Library Life

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.

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."

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.

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.

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