Library Life

As the 2011 Adult Winter Reading program came to a close, the Kansas City Public Library found its collective cup neither full, nor empty. It was gone altogether. By the time best-selling author Jasper Fforde brought the yearly program to a smashing finish before a crowd of 190 in Truman Forum at the Plaza Branch on Thursday, March 17, the 750 custom bistro mugs that the Library had been giving away as awards were all but vanished.

In the preceding weeks, the mugs had flown off circ desks faster than anyone had anticipated. Even before Winter Reading officially ended on March 13 (it had begun on January 10), the Public Affairs team had begun working up IOU's to hand out until more mugs could be ordered.

What else were we to do? For one thing - celebrate!

The List

After 2010's mystery-centric "Readers in the Rue Morgue" theme, Readers' Services Manager Kaite Mediatore Stover and Public Affairs Communications Specialist Paul Smith decided to mix things up for 2011.

Settling on a theme incorporating stories set in alternate realities (and eventually dubbing it "Altered States"), Stover and Smith began soliciting branch managers and staff members for book ideas as early as May of last year. The resulting list of 22 Suggested Readings offered a smorgasbord of genres.

Fforde fans lined up to meet their idol at the Plaza Branch.

"Every title on this year's list could be found anywhere in the Library," says Stover. "We had classics, sci-fi, mystery, fantasy, literary fiction, and even a graphic novel."

"The list was geared not only to appeal to certain groups but also to get readers to expand their horizons," Smith says.

Though readers could fulfill the program by reading any five books, Stover and Smith say that the wide-ranging appeal of the Suggested Readings list was a major factor in participation levels.

The Art

Bolstering the Suggested Readings was a richly annotated brochure containing book descriptions and information on all Winter Reading book discussions and events - all tied together in elegant packaging designed by Adam Gebhardt, Exhibits Coordinator and Graphic Designer in Public Affairs.

"One of the major strengths of our past two Winter Reading programs has been the design elements - the booklets and the mugs produced by Adam," Smith says.

"In terms of art, the Altered States theme was difficult to conceive - but Adam nailed it with the opposing Statues of Liberty. The materials that we produce for Winter Reading are intended to serve as tools to help our public service desk advocates, and when these materials look as good as Adam makes them look, it helps seal the deal with potential readers."

The program artwork featured differing views of Lady Liberty.

Stover agrees: "When you give patrons a passive readers' advisory tool like the brochure, they may not read everything, but they'll keep it and keep coming back to it, especially when it looks this good."

Aside from the books, materials, and mugs, one of the biggest factors contributing to Winter Reading participation was the ground swell of everyday support and participation throughout all the library locations.

The Branches

As soon as a theme was chosen, branch managers and staff were brought into the discussion, not only to suggest books but to plan the book group discussions, branch parties, and, perhaps most of all, to adopt a policy of individual outreach.

"A crucial aspect of the program is face-to-face, across-the-desk interaction," Smith says.

Case in point: Every day she visited the Waldo Branch during the program, Stover says she saw staff members wearing the Winter Reading stickers that Waldo teen specialist Ashlei Wheeler requested and which Gebhardt designed.

Employees in all the libraries worked hard to distribute brochures, promote book discussions, and encourage participants to submit reading logs. Not only that, 60 staff members joined in the program.

"Every branch saw their numbers increase this year," says Stover.

There was, after all, a lot to take part in.

The Programs

More than just a list of books and a reward, Winter Reading offered 21 separate book discussion groups led by members of the staff and the community. Additionally, the Read It/Watch It series returned for its second year, presenting patrons free admission to screenings and discussions of The Handmaid's Tale, Children of Men, and The Road.

"We wanted participants to get involved in different ways and to read and think critically through different formats," Stover says.

Another new format this year: online interaction. Six librarians took part in a series of video book reviews that were posted to the Library's YouTube channel and received more than 600 views. The Library's page on Goodreads lit up with user-generated discussion of the books on the list (Example: I think Boneshaker is fantastic as well as Children of Men. I want to keep this recommendation list for the future; I want to read them all! - Steph)

The talk extended to the Library's profiles on Facebook and Twitter, where readers posted pictures of their newly acquired bistro mugs.

And in the program's final flourish, on Monday, March 21, a Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader was awarded to Southeast Branch patron and Winter Reader Kelly Ramey, whose name was chosen in a drawing of all participants.

Ramey shows off her factory-fresh Nook.


In the end, 1,155 reading logs were collected. That's more than double last year's total of 528. More than 600 readers participated, with 80 or more of them submitting more than one reading log (i.e. reading 10 books or more).

As for circulation counts, just over 1,000 copies of the items on the Suggested Readings list (including audiobooks) were checked out from the Library in the three-month period. That's more than three times last year's count.

Stover reports that when she presented the numbers to the Library's Board of Trustees, they were "stunned with the level of participation." The Winter Reading Program, she says, is one the Library staff believes in and supports with enthusiasm.

"The Library could never have reached these numbers without the combined effort of the front line staff promoting it to their readers and book groups, a gorgeous product from Public Affairs, and Facilities setting up for our numerous book discussion groups and events," she says.

"When the program is one the staff wants to participate in, how can it not be a success for the rest of the community?"

Our cup runneth over.

-- Jason Harper

Derrick Barnes knows how to get guys to read. On a recent mid-February night, the lights of the midtown cityscape glimmered through the windows in the northwest corner of the Kansas City Public Library's Plaza Branch as Barnes, a local author, read for a small gathering of parents, teachers, librarians, and teens.

The story for the evening was a selection from Barnes' new novel, We Could Be Brothers, featuring two teenage boys, a father, and an errant pair of pants.

The protagonist, Robeson Battlefield, has brought his friend and classmate in the eighth grade, Pacino Clapton, home to meet his parents. Pacino has made the mistake of letting his jeans sag.

...Dad tapped Pacino on the chest twice. "No real man walks out of the house looking like a clown. You gotta know that. If for nobody else, wear the belt for you, Clapton."

Bam! Dad was laying it down hard.

Pacino looked like he wanted to defend his "droopy drawers," but the brother was dried up for a comeback. He nodded once, then managed to say, "You're right, Mr. Battlefield. This is your house. I respect it and you." Then he turned to me. "Come on, man, let's go get that belt. I'm starving."

Heartfelt and realistic, Brothers is a change of pace for Barnes. Best known for his Ruby and the Booker Boys series of children's books (which have sold 300,000 copies to date), for his latest book, Barnes has shifted his focus to the lives and struggles of 13-year-old boys in urban Kansas City. (Check out a video trailer for the book.)

In short, Brothers was the perfect choice to kick off the new Guys Read author series at the Plaza Branch.

Developed by Plaza Children's Librarian April Roy, with help from Director of Teen Services Crystal Faris, Guys Read aims to get middle-school-aged boys away from their electronic devices and extracurricular activities and into reading.

Eleven-year-old Ade Menab (center) found something to relate to at Guys Read.

"Guys do read," explains Roy. "It just takes finding the right materials for the right guy, because they're each looking for a really personal reading experience."

That's why, for the series, Roy has selected authors who bring a variety of styles, stories, and cultural perspectives. Something for every guy, in other words.

In the next installment, on Thursday, March 24,  Laura Manivong, an Emmy-winning TV producer and author will discuss her book, Escaping the Tiger, about a family's flight from communist-ruled Laos. Next, Los Angeles author and screenwriter Don Calame will bring the laughs when he talks about his hilarious and topical new book, Swim the Fly, on Thursday, April 21.

"All of the authors have books with middle-school-aged guy characters who are dealing with different issues that boys can relate to," Roy says.

As an author Barnes, who is the father of three young boys of his own (ages 4, 6, and 10), has developed techniques to help his readers relate. For instance, he keeps his plots fast-paced and loaded with action. The descriptions tingle the senses but don't linger on detail. Most important of all is getting the speech right.

"The dialog has to be quick and concrete," Barnes says. "When I was teaching, I took a lot of notes. Boys use a lot of body language, they use their hands a lot, and there's a lot of posturing."

At Barnes' Plaza presentation, 11-year-old Ade Menab adopted an eager posture as he waited in line to meet Barnes.

"It's interesting - I really liked the first six pages," he said of Brothers, and shuffled his feet restlessly.

Now that's a guy who reads.

-- Jason Harper

The newest issue of Library Journal has a familiar face on its cover. Familiar, at least, to anyone who’s been to a film screening, book discussion group, or special event at the Kansas City Public Library anytime in the past four and a half years.

Paul Smith, communications specialist in the Library’s Public Affairs department, has just been named one of LJ’s 2011 Movers & Shakers. He is the first Kansas City Public Library employee to receive this award.

Each year, only 50 librarians from both public and academic library settings are named Movers & Shakers, defined as library professionals “who are doing extraordinary work to serve their users and to move libraries of all types and library services forward.”

Paul is definitely doing his part to shape the Library’s future.

Since joining the Public Affairs team in December of 2006, Smith has been a driving force in the Library’s citywide Big Read programs, the annual Adult Winter Reading program, and the Off-the-Wall Film Series (which returns to the Central Library’s Rooftop Terrace this summer with films chosen by Roger Ebert).

“The Library offers some really incredible opportunities – and not just for our audiences,” says Smith. “I’ve been fortunate enough to inherit some great concepts – particularly Off-the-Wall – that I’ve managed to improve.

“But this place is such a collaborative environment, and I know that I do my best work in cooperation with the many expert librarians and other professionals who show up every day to make this institution a better place for the public.”

Aside from the big programs, Smith’s day-to-day work for the Library makes him a bona fide MVP.

Just ask Head of Readers’ Services Kaite Mediatore Stover (a Mover & Shaker honoree in 2003), who nominated Smith for this year’s award.

“Paul has seen the value of libraries as a public institution and is dedicated to the Kansas City Public Library’s success,” says Stover. “His work promoting our programs and services always comes with a special emphasis on the Library as a place for people to pursue knowledge in all formats.”

See Smith’s work in action tomorrow night at the Plaza Branch, the site for the closing celebration for the 2011 Adult Winter Reading Program, featuring acclaimed novelist Jasper Fforde, who will read from and discuss his book One of Our Thursdays Is Missing.

Read about all of this year’s Movers & Shakers, and follow Paul on Twitter: @kclibrarymovies, @redpunker.

-- Jason Harper

Fans of reggae music in Kansas City know the name "Sista G" like their favorite Royals player or barbecue joint. She's the host of KKFI 90.1 FM's Sunset Reggae - at 16 years and change, the city's longest-running reggae radio show. But what many fans of her Sunday-night show don't realize is that when she's not spinning cool island sounds, this Sista is working with teens at the Southeast Branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

She may have dreadlocks, but Gabi Otto (as she's known around these parts), hails from a part of the world known more for producing Riesling wine than Rastafarianism. Raised on her family's farm near Frankfurt in Michelsbach, Germany, Otto grew up milking cows, growing vegetables, and reading books from the only library in town, which was inside a Catholic church.

Since moving to KC in 1975, Otto has traded her provincial Bavarian origins for a deeply rooted place in the community around the Southeast Branch - and, through her work on the radio, all over town. Her listeners, in fact, often mistake Otto's German accent for an inflection that would be more fitting for a reggae DJ.

"People who don't know me assume I'm Carribbean or from Africa," Otto says. "I'm used to their looks of disbelief when they meet me."

Otto discovered reggae music as a student at the University of Kansas. An anthropology major, she nurtured her interest in Carribbean culture during a two-month independent study in Jamaica, researching the tradition of midwifery.  

Sista G in the studio.

Her visit occurred not long after Bob Marley's death from cancer at the age of 36. "You could tell everyone was still mourning," she remembers.

But more than anything, it's the positive, unifying message of reggae that appeals to Otto. It's a sentiment that permeates her work at the Library.

Otto's first position was in Outreach Services in the basement of the old Main Library at 12th and McGee. From there, she moved to the Library's book kiosk at the Landing Shopping Center on 63rd and Troost. It was here, under the guidance of Carrie McDonald (the Library's current Outreach Manager) that Otto developed a values-oriented approach to serving customers.

"We worked elbow-to-elbow for seven years," McDonald says. "She's all about great customer service."

With little room in which to maneuver and a collection that required constant maintenance to meet customer needs, the tiny Landing kiosk provided Otto with a public-service launch pad, preparing her for life at the branches.

After the kiosk closed, Otto moved to the Southeast Branch, where - minus a brief, two-year stint at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library - she has worked for the past 15 years, mostly with teens.  

She has led book groups, organized craft and gaming activities, developed programs with organizations such as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, and, most recently, she's teamed up with Harvesters to serve meals to teens four days a week after school as part of the Library's Kids Cafe program.

Along the way, Otto joined the board at KKFI and took over the reggae show that her husband, Keenan Gentry ("Brother K." to fans), had been hosting.

Though she characterizes herself as "permanently a teen," when it comes to serving younger patrons, Otto is more than just a librarian behind a desk.

"You are like a counselor," she says. "You're a friend who's there for them. If they have issues, they know they can talk to me, or if they need a dollar for the bus home, they can ask." 

Bob Marley certainly would've approved.


"Library books lead many lives," says Kevin Craig. As a Library volunteer in the Collection Maintenance department, he would know. He sorts countless books, shelving and reshelving, shuffling in new purchases, finding misplaced volumes, and plucking out worn-out ones for the Friends of the Library book sales. Without workers like Craig, the Library couldn't function.

For the past two years, Craig has moved hundreds of thousands of books from the sorting department of Collection Management Services on B2 at the Central Library to the stacks on the upper floors and back again. He works four hours a day, five days a week, shelving as many as 500 books a day.

"I don't think there's enough you can say about his value," says Dee Sharp, a Library aide who is Craig's colleague in sorting. "I don't know how we would've made it the past two years without him."

But before the Library depended on him, Craig depended on the Library.

Until a car accident a few years ago turned his life upside down, Craig had worked for 12 years as an executive searcher or "headhunter," recruiting IT consultants who raked in salaries in the middle six figures.

Before that, he ran an insurance brokerage firm with his former college roommate, Joe Zdeb, whose name local sports fans will recognize - he was an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals in the late '70s.

"We were just a couple of guys, insurance brokers. We enjoyed our free time and tried to make a living on the side," Craig remembers.

Craig's partnership with Zdeb is one of many things he remembers from his life without difficulty. He also remembers studying psychology, insurance, finance, and English in college.

And he remembers a visit he made at the age of 12 with his father to the home of Edgar Allen Poe. His father, a voracious reader, owned Poe's complete works. "In our house, reading was a constant," he says.

But what he doesn't remember so easily is the accident itself.

"I lost my memory. I lost everything," he says.

The accident left Craig homeless and recovering from a head injury. With help from a pastor friend, Craig found his way to City Union Mission. Soon, he began visiting the Library every day.

"It was a blessing to have a library in walking distance," Craig says.

As it turned out, the Library provided Craig with a valuable - and somewhat unexpected - therapeutic resource: books.

"I found that if I read different books simultaneously, it was an exercise that helped restore my mental capacity," he says. "It was a unique kind of therapy."

"He would come in and peruse the shelves every day and always said hello or had a few words," says Sharp, who met Craig while working in the new books section adjacent to the café area. "I said, 'Kevin, you're here every day. Why don't you volunteer?'"

Craig is glad that he did.

"I love the camaraderie, the esprit de corps," he says. "Everyone is unified in getting done what needs to be done. Everyone looks out for each other. It's a team effort."

He also enjoys the fact that his coworkers are generous with their food. (On the day we visited, a brightly decorated cake sat in a corner of the sorting area.)

"I've probably gained 15 pounds from working here and knowing Dee," he says.

"You've probably worked it off too," Dee says, and laughs.

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

LeVar Burton – yes, the LeVar Burton – paid a special visit to our Central Children’s Library this past Friday to read to a group of kids from the Derrick Thomas Academy. It was like an episode of Reading Rainbow come to life. But you don’t have to take our word for it! Follow the “Read More” link to see a video of LeVar in the Library with friends, including local author and musician Shane Evans.

The buzz around Burton’s February 18 appearance at the Kansas City Public Library couldn’t have been higher. LeVar’s name lit up the local twittersphere as dozens of the Library’s friends on Twitter and Facebook participated in our contest to meet Burton by sharing the titles of their favorite books. The five winners, chosen at random, brought friends and family to watch LeVar read in the Library and then meet with him one-on-one for photos and autographs.

In short, it was a remarkable day – one that was absolutely all about reading.

-- Jason Harper

Known to generations of book lovers as the host of Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton is coming to the Kansas City Public Library. And we’re offering our followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook the opportunity to meet him in person! Find out how you can enter our contest for a chance to visit with the Emmy-winning actor and director simply by sharing your love of reading.

On Friday, February 18, 2011, at 1:30 p.m., LeVar Burton will host a special event for a group of students from Kansas City’s Derrick Thomas Academy on the second floor of the Central Library (14 W. 10th St.).

After reading and discussing local author Shane Evans’ book Underground, he will meet with the five winners of our Tweeting Rainbow: Meet LeVar Burton at the Kansas City Public Library Twitter and Facebook Contest.

The contest will run from 12 p.m. CST on Monday, February 14, through 12 p.m. CST on Thursday, February 17, 2011. Follow these instructions to enter.

Update, Feb. 17, 3 p.m.
Congratulations to Our Winners!

Colette Chapin
John Dobson
Jan Brooks
Ellen Creed
Natasha Sims

Instructions for Twitter users:

1. Follow us on Twitter at @KCPubLibrary

2. Before 12 p.m. on Thursday, February 17, tweet the names of three of your all-time favorite children’s books. Be sure to include "@KCPubLibrary" in each tweet, use the hashtag #tweetingrainbow, and include the link

3. To be entered into the contest, please tweet at least three times with a different book in each tweet. (One entry per person.)

Example screenshot:

Instructions for Facebook users

1. Like us on Facebook at

2. Post a comment to this blog entry via the "Add new comment" link below. Tell us the title and author of your all-time favorite children’s book. Be sure to post your name as it appears on Facebook and include your e-mail address in the form. Blog comments may take a few minutes to appear.

Choosing the Winners

At 12 p.m. on Thursday, February 17, we will take the names of all the contestants and combine them. Five winners will be selected at random. They will be sent confirmation messages and announced on this blog post, Facebook, and Twitter by 3 p.m. on Thursday, February 17.

On Friday, February 18, at 1:30 p.m. the winners will be invited to attend LeVar’s reading for the Derrick Thomas Academy students at the Central Library and then meet with him in-person afterward.

About LeVar Burton

When it comes to spreading the joy of books, no one has a legacy like LeVar. As host of the PBS television show Reading Rainbow for 26 years, Burton taught readers of all ages how to celebrate the joys of reading – not to mention memorize that famous theme song…

Burton is also known for his portrayals of Lieutenant Geordie LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Kunta Kinte in the 1977 miniseries Roots, for which he won an Emmy for best actor.

After his visit to the Library on Friday, he will speak at a dinner for the Culture House at Johnson County Community College prior to a production of Underground by the Storling Dance Theater in celebration of Black History Month.

In recent years, Burton has leveraged Twitter to connect with fans and promote worthwhile causes such as reading and libraries, garnering more than 1.6 million followers in the process. At the Kansas City Public Library, we too are using social networking sites to reach new people, educate them about Library services, and build enthusiasm for reading in our community.

We hope that whether you’re a new follower of the Library on social networking sites or a returning regular, you’ll stick around to join the great discussion that goes on every day at the Kansas City Public Library.

Happy tweeting, commenting, Facebooking – and reading!

Sometimes at the Library, our best ideas come from patrons. When I.H. Ruiz Branch regular Keishla Collins saw a need for more programs for teenage girls, she spoke up. Now every month, a group of around 20 girls and women meet to talk about books and take part in fun, beneficial activities. But stay back, fellas - this here's the Girls' Night Out Book Group.

Though she's currently studying to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), Collins is no stranger to book groups - or to libraries. A resident of Kansas City's Westside neighborhood and mother of two, Collins began frequenting the Library when she decided to go back to school.

"I was getting videos on algebra and GED books to brush up on reading, writing, and math," Collins says. "And Julie [Robinson, Ruiz Branch manager] was a big, big help to me. Whatever I needed, I went to her, and we looked it up. And when I went to take the test, I passed it. I owe her so much."

Last summer, Collins founded the Ruiz Branch's Sistah 2 Sistah Book Group for women to read and discuss urban and Christian fiction.

When Collins approached Robinson with her idea to start a book club aimed at teenage girls, Robinson saw an opportunity to address a need in the community.

"I didn't just want a girls' book club -- I wanted something that would teach self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-confidence," Robinson says. "I wanted them to feel empowered to become strong women,"

Robinson says that a number of families in her service area consist of single fathers raising daughters.

"There's a need for female role models in the community," she says.

So Robinson developed a plan for a book group that would combine reading with educational activities for young women. In addition to allowing members (girls aged 13 to 16) to choose which current young adult fiction books they wanted to read, the group would participate in discussions and activities focusing on subjects such as journaling, appropriate dating, jewelry making, healthy eating, maintaining a positive body image, and other life lessons.

"We're trying to hit the girls up with something fun to read as well as something more serious to think about," Robinson says.

Each month, representatives from community organizations such as the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) and Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics visit the book group to give presentations.

To fund Girls' Night Out, Robinson approached the Library's Development department, which applied for and received a targeted-populations grant from the Missouri State Library for $2,300 over a six-month period. If the program is a success, it can be implemented at other Library branches.

So far, things are looking good.

The group gets a lesson in sensory-based movement practice of Nia.

Attendance has grown since the first meeting in September of last year, when the group read Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging and local author Christine Taylor-Butler gave a talk about writing as a means of self-expression. In fact, some adult women from the community have begun attending sessions in order to interact with and encourage the younger members.

Robinson says that kind of community involvement is not unusual on the Westside.

"A lot of people volunteer here," she says. "We work very hard to make a cohesive community out of a place that's been divided by roadways - that's been cut off from Kansas City in many ways."

Collins is one such neighborhood activist.

"I just want the young ladies to see there's more to life than Facebook, cell phones, and hanging out," she says. "Reading broadens your mind and your vocabulary."

At 4:30 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, February 2, 2011, most people in Kansas City were snuggled up warm in their homes. Jerry Houchins was in his office on B1 of the Central Library, watching the weather on Fox 4 news. By 5 a.m., he was on the sidewalks of 10th & Baltimore, cleaning up after a blizzard that dumped 8-12 inches of snow across the city, with drifts up to two feet tall.

Houchins, the Library's operations manager, had slept in his office overnight. The Library had closed early the day before, at 1 p.m. By the time he had completed the myriad tasks that come with closing early (changing the maglocks, turning out the lights, updating the phone hotline, and so forth), the blizzard was raging.

He figured it was safer to spread out some couch cushions from the staff break room than attempt to drive to his home in Smithville, Missouri. (Noticing his situation, Deputy Director of Branches Dorothy Elliott and her husband, Mitch, delivered Houchins a "care package" that included home-cooked chili.)

Early mornings and physical labor are par for the course in Facilities department at the Kansas City Public Library. For a crew that's appointed with keeping patrons and employees safe in all kinds of weather, last week's blizzard was, in many ways, just another day at work.

"We knew it was expected of us, so we just got out there and hit it as a team," says John Hendricks, maintenance mechanic.

As soon as ice and snow appeared in the forecast on Sunday, the Facilities team began working on a plan of attack. For the most part, that would include deploying personnel, snow shovels, and salt to the branches, as well as arranging for a snow-plowing contractor to help shoulder the workload.

Most of that workload: shoveling, shoveling, and more shoveling.

Putting their backs into it at the branches were Dan Martin at Trails West, Willis Talley at L.H. Bluford, Michael Butcher at Waldo, Jerry Stanford at Southeast, Hendricks at North-East, and Houchins at Central. (Team member Nelson Valiente was nursing an injured foot.)

The contracted snow-plow company handled the I.H. Ruiz and Westport branches. At the Plaza and Sugar Creek branches, the respective building owners handled snow removal.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Facilities crew had put approximately 60 hours of work into keeping entrances and pathways clear and addressing other obstacles created by the blizzard.

"We kept patrons and staff safe - that was the main goal," says Martin.

And as Houchins noted in a Thursday e-mail to the entire Library system, no matter how clean the sidewalks, without the staff inside, the Library couldn't open at all.

"Facilities may have got you in the door," he wrote, "it's you that then lead our patrons."  

Click on the Westport Branch for a gallery of Library locations in the snow.

Jordan Fields likes to teach, but she didn't want to be a full-time teacher. So she became a librarian. Now as the Library's digital projects manager, she is the main architect of two different online repositories of information that, when complete, will educate people about the Kansas City region's past and present.

It all started five years ago, in Miami. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in comparative literature, Fields took an appointment with Teach for America, teaching English to teenagers from low-income communities in Miami.

While there, she began to see the deleterious effects of information illiteracy, not just in her students, but in their parents, too.

"Their parents didn't understand how to work the systems - mortgages, health care, taxes, applying for colleges," she says. "It was a chronic lack of education."

Public libraries, she realized, were the best hope for people with limited financial means to learn essential life skills.

"I feel passionately that we should have an educated public, and a lot of that is giving people access to information," she says.

It wasn't a straight shot from there to librarianhood, though. After her tenure at Teach for America ended, Fields took six months off, moved to Kansas City, and considered her options.

After consulting with a couple of friends who were librarians, she decided to give volunteering a try, and soon found herself at the Plaza Branch, working under Children's Librarian April Roy.

("I take full credit for her whole career," Roy says, jokingly.)

After just five weeks as a volunteer, Fields became a library technical assistant. In six more months, she was a teen associate. But then, after a year at the Library, she and her husband moved to Thailand to teach English.

Fields found time to pursue her newfound calling by enrolling in the Master's in Library and Information Sciences online learning program at Syracuse University. As a challenge to herself, she chose to focus on digital library services.

"Technology always scared me, and the program sounded really hard," she says. "So I did it."

As her studies molded her into a tech-savvy librarian, Fields began to view her profession in a new light.

"The library is not just a physical space," she says. "We have so much opportunity to move into the digital realm, and so much we can provide in terms of helping our users find what they need."

In July of 2009, Fields returned to the Kansas City Public Library as digital projects manager.

Her biggest projects to manage at the moment are the web portals and The Missouri-Kansas Conflict: Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865. Both of these websites will be online repositories of top-quality information about various aspects of the Kansas City area.

KC Research will compile thousands of documents and articles that contain research done on Kansas City, as well as information produced by local nonprofits, government agencies, and universities. The Mid-America Regional Council, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, are among the principal contributors of content for the project, which is being funded by a grant from the Kauffman Foundation.

The idea for KC Research dates back to 2001, when a forum held at the Kauffman Foundation noted that much of the research being conducted about and in Kansas City exists in disparate locations, making it difficult to access. The solution that was proposed was to create a single portal for researchers to share ideas and promote their work -- in turn, showcasing to the public the quality and quantity of research done in Kansas City. The Library was chosen as the fiscal and managing agent representing the partnership.

“The Library was chosen for this role because KC Research fits in so well with what libraries do,” says Library Deputy Director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner. “It is the focus and specialty of libraries to collect and organize information so that it can be easily accessed by the public.

Much the same mindset is driving the Civil War project. Whereas KC Research unites modern-day organizations, this project looks to the past.

Collecting primary-source materials such as letters, photographs, and documents from 25 different historic preservation institutions, the project will create a comprehensive view of the conflict on the Missouri-Kansas border. The Library is the leader of a group of nine partners in the project, which is funded by a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Missouri State Library.

The other partners in the Civil War project are Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area; the Kansas State Historical Society; LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC; Mid-Continent Public Library; the Missouri Valley Special Collections; the National Archives at Kansas City; the Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas; and the Western Historical Manuscript Collection, UMKC.

In addition to providing both sides of our region's Civil War story, the project is anticipated to contain an extra level of commentary written by scholars interpreting the historic materials. (Visit the Library's Flickr page to see a sampling of the materials.)

Fields believe that both of these projects reflect the librarian's mission.

"As librarians, we are guardians of the culture's knowledge. It's our responsibility," she says.

Look for KCResearch to launch in the first half of 2011, and for the Civil War project to arrive around the end of the year.

In the meantime, bone up your digital library knowledge by bookmarking these sites or adding them to your RSS reader. Also, you can follow KCResearch on Twitter (@KCResearch).

Jordan Fields' Top Digital Library Web Resources

  • Code4lib: "General digital library information, focusing on open-source technologies."
  • Metadata Blog: "The official blog of the Metadata Interest Group of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services."
  • Librarian in Black  and Librarian by Day: "These two are a little easier to read for non-experts, more about the intersection of technology and libraries."
  • Digitization 101: "All aspects of digital libraries, with an emphasis on digitization."
  • Diary of a Repository: "Although there are no new posts, it's still a great resource on digital preservation."

It’s a Friday night at the Plaza Branch, and magic is in the air in the library’s teen section – in more ways than one. A dozen or so young patrons gather around tables, swapping cards and invoking the names of otherworldly beings: Alien Telepath, Phyrexian Marauder, Fist of Ironwood.

The strange terminology of the card games Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh might be perplexing to outsiders, but Teen Associate Kathy Meier is right at home.

“Kathy, what do you think’ll happen if I go against Chris’s Sliver Deck?” asks 11-year-old patron Fielding.

“You will die,” Meier says, then laughs. (Fielding – who knew the answer without asking – smiles, and his opponent, Chris, 18, responds with an impish chuckle.)

Meier’s Card Classics gaming time begins each Friday at 5 p.m., and teens and tweens come out in force to play and trade cards.

“I come here every Friday night,” says 18-year-old Dennis. This Yu-Gi-Oh enthusiast has played in tournaments as far away as Springfield, Missouri, but the Plaza Branch is his favorite haunt.  “This is my lifestyle – it’s what I do,” he says.

Chris demonstrates his poker face

For Meier, an 18-year Plaza Branch veteran, these games are a way into hearts and minds. She's held six tournaments in the past four months, with prizes such as free trading cards and coupons to Yogurtini. A Magic tournament will be scheduled soon.

Dennis deals a tough hand of Yu-Gi-Oh.

Meier became interested in Magic when she started working with teens six years ago. She has since used it and similar games to help form bonds with an age group that can be apprehensive about the Library.

“Teens sometimes feel intimidated by the circulation desk and some of the work librarians do,” Meier says. “It helps break the ice if you have a personal relationship.”

Meier says many of the teens who come to Card Classics end up using the Library for other purposes, such as writing research papers for school.

Less talk, more Magic, Matt!

And the games themselves, she points out, are not without their virtues.

Game play combines luck of the draw with strategy as players weigh the attack and defense power of their own cards versus their opponents’. It calls for skills in reading, critical thinking, math, and interpersonal communication.

What Plaza teen Matt, 14, says of Magic can be said of most things in the adult world: “It’s easy to learn, but to master it takes a lot of time.”

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving last year, the L.H. Bluford Branch had an impromptu Turkey Day feast. “It was crazy. Kids just kept coming in droves,” remembers Mary Olive Thompson, assistant branch manager and children’s librarian at Bluford. “It really felt like Thanksgiving.”

Thompson isn’t sure why a whopping 55 kids turned up to eat the rather un-Thanksgiving-y meal of chef salads that day at Bluford. She’s just glad they came – and that they keep coming.

Every Monday through Thursday at the Bluford and Southeast Branches and every Monday through Wednesday at Central, Kids Café is open for business.

A national program offered locally by Harvesters Community Food Network in partnership with agencies (including the Kansas City Public Library) that provide services to disadvantaged kids and teens after school and during the summer, Kids Café serves wholesome and free food to all kids under the age of 19.

During an average Kids Café at Bluford, 30 to 35 kids turn up to eat a healthy, Harvesters-provided meal and engage in activities such as socializing, listening to a story, watching a movie, and playing games. The program stresses the importance of nutrition and basic food preparation skills, the eradication of hunger, and, at the Library, at least, the value of literacy.

The librarians at Central Youth Services have also partnered with staff from the H&R Block Business & Career Center to present some information on financial health for teens in conjunction with Kid’s Café. 

On a recent Wednesday at the Central Library, around 20 kids ate meals while Children’s Librarian Clare Hollander read a story; afterwards, a few burned off calories by taking on each other and Children’s Librarian Clare Hollander in games of Dance Dance Revolution. Others read or played chess.

“If there’s food, I’m there,” said Kids Café regular Tyrone, 17.

“It’s kids of all different ages, all from the same neighborhood, coming together and eating and sharing in the same room. That’s why I love it,” Thompson says.

Thompson has one colleague in particular to thank for the privilege of providing healthy, free meals to kids: Gabi Otto.

The go-to person for teen services at the Southeast Branch, Otto recognized the need to be able to serve food to her younger customers several years ago. Because without snacks on hand, she explains, it’s a lot harder to get kids and teens into the Library after school. At the same time, it can be expensive to feed several dozen mouths a day.

When a friend told Otto about Harvesters two years ago, she saw the opportunity to fulfill her vision of providing healthy snacks while encouraging participation in programs. Kids Café and Harvesters have been providing food to Southeast ever since. This past fall, Thompson brought it to Bluford, and Teen Librarian Kim Patton paved the way for it to come to Central.

“The food is really important because it brings kids into the Library and provides a safe place for them to socialize,” Otto says. “And it gives me a chance to develop relationships with all of them.”

Indeed, for Otto and her fellow Kids Café maitre d’s – Thompson at Bluford and Hollander and Wick Thomas at Central – this program provides a way of building a lasting connection between kids and the Library.

“One day, when they get to be adults, they’ll look back and appreciate this and have positive thoughts about the Library,” Otto says.

“And, I don’t know, maybe they’ll think of me – the lady who brought the German chocolate,” she says with a laugh.

Kids Café at the Kansas City Public Library

Southeast Branch: Mon. - Thurs., 3 to 4 p.m.

L.H. Bluford Branch: Mon - Thurs., 4 to 5 p.m.

Central Library: Mon. - Wed., 5 to 6 p.m.


-- Jason Harper

Kansas City is a big reading town. The Library’s circulation stats from last year prove it. Our most checked-out book: Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1980 novel Housekeeping, the book featured in our NEA-sponsored, community-wide Big Read program. Find out what other books and movies were most checked-out by KC’s reading class in 2010.

Library patrons like thrilling reads and newer non-fiction, but it was a 30-year-old novel that crossed our circulation desks the most in 2010.

Thanks to our Big Read program, in which more than 1,300 people signed up to read Housekeeping (and attend book discussions, special events, and a film screening), Marilynne Robinson’s rich, carefully rendered masterpiece shot to the top, with just over 700 check-outs for the year.

Elsewhere on the list, just below Dan Brown’s Da Vinci follow-up, Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel, The Help, grabbed the bronze with a compelling story of race relations in Civil Rights-era Mississippi. Elizabeth Gilbert’s globetrotting memoir landed in the top 10; the late Stieg Larsson went two for three from his Millennium Trilogy; and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse mysteries added vampire blood to the mix. And nearly last – but not nearly least – Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which turned 50 in 2010.

The Top 25 Most Checked-Out Adult Books of 2010

1. Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

2. The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown

3. The Help – Kathryn Stockett

4. True Blue – David Baldacci

5. Nine Dragons – Michael Connelly

6. The 8th Confession – James Patterson

7. The Scarpetta Factor – Patricia Cornwell

8. Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

9. Grave Secret – Charlaine Harris

10. Mama Dearest – E. Lynn Harris

11. Rough Country – John Sandford

12. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

13. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man – Steve Harvey

14. Run for Your Life – James Patterson

15. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson

16. A Touch of Dead – Charlaine Harris

17. Big Girls Do Cry – Carl Weber

18. Hardball – Sara Paretsky

19. Be Careful What You Pray For – Kimberla Lawson Roby

20. Cross Country – James Patterson

21. The Associate – John Grisham

22. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer

23. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

24. Sizzling Sixteen – Janet Evanovich

25. Resilience – Elizabeth Edwards

When it came to kids reading, Percy Jackson and his brave Olympians ruled the list of Most Checked-Out Children’s Books, with book two in Riordan’s six-part series surfing to the top. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows makes an expected appearance, considering the first of two movies based on this final chapter in J.K. Rowling’s series hit the big screen last year (as did an adaptation of The Lightning Thief.) Oldie-but-goodie of the year: Maurice Sendak’s 1963 classic Where the Wild Things Are.

The 10 Most Checked-Out Children’s Books of 2010

1 The Sea of Monsters – Rick Riordan

2. Old MacDonald – Rosemary Wells

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling

4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days – Jeff Kinney

5. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

6. Pigeon Wants a Puppy – Mo Willems

7. Llama Llama Mad at Mama – Anna Dewdney

8. Dinosaur vs. Bedtime – Bob Shea

9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

10. The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan

It’s 10 o’clock – do you know where the teenager in your life is? Chances are, he or she is sunk deeply in the nocturnal world of Stephenie Meyer. As our Most Checked-Out Young Adult Books of 2010 list shows, it was the year Twilight latched on to the adolescent American imagination like a thirsty, well, vampire, fueled, no doubt, by the blockbusting release of the third Twilight film in June. Hunger Games empress Suzanne Collins was not to be outdone, though, claiming spots five and six. Look for her books to escalate in 2011 when Hollywood takes on her trilogy.

The 10 Most Checked-Out Young Adult Books of 2010

1. Eclipse – Stephenie Meyer

2. Breaking Dawn – Stephenie Meyer

3. Twilight – Stephenie Meyer

4. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

5. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

6. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

7. New Moon – Stephenie Meyer

8. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment – James Patterson

9. Beautiful Creatures – Kami Garcia

10. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner – Stephenie Meyer

It was neck and neck at the finish, but Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-stompin’ romp beat out James Cameron’s nine-foot-tall Na’vi tale to claim the top spot on our list of Most Checked-Out Adult Feature DVDs. Not far below came 2010 Academy Award for Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, followed closely by Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-winning performance in a film based on a book by Michael Lewis. (Did we mention that our patrons also have good taste in film?)

Top 10 Most Checked-Out Adult Feature DVDs of 2010

1. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

2. Avatar (2009)

3. Angels & Demons (2009)

4. The Hangover (2009)

5. Star Trek (2009)

6. District 9 (2009)

7. The Hurt Locker (2008)

8. The Blind Side (2009)

9. It’s Complicated (2009)

10. Surrogates (2009)

Now it’s your turn: What did you check out from the Library last year?

And what will you check out in 2011? Take a look at the Suggested Readings from the Library’s Adult Winter Reading Program, which begins January 10, 2011.

-- Jason Harper

Librarians have always connected people to stories that inform and shape their lives. But for one Central Reference Associate, books aren’t the only tools of the trade. Jean DuFresne’s mastery of beadmaking has grown alongside her career at the Kansas City Public Library. And now she’s also using her craft to benefit the lives of children with serious illnesses.

A swirling oval surrounded by a ring of silver, a string of autumn-colored beads on a bracelet, a green-glowing leaf, an acorn that looks like it just fell from a tree – DuFresne’s beads could be (and in some cases are) stand-alone works of art.

After a full day of helping customers in Central Reference, where she has worked part-time since 1997 (she also worked at the Library in the ‘80s while attending college), DuFresne turns up the heat in her home workshop. She wields a Barracuda propane torch (which she affectionately calls “Barry”) to melt, shape, and decorate the glass into beads and anneals them in a kiln that can reach upwards of 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Made from either borosilicate (“hard”) or soda lime (“soft”) glass, each bead takes anywhere from two minutes to two hours to produce.

“In beadmaking,” she says, “the things you can do are limited only by your skills and imagination.”

DuFresne's creations light up any old library table.

DuFresne began experimenting with the craft in the mid ‘90s as a way to augment her homemade jewelry. Before long, she was selling her work out of a gallery in Parkville. Now, she sells her beads and custom jewelry through her online store at (click the link to view some of her latest work).

DuFresne’s beadmaking recently took on a new significance when she began participating in the Beads of Courage program.

Founded in 2004 by Jean Baruch, a pediatric oncology nurse in Arizona, the program awards beads to children who are undergoing treatment for serious diseases. Each bead represents a milestone in a child’s life, such as a round of chemotherapy, a radiation treatment, or an overnight stay in the hospital. The beads help to articulate experiences that are often painful.

“Telling your story is an important part of the human experience, and these beads are helping these children do that,” she says.

DuFresne estimates that she’s donated nearly 100 beads to the program. Though she’ll probably never meet the kids who receive her beads, she derives immense value from the project.

“As an artist, it’s not often you see your work being used in such a direct, immediate way,” she says.

Last month, CBS News featured Beads of Courage. Watch the video below to learn more about a project DuFresne finds inspiring.

DuFresne notes that beads have always been used to tell stories, whether, for example, in ancient Egyptians’ use of the very first glass beads as decorative objects, or in the centuries-old Catholic practice of praying the rosary. In other cultures, including Native Americans’, beads were also used in bartering and as currency.

Clearly, DuFresne is as much an expert on the history of beadmaking as she is a craftsperson. Throughout her tenure at Central Reference, the Library has provided her with a rich resource for researching her trade as well as learning new skills, such as precious metal clay and silversmithing.

“If I’m sitting here in Central Reference, and I think of something, I can run to the shelf on break and look it up,” she says. “We have books on beads through history, and working at the Library has encouraged my ability to utilize a lot of different techniques.”

Also, when it came time to monetize her craft, DuFresne says that she used the ReferenceUSA database to find local galleries, and she’s used the Library’s resources to develop marketing and business plans.

She’s derived creative inspiration from the stacks, too.

“I did a series of glass hearts a couple of years ago, and I used the Reference section to research heart quotes,” she says.

She even crafted a series based on a physics book about string theory.

“I’m definitely inspired by what I read,” she says.

And when it comes to her contributions to Beads of Courage, she hopes that her work can inspire children to share their stories, too.

-- Jason Harper

At the Kansas City Public Library's North-East Branch, Christmas is in the air - sort of. As the gateway to knowledge for Kansas City's most culturally diverse neighborhood, the North-East Branch during the holidays takes on the spirit of its patrons. And with people from different lands come different ways of celebrating (or not celebrating) the season.

Visit the North-East Branch on any day of the week, and you'll likely see people from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East checking out books for themselves or their kids, making use of the free computer access, and interacting with librarians, who, because of their skills at finding information, become guides to a new world. In turn, these people bring to Kansas City their native customs and cultures, imbuing internationalism into the landscape.

To get the widest possible view of how people in Northeast KC spend their holidays, we hunkered down for just a few hours over a couple of days at the North-East Branch, right next to an internationally themed holiday display case designed by globetrotting patron Nancy Kramer. We asked Branch Manager Claudia Visnich to introduce us to a few of her customers.

While a few of the patrons we spoke with didn't observe Christmas at all, many did - albeit in different ways. One thing they all had in common: a complete willingness to talk about their traditions. As Visnich says, "You can learn pretty much everything you need to know if you listen to your customers."

And here's what they told us about Christmas:

Sammy and Ibrahim Ayyad (Israel and USA, respectively)

A few days before Thanksgiving, Sammy Ayyad brought his son, Ibrahim, on a mini book-binge for the holiday weekend. "We are very open-minded," said Ayyad. "My wife is Catholic, and I'm a Muslim." On Christmas day, Ayyad and his wife, who is from St. Louis, will exchange gifts, but the holidays are more about Ibrahim, who is hoping Santa will bring him the video game Sonic Colors.

Argelia Zamora, with her niece Leslie and children, Jose and Ada (Mexico)

Piling up a stack of kids' books, Argelia Zamora talked about the Mexican tradition of Las Posadas, celebrated beginning around December 16 until midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. In Zamora's hometown, people walk to each others' houses (posada is Spanish for "lodging"), eat bread, break a piñata, and drink atole, a hot drink made with rice, milk, and cinnamon. This December 24, she and her family will go to an early Mass, eat dinner, and exchange gifts. (Thanks to North-East Branch staffer Shirl Maldonado for translating.)

Thao Van (left) and Nghia Nguyen (Vietnam)

Nghia Nguyen became a North-East Branch regular while attending Park University and working at the location as a homework helper. He's since worked with Visnich to build the branch's Vietnamese collection from a few feet of materials to four shelves of books and DVDs to better serve the metro area's biggest population of Vietnamese immigrants (many of whom, by the way, are Christmas-observing Catholics). Nguyen and his sister Thao Van, a UMKC freshman, were raised in a Buddhist family, but they still celebrate Christmas as a holiday for children. After all, Santa Claus does visit Vietnam, where they address him as Ong Gia Noel.

Christian Delgado and Jennifer Vera (Honduras)

Christian Delgado and his friend Jennifer Vera came to the North-East Branch early one afternoon to take advantage of the blazing-fast, free wi-fi. A music producer, radio manager, and construction demolition specialist (pretty cool resumé, huh?), Delgado divides his time between KC and San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where, he told us, December 24 is quite the fiesta. "There's a lot of food, a lot of people, loud music, firecrackers. We put on our best clothes, and sometimes people buy new clothes just for that day," he said. The Christmas hog is served up at midnight on the 24th, and people celebrate all night long.

Ketlyn Caton (Haiti)

"Everybody puts their money together, and we cook a little bit of everything." That's how Ketlyn Caton, a three-year resident of the U.S., described Christmas at home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. "Christmas is the biggest holiday in Haiti," added his friend Iguel, who had accompanied Caton to pick up some on-hold materials. "That's when the whole family comes together and spends time talking, laughing and having fun," Iguel said. Unfortunately, both Caton and Iguel have to work on the 25th this year. That's one thing, they told us, that they never had to do on Christmas Day in Haiti.

A mother of three, Kufaia Jabar moved to the U.S. from Iraq 10 years ago. "We like the holidays," she said as her son and one of her two daughters zipped through the stacks. Though they are Muslims by faith, Jabar and her family enjoy visiting neighbors' houses and giving presents to their children on Christmas Day. "Our kids were born in America, so we do Christmas for them," she said.

Fowsiya Mohammed (left) and Fowziya Ahmed (Kenya and Somalia, respectively)

Vivacious Northeast High School seniors Fowsiya Mohammed and Fowziya Ahmed frequently hit up the North-East Branch for the research papers they write for school. Unlike fellow Muslims Jabar and Ayyad, they don't observe Christmas at all - not even the presents. ("My dad doesn't like me even looking at Santa," Mohammed joked.) They do, however, enjoy the holy month of Ramadan, which involves fasting all day and eating one meal at night. Though the ritual fasting may be daunting to non-Muslims, Mohammed and Ahmed agreed that its benefits are plentiful. "Honestly, if you look at yourself [during Ramadan], you feel like a better person," Ahmed said, then added with a snicker: "Then you can go back to being your crazy self." Ramadan ends with the holiday celebration of Eid, which, in addition to breaking the fast with a family meal, involves doing good deeds for charity. "That's kind of like our Christmas," Mohammed said.

So, if you're ever in need of a globalized view on a subject - whether it's holiday customs, religion, politics, or life in the Midwest - you now know where to go. At the Kansas City Public Library's North-East Branch, the patrons are happy to educate you.

-- Jason Harper