Library Life

Wick Thomas

From sowing community gardens to starting grassroots organizations, Wick Thomas has fought for more causes than you can shake a picket sign at. When he's not planning a rally or hitting the political-science textbooks for school at UMKC, Thomas is championing libraries as beacons of free speech.

Lithe, bedecked with body piercings and sporting a different hair color every week, Thomas cuts a dashing, unconventional figure among the stacks in Central Youth Services, where he works as a Library associate.

When we spoke with the 23-year-old from Drexel, Missouri, his hair was sandy brown with blond highlights, teased on top and buzzed on the sides. His first gig at the Kansas City Public Library made use of his chameleonic appearance: wearing a costume and giving tours of the January 2008 exhibit Once Upon a Time: Exploring the World of Fairy Tales at the Central Library.

He worked the next two years as a technical assistant at the Ruiz Branch, where he found that his alternative appearance broke down barriers with youthful patrons.

"I think adults are intimidated by [my appearance], but kids respond to it and want to talk, and it's a good way to open them up to talking about the library," he says.

Kim Patton by Elise Del Vecchio

Kim Patton likes books with lots of angst. This is one reason why she’s perfectly suited for life as a teen librarian. When she talks about the sci-fi thriller Unwind by Neal Shusterman or the apocalyptic Gone by Michael Grant, she radiates enthusiasm. And as the newly crowned president of the influential Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), she knows what it takes to get teens reading.

An 18-year veteran of the Lawrence Public Library, Patton came to the Kansas City Public Library in December 2008 to give focus to the nascent teen services department.

“We’ve always worked with teenagers, but we didn’t have a clear plan that deliberately involved providing the services they want until we hired Kim,” says Crystal Faris, Director of Teen Services.

In Lawrence, Patton built the library’s teen center from the ground up – a pioneering move for any librarian at the time, as teen services is a fairly recent field.

Patton has always been a library lover. As a kid growing up in Topeka, she learned how to work the system to her advantage.

Tim Westcott lectures on General Order No. 11

On a hot Saturday last month, 50 people gathered at the Westport Branch to learn about another August day 147 years ago, when soldiers ordered 20,000 Missouri civilians from their homes. It was a period in local history as regrettable as it is compelling. In the Union Army's reprisal for guerrilla raids against places like Lawrence, Kansas, lives were lost and houses burned.

General Order No. 11 and Westport's place in the center of the border skirmishes of summer 1863 are the epicenter of local Civil War history. And talking about these events just once a year isn't enough for DIY scholars like Doreen Mundy.

Mundy and 13 of her friends occupied the back row of the Westport Historical Society’s lecture on Order No. 11. Until two years ago, most of the people in Mundy’s group didn’t know each other. They’re members of the American History group Mundy set up on the social networking site Meetup.com, which helps people connect online around shared interests and then “meetup” in person. Seventy-five people belong to Mundy’s group, which typically meets twice a month. They’ve conducted 55 meetups since 2008.

Uncle Sam juggles with schoolkids at the Ruiz Branch. (Photos by Elise Del Vecchio)

It’s the first week of the 2010 school year in Kansas City, Missouri, a time of energy and excitement. And for many parents, it’s a time for cutting back – those no. 2 pencils and spiral notebooks add up. Thanks to the KC Public Library’s Ruiz Branch, nearly 200 Westside families got a break from the school-supply squeeze.

On Thursday, August 12, the Irene H. Ruiz Branch hosted the Ninth Annual Back to School Pep Rally. Described as “a Celebration of Learning,” the event was organized by the library in partnership with the Westside Community Action Network Center and the Tony Aguirre Community Center .

Three hundred backpacks full of supplies were given to 175 families with students in Westside schools. The supplies were donated by a large group of individuals and companies, including neighborhood people, local businesses, and federal agencies.

“It couldn’t be what it is without a lot of people,” says Ruiz Branch manager Julie Robinson, who has helped with the event for the past seven years.

Portrait of Jesse James by A.L. Dillenbeck - Missouri Valley Special Collections

Have you met Jesse James? Charlie Parker? How about Amelia Earhart? Last year, these and other local legends barnstormed the Library for Meet the Past with Crosby Kemper. Now you can watch all of KCPT's televised episodes and relive more than a century of KC history without leaving your homestead.

From April through October of last year, a series of top-notch re-enactors conjured the personas of some of the most memorable people in American history, all with ties to the Kansas City area: Harry S. Truman, "Boss" Tom Pendergast, Walt Disney, Thomas Hart Benton and others.

Fielding questions from Library Director Crosby Kemper III, as well as the audience in attendance (usually 450 or more), these denizens of the past brought flesh, blood and a fresh outlook to the stories held in the tomes on the Library’s shelves.

Now you can revisit those conversations in our online media center. Visit our complete episode guide, get the info, and follow the links to the videos on BlipTV.

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