 years of business, McDonald has shown that, with personal ingenuity and the support of trusted friends, an entrepreneur can sell good, handmade, local, and sustainable beer to middle Americans.

And as the crowd last night at the Library showed, they’ll definitely drink to that.


The Kansas City Public Library is currently seeking your suggestions for other local business owners to participate in the Cradle of Entrepreneurs series. If you know of a Kansas City business owner who has an inspiring story to tell, drop us a comment below, or post your suggestion on our Facebook Wall. CEOs, moms and pops, we'll consider them all. This is your Library – tell us what you want.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the Web Content Developer at the Kansas City Public Library. He and his fellow librarians are waiting to hear from you online: / Twitter: @kclibrary.

If beer, as Benjamin Franklin is sometimes believed to have said, “is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” then it’s hard to think of a Kansas City entrepreneur who has made more people happy than John McDonald.

The founder of Boulevard Brewing Co., McDonald presides over the largest specialty brewery in the midwest and the second-largest brewery in Missouri. McDonald will visit the Kansas City Public Library tomorrow night, Wednesday August 3, for a public conversation with Crosby Kemper III. The event is part of our ongoing Cradle of Entrepreneurs series of talks with local business owners. The event is free; please RSVP online if you wish to attend.

The series’ name is based on a 2004 address by Kauffman Foundation president Carl Schramm. In his lecture, titled “Kansas City: Cradle of Entrepreneurs,” Schramm said, “I believe the role of the entrepreneur in the life of Kansas City is central, not only to seeing its past in a new light, but, more importantly, to understanding what might lie ahead and how the present generation might effectively bring forth a yet more productive future.”

The next Cradle of Entrepreneurs conversation is set for October, with Mary Carol Garrity, the owner of Nell Hill's. (If you have suggestions for local entrepreneurs you’d like to see featured at the Library, post their names in the comments.)

As an entrepreneur, McDonald has been a rising force not just in the local landscape but the wider brewing arena for more than 20 years.

Since the day in November of 1989 when he loaded a keg of Pale Ale into his own pickup truck and delivered it to Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen down the street, McDonald has built a brewery that produces 600,000 barrels a year and sells its beer in 20 states. That beer represent a rich array of nectars, from the crisp, citrus currents of Unfiltered Wheat Beer, to the hoppy bite of the Single-Wide IPA – to name just a couple of the two dozen beers in Boulevard’s current portfolio.

Beyond producing delicious beer (though, admittedly, that’s a big part of it), Boulevard has also developed a revered presence in Kansas City’s cultural landscape. As local blogger Bull E. Vard of the esteemed KC Beer Blog says, “Our identity as KC is fountains on the Plaza, birdies on the lawn at Nelson-Atkins, Chiefs football, Royals baseball, Sporting KC, barbecue and Boulevard beer.”

“We all drink it -- it's part of our great food culture in KC," Bull says. "You can be a fan of other beers (like I love Lagunitas beers), but Boulevard is my home team.".

That team has scored big when it comes to building inroads to the community, too. Boulevard is ever-present on the street level, from providing beer at countless community events (including the one tomorrow night at the Library), to picking up after itself – and everyone else, too – through its own glass-recycling program, Ripple Glass.

Come learn more about the man whose suds are making Kansas City a happier place, when John McDonald visits the Kansas City Public Library on Wednesday, August 3, for a public conversation with Crosby Kemper III. The 6:30 p.m. talk is preceded by a 6 p.m. reception featuring – and forgive us for burying the lede – free Boulevard beer.

In the meantime, as this is, after all, a Library, whet your reading palate with a booklist from the man himself.

What are You Reading, John McDonald?

On my nightstand:Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling; Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman, Brian Polcyn and Thomas Keller; Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky; Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky”

On the shelf in my office: “A variety of historical brewing and Kansas City books.”

Books I like to give as gifts: “Cookbooks.”

Book that shaped who I am today:The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.”

Best books to read with a cold Boulevard beer: “Cookbooks. (I like to read cookbooks.)”

What local entrepreneurs would you like to see take part in our Cradle of Entrepreneurs series? Post your suggestions in the comments.

-- Jason Harper