Library Life

Volunteer Renee VanErp shares the Joy of Reading with 10-year-old Parijat Mondal in the Plaza Kids' Corner.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Liberty Symphony

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.

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.

Jasper Fforde

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.

Derrick Barnes is aiming for a new audience with his latest book.

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.

Paul Smith by Lauren Hunt

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).

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.

"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.

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.

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.

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