Library Life

Nick Holmes has one of the best summer jobs ever: getting paid to read to kids. While reading for a group of children on a recent July day, Holmes got some of the best payback imaginable.

Working on behalf of the Kansas City Public Library's Summer Reading program, Holmes was sharing a book with a group of kids at Palestine Missionary Baptist Church. As is usually the case with Summer Reading, prizes had been given out to the kids for reading a prescribed amount of hours (up to 12 total), and one of those prizes was a toy sketch pad.

Midway through Go Away Big Green Monster, a girl in the audience wrote a message on her sketch pad and held it up for Holmes to see. 

I love this book, her message read.

Young book lovers at local church activity centers aren't the only kids the Library is reaching this summer. In what is probably the biggest Summer Reading Outreach initiative in Library history, from June 13 through August 5, Holmes and his crew are taking the love of reading to 20 non-Library locations. Their goal: to enroll 2,500 kids in the Summer Reading program.

Working under the guidance of Outreach Manager Carrie McDonald, the team includes De'Borah Hawthorn, Veronica Manthei, Stephanie Iser, and members of the Central Youth Services staff. (Alesha Terry was also on the team, but she recently left to accept the position of Civil War Project Associate.)

Twelve of the target sites are run by the Upper Room, an independent summer program for KC children that has a long relationship with the Library. Other participating organizations include two community centers, two Boys & Girls Club locations, Brookside Charter & Day School, and the Imagine Renaissance Academy.

These sites have become not only new destinations for Summer Reading Outreach but also keystones in the Library's plan for Building a Community of Readers.

"We felt like we'd done a good job of reaching the kids who were already coming to the Library, and we wanted to expand farther into the community," explains Children's Services Director Helma Hawkins.

Last year, a grant was awarded to hire Holmes and allow him to visit five sites, where he ultimately signed up 500 new kids for Summer Reading. This year, Holmes and his team have already signed up 2,250. And they're still building.

But Outreach isn't the only department working to widen the Community of Readers.

The Home Front

Children's and Teen Services workers are also hard at work: taking names, counting up hours read, keeping kids motivated, and - in the case of the teen program - even collecting patron-penned book reviews.

Youth Services has also planned a full summer's worth of programming at all the branches. From live reptile-handling, to puppetry, crafts, juggling, magic, and story times, the programs encompass a broad spectrum, all falling under the theme "One World, Many Stories."

The Library's goal is to get 16,000 kids to participate in Summer Reading. And so far, the numbers are looking solid.

I.H. Ruiz Branch staffer Emily Iorg helped kids create their own maps at a recent Summer Reading activity.

Not counting the numbers from Outreach, Youth Services has chalked up more than 5,600 children participants so far. Hawkins expects that figure to grow significantly toward the end of the program as more of the branch numbers roll in.

Meanwhile in Teen Services, Director Crystal Faris reports that  teens have submitted 1,100 reviews of books they've read. The teen program, it should be noted, is being conducted very differently this year. Rather than ask teens to keep reading logs, the Library is inviting this group to submit their own book reviews via e-mail, text, Facebook update, or printed card. Each review earns one Library Buck plus an entry into a drawing to win a netbook computer at each branch.

"We decided to do it this way at the request of teens," Faris explains. "Several of the teens who gave evaluative feedback last year wanted something different from what the kids were doing. They didn't want toys - they wanted Library Bucks and a drawing for something big."

Faris says that the Library's teens enjoyed writing book blurbs for Teen Tech Week this past March.

"We struck their fancy with the idea of texting in a book review and getting something back from it," Faris says.

So far, the Summer Reading reviews have ranged from "detailed and beautiful" to, shall we say, honest?

Case in point: "Late last Friday night, one of the teens texted me and said, 'Hey, it's Joe. Read Twilight. Why does this book exist?'" Faris relates. "So I texted him back and asked, 'Why did you read the book?' He replied: 'Girlfriend.'"

Keep up with our teens' reading adventures on the Teen Blog, where reviews are being posted on a weekly basis.

And stay tuned to LibraryLand for more hot updates from Summer Reading 2011.

-- Jason Harper

Though all employees work with the catalog at one time or another, not all are actually in the catalog. Our new Missouri Valley Special Collections director, however, is a noteworthy exception. Watch a video interview with Eli Paul...

Do an author search for R. Eli Paul in our catalog, and you'll get four books that bear his name as author, co-author, or editor: Autobiography of Red Cloud: War Leader of the Oglalas; Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854-1856; Eyewitness at Wounded Knee; and The Nebraska Indian Wars Reader, 1865-1877.

It's not just his published works that make Paul a great fit for the Library as manager of the Missouri Valley Special Collections, though.

Paul's prestigious resumé includes stints at the Nebraska State Historical Society, the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and, most recently, as museum director of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.

Watch a video interview with Eli Paul to find out more about his background and what he hopes to accomplish as MVSC's new manager.

-- Jason Harper

In the summertime, the Library is more than just a place to read a book and cool off. It’s also a great place for talking gibberish. No, the heat hasn’t gotten to us quite yet – gibberish is just one of the ways theater instructor John Mulvey gets teens to think on their feet.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the orange-haired elder thespian led a group of 14 teens and preteens in a series of confidence-building improvisational comedy games. One such exercise included having off-stage students translate the gibberish issuing from the mouths of the actors on stage, creating a puppetmaster effect.

“My whole thing is, I want kids to be able to think for themselves,” says Mulvey, whose educational resumé includes the Theatre for Young America, Young Audiences and the Starlight Theatre.

For an hour and a half, under the lights in Truman Forum Auditorium, the teens engaged in the sorts of quick-witted sparring and comic improv you might see at the Westport Coffeehouse on a weekend night.

More than just providing a diversion from the dog days of summer, the classes are designed to build confidence. While performing on stage comes naturally for some teens, for shyer kids, it can be potentially mortifying. That’s why Mulvey maintains an atmosphere of learning where it’s OK to “bomb” (to borrow a stand-up-comedy term) so long as you’re trying and taking risks.

“We’re giving them training wheels until they can balance on their own,” Mulvey says.

To that end, he’s been training kids in more than just improv. His weekly Friday drama classes series, which began on Friday, June 10, and concludes with an evening of performances on Friday, July 8, includes a variety of activities for children of different ages.

In the morning portion of the workshop, titled “The Art of Play,” Mulvey and his assistant, 21-year-old UMKC theater student Hailey Jones, work with kids aged 3 to 5, teaching them “creative playmaking” skills such as learning to play in a group.

In the subsequent session, called “Folktales of Land, Sky, and Water,” 6-to-10-year-olds are learning how to tell stories to each other, including yarns they’ve spun themselves and classic fairytales like Cinderella. Afternoons are given over to Improv Comedy classes for ages 11 to 17.

This summer marks Mulvey’s second year of offering drama classes at the Library.

“I feel that these classes tie in well with what we do here at the Library, particularly during the summer,” says Plaza Children’s Librarian April Roy. Roy notes that many of the children taking classes are also participating in the Summer Reading Program – another way in which the Library is Building a Community of Readers in Kansas City.

“Arts experiences are life-enhancing,” Roy adds. “One mother reported that her 12-year-old son really came out of his shell after last year’s classes, and he was one of the first to enroll this year.”  

And so far, he’s not the only one.

“I like doing comedy improv because you get to play different characters,” said aspiring actor Evan Ochoa after Mulvey’s class.

“My ideal character would be…,” he takes a beat, “a confused guy who likes waffles.”

Clearly, Evan’s getting into character.

Witness the talents of all of Mulvey’s students at Friday Night Family Fun: Lights, Camera, Act!, Friday, July 8, at 7 p.m. at the Plaza Branch.


-- Jason Harper

When Chad Rohr lost his vision following an ATV accident at the age of 13, he never thought one day he'd read aloud to children. But last week at the Southeast Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, that's exactly what he did.

As his faithful seeing-eye golden lab, Caddy, lay patiently on the floor at his feet, Rohr traced his fingers across the Braille lines of Dr. Seuss's The Foot Book and Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Seated on the meeting room floor listening to Rohr read were 83 kids from area day care centers. Southeast Children's Librarian Sandra Jones provided visual aids, holding up copies of the books to show the illustrations. (See more photos, courtesy of the Kansas City Star.) 

 "How can he see through his fingers?" one of the kids asked.

Alphapointe volunteer Chad Rohr and his dog, Caddy, read with help from Sandra Jones.

As the Library seeks to reach a wider audience with its Building a Community of Readers initiative, programs like this one, developed in partnership with the Alphapointe Association for the Blind, are a perfect fit.   

Earlier this year, the locally based organization approached the Library's Public Affairs department in order to partner on programs that would raise awareness for its services.

"I knew instantly that this was something we should do," says Henry Fortunato, director of Public Affairs. "It had all the makings of something that would correlate precisely with the Library's new Community of Readers initiative."

Founded in 1911, Alphapointe is a private, nonprofit organization that serves a community of 4,000 Missourians who are blind and visually impaired. The largest employer of blind people in the state, Alphapointe also provides rehabilitation and education services to people with all levels of vision loss.

"Alphapointe is 100 years old this year, so in looking to plan events and activities to raise awareness for what we do, we reached out to pillars of the community like the Library and the Nelson-Atkins Museum," explains Alphapointe Development & Public Relations Director Gina Gowin.

After his accident, Rohr enrolled in Alphapointe's youth education program in order to stay on his path toward college. He's now a junior communications major at the University of Central Missouri.

Alphapointe volunteer Melvin Smith (second from left) typed each kid's name on a Summer Reading card in Braille.

In addition to the readings that were held June 14, 17, 21, and 24 at various branches, there will be readings on July 13 at Trails West and July 14 at Waldo. (Contact each branch's children's librarian you wish to attend.) 

Whether it's letters in ink or Braille bumps, reading is a big part of an individual's education. It's also the bonding agent in the relationship between Alphapointe and the Library. Years ago, at the old Main Library, Alphapointe maintained a "Low-Vision Library" that included computers, screen readers, and audio booths for the visually impaired.

Now, in conjunction with our 2011 Summer Reading program, Alphapointe is holding six Centennial Story Time Celebrations at different branches of the Library.

At each event, Rohr and his fellow Alphapointe volunteers, including Melvin Smith (who brought his dog, Julius, to the Southeast Branch last week), will conduct story time, answer questions about life as visually impaired people, and let the kids interact with their canine guides. At the close of the program, Smith will type each child's name in Braille onto a specially designed Summer Reading card.   

For a first-time story timer, Rohr is handling it like a pro.

"It's pretty interesting hearing all the kids in front me as I read," Rohr said after his reading at Southeast. "They were kind of quiet, but you can't keep 83 kids quiet for very long!"

-- Jason Harper

With its sleek décor and warm, bustling atmosphere, SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza is the model blend of modern fast casual and classic family dining. Not suprisignly, the KC restaurant chain’s owner, Gail Lozoff, is herself a study in progressive entrepreneurialism informed by deeply rooted family tradition.

Lozoff was all of five years old when she got her first job – an appointment as bakery-box folder at the Cake Box in Brookside, for which she earned a penny per folded box. Taking the Dickensian edge off the job was the fact that the shop was founded by her grandfather, a Russian immigrant who had sold sugar to bootleggers during Prohibition. Lozoff’s grandfather and father grew the Cake Box into a massive local chain, with over a dozen storefronts around the KC metro, plus products on the shelves at more than 50 grocery stores.

Family business was an overriding theme last night at Central, where Lozoff joined Library Director Crosby Kemper III for a public conversation about the triumphs and trials of life as an entrepreneur.

Held in Helzberg Auditorium – with ample samples of SPIN! pizza at hand – the discussion marked the first in a series of public forums with some of KC’s finest self-starters, titled Kansas City – Cradle of Entrepreneurs. (Look for talks with Ollie Gates, Manny Lopez, Danny O’Neill and others in the coming months.)

Borrowed from an address by Kauffman Foundation president Carl Schramm, “cradle” is an appropriate term for Lozoff. She’s a third-generation entrepreneur who dispenses wisdom earned from a lifetime of successes as well as failures.

“You don’t know what you don’t know until you don’t know it – that’s my motto,” Lozoff told the crowd at the Library last night. 

Having been through two bankruptcies of her own and consulted another business through its own tough times, Lozoff knows about not knowing. After her first venture, a jewelry company, went bankrupt, Lozoff and her family embarked on a ski trip to brainstorm a new family business. It was on their last day in the mountains that Lozoff’s sister came up with the idea to make and sell real Jewish bagels – a rare commodity in Kansas City.

Soon, Lozoff and her husband would find themselves – completely by chance – setting up shop in the same location where she had folded bakery boxes as a child. In 1988, Bagel & Bagel opened for business in the very same Brookside storefront where the first Cake Box had operated decades before.

Selling $700 worth of 35-cent bagels on their first day of business, the Lozoff clan stayed up the entire next night baking. Bagel & Bagel grew exponentially, opening nine stores in Kansas City. In 1995, it became one of three chains purchased by Boston Chicken (now Boston Market) and formed into the Einstein Bros. Bagels chain. Lozoff and her fellow bagel barons had three months to come up with the first prototype Einstein Bros. restaurant. Their vision was a success, as within two years, 650 restaurants had opened nationwide. (Fun fact: The Einstein Bros. mascots, “Melvin” and “Elmo,” are patterned after Lozoff’s husband and brother-in-law.)

Success proved fleeting, however, as Boston Chicken experienced numerous financial difficulties following an ill-planned IPO. Einstein Bros. was auctioned to a hostile competitor, and Lozoff and her fellow bagel execs resigned.

They were soon scooped up, however, by the KC-based Houlihan’s restaurant, which was going through bankruptcy and needed Lozoff’s help rebuilding and rebranding.

Lozoff’s work with Gilbert-Robinson, the firm that owns the 35-year-old Houlihan’s (along with the Bristol Seafood Grill and J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks), was very influential on her development as a restaurateur.

“Gilbert-Robinson set the standard for customer experience nationwide, and they had a huge impact on me,” Lozoff said.

Customer experience was at the fore when Lozoff opened the first SPIN! in 2005 at 119th and Metcalf in Overland Park. And that’s where it has remained through the openings of three more locations – all of which offer the same welcoming, relaxed, “third place” vibe that characterized Bagel & Bagel over 20 years ago.

A happy and dedicated staff is essential to maintaining good customer experience, Lozoff explained. That’s why she and her SPIN! managers hold weekly meetings to discuss customer service, and why they’ve established multiple channels for soliciting customer feedback.

SPIN! further defines its brand and identity in the community by holding weekly organized bike rides at three of its locations, as well as participating in charity rides. (It was Lozoff and her husband’s love of biking from pizzeria to pizzeria across the Italian countryside that inspired the SPIN! concept.)

As for her views on the Kansas City restaurant community, Lozoff is realistic about competition, but she also welcomes diversity.

Lozoff and Crosby Kemper III spoke before a crowd of 115 in Helzberg Auditorium.

“Every other restaurant in town is a competitor – it’s true,” she said. “But it’s good for a city to have more restaurants, so that people can have different experiences and a more sophisticated palate.”

As for her own tastes, when Lozoff was asked what her plans were for the future, she answered, “Drinks at Extra Virgin!”

In all seriousness, Lozoff intends to grow SPIN! in the area, with no plans to ever go public.

After all, she’s an entrepreneur who’s learned what she knows.

Stay tuned for more information on the Kansas City – Cradle of Entrepreneurs public discussion series, which continues in 2011 and 2012.

If you or someone you know is an aspiring entrepreneur, check out the many free business resources available in-person and online at the Library’s H&R Block Business & Career Center.

-- Jason Harper

Promoting reading to kids in local schools is one of the most fundamental services of a children’s librarian. And in her more than three decades at the Kansas City Public Library, Sandra Jones has gotten plenty of kids to read. But she’s never met a group quite like the one she recently faced – and tamed – at Banneker Elementary.

At a few minutes after 10, the boys filed into the school library. They were clad in school uniforms and chanting “Hello, Ms. Jones,” in near-unison, sing-song voices. Soon, they were wiggling and bouncing in their seats, shooting up their hands to answer Jones’ questions almost as quickly as she could fire them off, heeding occasional calls from the school librarian to settle down.

The Readers Are Leaders Brown Bag Lunch Club was in session.

This was a special group, unlike any other Jones has worked with. For one thing, the group was boys only, a first for the veteran Southeast Branch children’s librarian. On top of that, they were among the least well-behaved boys in the entire second grade.

“I wanted to gather reluctant readers, get them together, have lunch, and get them interested in reading,” Jones says.

To pick the readers for her group, Jones asked for the help of Banneker’s Library Media Specialist, Diedre Stratton.

“I chose a group of 2nd grade boys who have lots of behavior issues, who didn’t choose to read,” Stratton says. “It really increased their interest in checking out books and taking them home.”

That’s an impressive result, given boys’ typical reading habits. Author Jon Scieszka, founder of the Guys Read program, reports that boys score below girls on reading tests in every age group; that eighth grade boys are 50 percent more likely to be held back than girls; and that college enrollment is consistently lower among boys.

In designing Readers Are Leaders, Jones knew that her biggest challenge would be keeping things fun. In the end, bullies, cars, wrestling, respect, dinosaurs, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all figured into the book group curriculum.

At each session, Jones kept the group constantly engaged, challenging them with lively questions, bringing visual aids, arranging for lunch to be served, and generally making the program as interactive as possible.

On the last day of the program, which ran on Wednesdays this past March through May, Jones handed out certificates and book bags to each of the boys as a reward for completing the program.

“I liked the book club because it’s fun, and we got to read a gang of books,” said student Darerek Dukes.

On that final day, as the boys departed the library, Jones began getting ready for her next book club. At 11 a.m., she’d be leading her new, girls-only Books Build Brains Book Club.

Because girls want to have fun, too.

-- Jason Harper

The H&R Block Business and Career Center was designed, in part, to help people get their own businesses up and running. Now, one local entrepreneur has crossed to the other side of the help desk, where, as a Library volunteer, she works with customers not unlike herself.

Annie Sorensen is a seasoned self-starter. While working as a software designer at Cerner for seven years, she used her free time to carve a place for herself as an independent brand partner in the world of network marketing.

She became one of the top 30 earners in her company, and in January of last year, she was able to quit her day job.

“That was a business that I built up 100 percent around my full-time job – in evenings and on weekends, in the nooks and crannies of my life,” Sorensen says.

After leaving Cerner, she picked up a real estate license. Now, she and her husband own several investment properties.

Self-education – mainly through reading – has always been Sorensen’s driving force.

“I’ve always been entrepreneurially minded, but it kind of started in college,” says the University of Iowa graduate. “I really got into personal development books, which opened my mind to things like motivation, inspiration, and goal-setting.”

Some of her most influential reads: Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki (“that set me on a path to exploring”), How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (“huge impact on me for working with people”); and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson (“if you make one more phone call, send one more email, or have one more appointment, all those things over the course of life can build up”).

Her love of books made the Kansas City Public Library a natural fit when she was looking for opportunities to give back to the community.

“There’s nothing I love more than either reading myself or talking about books, development, and businesses,” Sorensen says.

After three months as a Block Center volunteer, she’s gotten to do quite a bit of that.

“When people come into the Center, they’re working on something – whether it’s finding a job or career, or researching a business opportunity or business plan,” Sorensen says.  “Everyone who comes in is always working on something, going somewhere.”

And when it comes to finding help for fellow entrepreneurs, she could hardly be in a better place.

“One of the biggest reasons an entrepreneur succeeds or fails is planning, and you can use the Center not just for research but for building a business plan,” Sorensen says.

For someone like Sorensen, that’s a pretty big deal.

-- Jason Harper

Construction snarled traffic across midtown on a recent, steamy May afternoon in KC. But inside the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, a moment of quiet was being shared over a book.

Joy of Reading tutor Renee VanErp and her student, Parijat Mondal, bent over a science book spread out on a table in the Kids' Corner. Though his voice was soft, Parijat blazed through paragraphs on astronomy and physics, stopping only when he found an unfamiliar word.

The pauses were rare, considering that English is the boy's third language.

"Parijat speaks Bengali and Hindi, and he's learning Spanish at Carver Elementary," VanErp says. "I was fortunate to be matched with a young man who loves learning."

VanErp approached the Library two and a half years ago about volunteering. Like many in the Library's fleet of volunteers, VanErp came in looking to help, and she was put to work.

Coming from all walks of life and bringing a bevy of reasons for wanting to pitch in, volunteers are a welcome aid in helping staff run the Library system.

"Volunteers are here to make the librarians' lives easier," says Katie Taylor, volunteer coordinator for the Library.

By taking on a wide variety of responsibilities, volunteers make it easier for librarians to do what they do best: provide professional, personalized service to Library patrons.

This past April alone, 87 volunteers worked a total of 1,225 hours and touched nearly every corner of the Library system.

They assisted with teen programs, shelved books and helped maintain order in the collection, greeted people at public events, led book group discussions, proffered homework help, taught sewing classes, and worked on special projects through internships.

Their work enhances the Library's service to the community, and as a result, many of the volunteers find their work meaningful in return.

"I've been a huge fan of the public library all of my life, and I'm thrilled to be of service in this way," says VanErp, who remembers checking out books from the Southwest High School branch when she was a child.

As one the Library's growing number of Joy of Reading tutors (the program works with students in first through fourth grades), VanErp has spent the past two years helping Parijat improve his reading and writing skills an hour a week.

"This experience has rewarded me in countless ways," she says. "Parijat teaches me each week and renews my love of learning."

Sharing the joy: VanErp (left), with Parijat and his mother, Sonia Mondal (right)

Building a Community of Volunteers

Creating a corps of full-time volunteers as dedicated as VanErp is not easy. But for the Library to continue Building a Community of Readers, it's essential.

Taylor divides most volunteers into two groups: full-time or occasional.

The latter group consists of Library supporters who are available to work typically one-day events several times a year. At the recent Family Science Day at Trails West, five Jumpstart volunteers joined two other community members in leading 65 children and their parents through a morning's worth of hands-on science learning.

"These volunteers are the people you can count on to work a Library or community event - they're essential to the success of the event," Taylor says.

For potential full-time volunteers who, like VanErp, come in seeking to help out however they can, the Library requires a minimum six-month commitment at sign-up. For those who come looking to fulfill court-ordered community service, the Library only accepts those who have been sentenced to 75 hours or more of work.

After Taylor interviews a candidate, placement and availability are discussed. Before the background check is completed, Taylor consults with the branch manager on scheduling. An introduction is set up between the volunteer, Taylor, and the branch manager, and the training process begins.

Volunteers value the Library and are committed to making a difference in people's lives. It's no surprise that as Library staff works collaboratively with volunteers to deliver exceptional service, a mentoring relationship forms.

"Volunteers want to feel involved in the process," Taylor says. "They love the Library, and they want to give back."

Though the volunteer program could always stand to grow (Taylor envisions at least 10 regular volunteers at every branch), it's clear through people like VanErp and scores of other hardworking volunteers that this program is helping the Library build a community of readers.

Just spend a few minutes watching VanErp and Parijat engaged in the Joy of Reading.

"He melts my heart with some frequency," VanErp confesses.

The Kansas City Public Library is always looking for good volunteers. For information on becoming a volunteer, visit or call Katie Taylor at 816.701.3707.

-- Jason Harper

On a bright spring day last week at the Central Library, 18 fifth graders from Trailwoods Elementary pressed their palms to the glass and peered out the fourth-floor windows. To the north, the Renaissance Revival brownstone towers of the 120-year-old New York Life Building loomed majestically.

It was the first installment of the Library's High Five History: Inside and Out tour series, and the little-known view of Kansas City's earliest skyscraper was only one of quite a few oooh-inducing sights.

Other wonders: the view overlooking 10th and Main from the Rooftop Terrace, the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault's 35-ton bank vault door, and the elegant Missouri Valley Room, where Special Collections Librarian Jeremy Drouin gave a talk on researching primary sources (a theme throughout the tour).

It was in Special Collections, too, that Library Director Crosby Kemper III treated the students to an impromptu visit with local author, professor, and former Kansas City Chiefs player Pellom McDaniels, who had brought his son to research a book project

"This is a great place to come if you want to get away from the rest of the world and be involved with old things," the smiling, broad-shouldered scholar said.

Pellom McDaniels (center), flanked by Crosby Kemper III (left) and Jeremy Drouin in the Missouri Valley Reading Room

This is news to most of the kids taking part in High Five History. The majority of these students not only have never been to the Central Library -- many have never been downtown, period. And they likely don't know much about KC history.

Made possible by two $30,000 education support grants from Target, High Five is more than just a sightseeing trip.

Designed specially for KCMSD fifth graders, this interactive program uses the Library as a window into the history of Kansas City.  

Leading a tour of Central and a jaunt outside around the Library District, tour guide Clare Hollander, children's librarian at Central, compares features of the cityscape with how they were a century ago.  

For example, just a few blocks south of Kansas City's first skyscraper is its tallest, One Kansas City Place, built in 1988 -- 98 years after the New York Life Building was erected.

Built on state and local educational standards, High Five is the first program of its kind that has integrated area history with teaching students how to use the Library.

"The history element is a big part of it, but it's also a vehicle for information literacy," Hollander says. "The Library is a portal to the rest of the world. There's so much to take advantage of in here, and I love being able to expand kids' horizons."

Clare Hollander (center), Jamie Mayo, and Helma Hawkins (far right) showed a group of Trailwoods Elementary fifth graders what high-fiving history was all about.

In addition to learning about the Sanborn Maps, the Hannibal Bridge (whose story includes Hollander's favorite picture in Special Collections), and, of course, the First National Bank building that houses Central, Hollander and her fellow librarians Jamie Mayo and Kim Patton also teach how to navigate our website, search the catalog, and use Brainfuse online homework help. A healthy lunch provides fuel.

And when the students walk out of the Library at the end of the three-hour program, they will be carrying a freshly minted Library card in a snappy Target-branded lanyard.

It all began nearly two years ago.

The concept was developed by Youth Services staffers Crystal Faris, Helma Hawkins, and Mayo (who also coordinated much of the scheduling).

Director of Development Claudia Baker wrote the grant proposal, and then Hollander and Special Collections Librarian Lucinda Adams came up with the content of the program.

And then there's the matter of logistics: "By including funds for transportation, Target made sure every fifth grade class in the district will have a chance to visit," Baker says.

Part of the program's goal is to connect the Kansas City Public Library and the school district by providing students with lessons in social studies and information literacy, two things that often get left out in a public-school arena that tends to focus on math skills and standardized testing.  

Using state standards and local curriculum, the team created a program that is age- and grade-level appropriate.

"Fifth graders are the perfect age for this program," Hollander says. "They're becoming independent thinkers, they're self-confident, and they're on top of the world."

Target awarded the first grant in the summer of 2009. The Library intended to work with KCMSD teachers and principals over the ensuing year to prepare for the program's launch. The tours were to begin in the spring of 2010, but the school district's "right-sizing" that year - which resulted in 26 school closures and the laying off of some 1,000 district employees - delayed the process. (See the Kansas City Star's Saving 17,000 Kids series for more background.)

Now that it's up and running, things couldn't be going smoother. Several students in the visiting class from Trailwoods reported it was the best field trip of the year. 

High Five aims to slap a Library card into the hand of every fifth grader in the Kansas City School District.

"It is such fun to see the kids engrossed in the topographic globe, mapping the grandfather clocks and Greek keys they spy throughout the Central Library, and touching the century old stone of buildings on their walk around the block," Baker says.

"The teachers seem genuinely pleased with the field trip and teacher guides to support their classroom curriculum," Baker continues. "We are so fortunate to work in partnership with Target to make this project possible."

The current funding runs through August, and the Library has submitted for another year of financial support.

As for the kids: "I heard three of them after the tour making plans to come back to the Library the next day," Hollander said.

-- Jason Harper

Jackson County Juvenile Center has its share of discipline issues. But none of them occurred while Nick Holmes visited once a week last summer to read books to the young men incarcerated there.

"I gave all of them my respect, and I got it back," Holmes says.

Orlando (not his real name), a towering, 17-year-old "alpha dog," was especially a fan of the reading and discussion sessions.

"Orlando had never had a library card, had never checked out a book in his life," Holmes says. "I helped him check out his first library book in his name."

In the summer of 2010 while working part-time for the Kansas City Public Library, Holmes also visited four other locations as part of a grant-funded outreach effort developed by children’s, teen, and outreach services librarians for the Summer Reading program.

In all, Holmes signed up more than 500 kids – it's what Building a Community of Readers is all about.

Putting books in people's hands is a fundamental part of what the Library does.But with the launch of an unprecedented and ambitious campaign, the Library is becoming even more focused on making KC a city that reads.

A Happier Community

"We want a community that is healthier, wealthier, and happier," says Library Director Crosby Kemper III. "And most of all, we want this to be an enlightened community that thinks of itself as engaging in ideas and working on continuous improvement."

The concept began over a year ago, when the Library Administration and Board of Trustees realized that not enough emphasis was being placed on, as Kemper says, "the most important thing we do -- reading."

In November 2009, new objective was introduced: Inspire and champion Kansas City as a community of readers.

Since then, the Library has already begun inspiring.

In the past year, initiatives such as the 2010 Big Read, the opening of the Bluford Health & Wellness Center, and the largest Summer and Winter Reading Programs in Library history have further established the Library's role as the center of knowledge and culture in the community.

Beyond the big programs, two-thirds of Library employees work directly with the public on a daily basis – whether it's checking out materials, answering reference questions, conducting public programs, recommending books, assisting with access to technology, or performing any of the wealth of public-service-oriented tasks librarians are known for.

"What we do is civilizationally important, and we don't always tell our staff and customers that story," Kemper says.

It's an established truth that people who read beyond the requirements of school or work do better in academics, launch more businesses, earn better incomes, become more engaged in civic affairs, and are likelier to support the arts and humanities.

"A reading community is a thinking community," Readers' Services Manager Kaite Mediatore Stover, "and a thinking community is a thriving community."


Kellan Appollis, 14, is a card-carrying member of our Community of Readers.

Building a Community of Readers is under the direction of Claudia Baker, director of development. In concrete terms, it’s a three-to-five-year campaign that will accomplish objectives including increasing total circulation to a pace that will put the Library in the top ten public libraries nationally, achieving an 80 percent penetration rate (defined as people having or using a Library card in the past 12 months), and increasing participation in Summer and Winter Reading by 23 and 10 percent, respectively.

The campaign will also launch new initiatives packaged for specific user groups, from kids to adults, such as Summer Reading, Reading Partners, and Family Read Aloud Month for kids; annual reading symposia for infants, young adults, and adults; and more support for community-based book groups.

Funding for the campaign will be sought from foundation and government grants, corporate sponsors, and individual donors. So far, the Sosland Foundation of Kansas City and the Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Trust and Foundation have made significant commitments, and the Library is in conversation with other foundations as well as individual and corporate donors and is expecting positive outcomes in the months ahead.

"People have fond memories of libraries," Baker says. "When I talk to donors, they almost always mention their childhood connection to books and libraries."

That connection is being established every day we're open for business.

It's there when the Trailblazers book group convenes in Independence, and when the KC Metro Poets swap verses in Westport. It's there when the librarians of the H&R Block Business & Career Center find a book that will change a budding entrepreneur's life.

And it's there when someone like Holmes opens up a book to read before to a pack of restless kids.

"Sharing stories, active discussion - that's what it's all about for me," he says.

-- Jason Harper

The Kansas City Public Library encouraged patrons to get creative in celebration of National Library Week (April 10-16), and a lot of readers heard the call. Check out a gallery of crafty book spine poems sent in by members of the community, and get ideas for making your own.

In addition to writing book spine poems, patrons were also encouraged to submit LifeWriting essays and get personalized book recommendations on the Library's Facebook page. It was a great week of celebrating reading!

As Readers' Services Manager Kaite Mediatore Stover explained on local TV, a book spine poem is made by stacking up books so their titles form the lines of a poem. It's simple in concept, but kind of tricky to pull off. Find out how your fellow readers rose to the challenge. View a gallery by clicking the image below.

There aren't many household items that you can stack into a pile and make poetry out of. Coat hanger hymns? Mop bucket sonnets? Not so much. Books, on the other hand, lend themselves well to verse – after all, they do have words printed on their spines. Watch a video on how you can make your own Book Spine Poem for National Library Week.

Book Spine Poetry is simple in concept -- just stack up books and read their titles, top to bottom. The challenge comes in finding the right words.

"Look for books that have one-word titles, books with titles that sound poetic, that have prepositional phrases or active verbs, or have titles that just sound unusual," advises our own book-spine Wordsworth, Kaite Mediatore Stover, readers’ services manager at the Kansas City Public Library.

In this video, she explains how to craft a simple and fun book spine poem from the books lying around your house. (And if you run out of words, we have millions to choose from on the shelves at the Library.) Once you’ve built your poem, snap a pic and send it to, post it on our Facebook page, tweet it to us @kclibrary, or upload it to Flickr using the tag “kclibrary.”

National Library Week is April 10-16, 2011, and we’re celebrating it in a variety of fun ways. In addition to Book Spine Poetry, we’re inviting readers to post the titles of the last three books they enjoyed reading to our Facebook wall, where a team of readers’ advisory librarians will recommend the next book to read. And we’re inviting people to share their Lifewriting stories.

Learn more at

-- Jason Harper

Kids' art is fit for more than the refrigerator. We're reminded of this every year at the Kansas City Public Library during the annual Children's Bookmark Contest.

It's a time when crayons and colored pencils burst forth like the first shoots of spring, and all the branches end up furnished with batches of fresh, colorful, and 100-percent-kid-designed bookmarks.

In its fourth year of leading up to Children's Book Week (May 2-8), the contest ran from February 21 through March 18, 2011. The winners will be announced at the Friday Night Family Fun event on May 6 at the Plaza Branch, where all of this year's 119 entries will be displayed on the big screen in Truman Forum.

In February, bookmark design forms were distributed to all Library locations, where kids in two different age groups (grades K-3 and 4-6) were asked to make their own designs based on the theme "One World, Many Stories," which is the theme for the 2011 Summer Reading program.

Once the entries were collected, Director of Children's Services Helma Hawkins turned to her trusty panel of judges: Kansas City-based professional children's book authors and illustrators Laura Huliska-Beith, Jenny Whitehead, and Shane Evans, to choose the winners from each branch and age group.

The winning designs will be turned into bookmarks by the graphic designers in Public Affairs (see galleries of previous years' winners). "I'm always excited to see them every year," says graphic designer Jessica Didion. "It's good to know that kids are still interested in being creative."

After an early look at some of this year's submissions, creativity is not in short supply.

Submitted by Cole Williams at
the Trails West Branch.

On Wednesday, March 23, Huliska-Beith and Whitehead (Evans was out of town) met with Hawkins to pick the winners. With the submissions spread before them on the table in the Courtney Turner Room at Central, the judges had their work cut out for them.

"I think kids are brilliant when it comes to art," said Huliska-Beith, who has lent her artwork to books such as The Adventures of Granny Clearwater and Little Critter.

"When I do school visits," she said, "younger kids all like to write and draw, but as they become older, they become more self-conscious and lose their spontaneity. As kids' book illustrators, we want to capture that spontaneity of children's art."

"It's so hard to choose," Whitehead said.

Criteria-wise, the judges usually look for originality, use of characters, use of color, the interpretation of the theme, and whether or not a sense of energy comes through in the artwork.

"What tips me off is when it looks like a child put a lot of thought into it and had fun doing it," said Huliska-Beith. "That's an indicator that the child may keep it up."

"That's the thing that's going to make a great artist - if the kid likes to do it and finds it a satisfying vehicle for expression," Whitehead said.

In addition to providing a means of expression, the Children's Bookmark Contest provides kids in the community with the chance to make some art.

"Kids are so busy now that you have to create opportunities to push the creative side," Whitehead said.

And for the kids who do make it to the final round, the reward is one that many adult artists dream of constantly: having their artwork seen by a lot of people.

"These bookmarks are so professional and beautiful that families are always amazed at the quality," Hawkins said. "It's important for kids to feel that their artwork is as valuable as anything that's done for adults."

After the winning designs are announced on Friday, May 6, at 7 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, they will be posted at

And though only a few will get reproduced, every bookmark is an irrefutable work of art.

The first time Carol Wallace heard "Canon in D" was when she was working in the arts and music collection of the Old Main Library on McGee Street, managing the record collection.

It was the '70s, and the Musical Heritage Society had just released a new recording of "Canon," which was, at the time, an obscure 17th century piece by a little-known German composer. Wallace took it home for a spin.

"I would listen to it over and over," she remembers.

It was thanks in large part to the Musical Heritage Society's pressing that Pachelbel's famous "Canon" today is almost as familiar as Wagner's "Wedding March."

Though she still oversees the Library's arts and music-related books and materials, Wallace (herself an accomplished organist) no longer checks out records to patrons. But as steward of the Central Library's Performing Editions Collection, she gets the music to the masses in an even bigger way.

Housed in the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Performing Editions consists of 321 orchestral scores, many inherited from the Kansas City Philharmonic (now the Symphony). These volumes of sheet music by composers, from Beethoven to Brahms and beyond, see regular use on the music stands of half a dozen area community orchestras.  

Regular visitors to the rolling stacks where Performing Editions are held include the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, students at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, and the Philharmonia of Greater Kansas City.     

And as with so many of our Library resources, our music collection's reach extends the regions around Kansas City. 

During December 2010 and January 2011 alone, music was borrowed by the Liberty Symphony Orchestra, the Heritage Philharmonic, the Northland Symphony Orchestra, the Olathe Community Orchestra, and the Overland Park Orchestra.

For these community ensembles, borrowing music makes good financial sense.

Carol Wallace eyes a score in the Performing Editions Collection at Central.

In a tight economy, paying for music scores from publishers, even at three-digit rental costs, is difficult for smaller community orchestras. Purchasing entire scores is often out of the question.

"Because of the economic downturn, our music purchasing budget has decreased," says Liberty Symphony Music Director Tony Brandolino. "This led to finding other means of keeping the level of music at a high standard."

The solution: borrow it for free.

Brandolino, who teaches violin at William Jewel College and conducts the Jewell Chamber Orchestra, doesn't take the Kansas City Public Library's sheet music collection for granted.

"Music is valuable," he says. "It's like we're borrowing a gold chain from you guys and just giving it back."

 Though not all Performing Editions scores are complete when checked out -- a second violin or clarinet part here and there has to be purchased or rented -- Brandolino attests to their quality.

"We don't do watered-down stuff, and you guys don't have any watered-down stuff," he says. "We can form several seasons from your Library."

And on May 7, at the Liberty Symphony's fourth and final performance for the season, Brandolino will be leading his orchestra through mostly borrowed material.

Both of the selections for the evening are from the Performing Editions Collection, specifically, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (minus the choral parts, which were provided by the choirmaster) and Barber's Adagio for Strings.

Wallace will likely be in the audience.

"I have season tickets to the Liberty Symphony, so Tony comes in, picks up music, and I get to hear it," she says.

"Even though I check it out to one person, it goes out to the whole community." 

With enough time, effort, and research you really can change history. Just ask Alvin Sykes. Over the past several years, Sykes has built a reputation as a champion of the forgotten victims of racial violence, helping to bring about the re-opening of two Civil Rights cold cases. As Brad Stephens of KCTV5 reports, Sykes did most of that work within the walls of the Kansas City Public Library.

In 1955, a young African-American boy named Emmitt Till was murdered in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman. His killing fanned the flames of the Civil Rights movement. But Till's murderers were never brought to justice -- that is, until Sykes began digging.

Using the Library's research resources, Sykes discovered an obscure legal opinion that allowed the FBI to reopen the case. Sykes' efforts led to the signing by George W. Bush of the 2007 Till Bill, which allows for the re-opening investigation of unsolved Civil Rights murder cases.

More recently, Sykes has turned his citizen-sleuthing skills to the 1965 murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson, which Sykes says was the inspiration of the Selma-to-Montgomery March. That case, too, has been re-opened.

"The Library is a great equalizer," Sykes tells Stephens.

Click the image below to watch Sykes’ conversation with KCTV5, as part of the station’s "Faces of Kansas City" series.

-- Jason Harper