Library Life

The Off-the-Shelf All-Stars challenge is officially underway, and the first baseman of the Library’s literary baseball team has been chosen. Wielding a mammoth magician’s glove at 1B is Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts!

The legendary wizard of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books narrowly beat out a spry contender in J.R.R. Tolkien’s elfin archer Legolas – who really is more of a shooter than a catcher anyway, if you think about it - and will be providing a studied, stolid defensive presence at first sack.

Harry's sage mentor rose atop a field of Fantasy-lit first basepersons that included The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and reader-submitted nomination Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings (thanks for that one, Nancy!).

The battle for the bag took off quickly when we posted the Facebook Question Sunday morning, asking you to vote for our suggestions or add your own using the fill-in form. We hope to see another close contest today as we announce the genre and nominations for …

Second Base: Famous Spies

You’ll never see him coming, you’ll never know he was there. That’s the mark of a good second baseman – and a good spy. Which of these famous spies can keep a runner from stealing his base?

James Bond, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

George Smiley, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré

Jason Bourne, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

To vote, go to our Facebook page, like us, and check the box beside your baseman of choice by 9 a.m. tomorrow (July 3). Or, if you can think of a better spy second bagger, fill in your own!

With Dumbledore installed at first, which Famous Spy will play second?


We’ll be filling out this field every day until the "real" Major League All-Star game lands at Kauffman Stadium on July 10. Be sure to like our Facebook page and use Twitter hashtag #otsas to follow the bookball action!

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded. The game is tied. The sci-fi flyboy steps up to the plate. He grips his plasma bat and digs in. The 19th century mad scientist on the mound takes the signal from the pirate catcher and concocts a poisonous curveball.

The Off-the-Shelf All-Stars are playing for keeps.

It’s All-Star summer for Kansas City and Major League Baseball, but here at the Library, we’re picking all-stars of our own – from the pages of our favorite books.

And you’re going to determine who makes the cut.

Off-the-Shelf All-Star Poll: July 1 – 10, 2012

Every day starting this Sunday, July 1, and leading up to the big game on Tuesday, July 10, we’ll ask fans on our Facebook page to nominate a fictional character from a specified genre to be an honorary Off-the-Shelf All-Star.

Each day of the series will bring a surprise genre. We might ask for an otherworldly wizard to pluck would-be homers off the left field wall, or an evil genius to snag grounders at short.

Each morning at 9 a.m., we’ll post a Facebook Question revealing the genre plus a few official nominations. Your job is to vote on our suggestions or write in your own nomination for other people to vote on. Who knows, maybe your favorite character could end up an OTS All-Star.

Choosing the Winners

After each round is over, the contender with the most votes will be posted on the field roster the next day, along with the call for the next position’s nominations. The positions will be voted on as follows: First Base (July 1), Second Base (July 2), Shortstop (July 3), Third Base (July 4), Catcher (July 5), Outfield (July 6-8), Pitcher (July 9), and Coach (July 10).

Update: Here’s the field so far. Like us on to stay on top of the voting.

OTS All Star field

Here’s who’s been voted onto the team so far.

First Base (Fantasy Character): Professor Dumbledore, Harry Potter
Second Base (Famous Spy): Jason Bourne, The Bourne Identity
Shortstop (Kid Genius): Ender Wiggin, Ender’s Game
Third Base (American Hero): Calamity Jane, Buffalo Girls
Center Field (Teen Idol): Holden Caufield, The Catcher in the Rye
Left Field (Paranormal Being): Vote Friday, July 6
Right Field (Classic Adventurer): Vote Saturday, July 7
Catcher (Famous Animal): Vote Sunday, July 8
Pitcher (TBA): Vote Monday, July 9
Coach (TBA): Vote Tuesday, July 10

Get your book-ball cap on, and let’s build a team of literary giants to rival those “real” boys of summer!


About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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The I.H. Ruiz Branch has long been an oasis of learning in the Westside neighborhood. Now, with help from Kansas City's leading environmental nonprofit, that oasis has gotten greener.

Earlier this year, Library community partner Bridging the Gap was awarded a contract to conduct water conservation projects around the city, including the creation of 12 rain gardens in seven targeted neighborhoods.

The project, called Waterworks, would aim to reduce rainwater runoff into the storm system, which can lead to flooding of the sewers and waste water entering our rivers and streams.

After choosing the Ruiz Branch as an ideal site on the Westside, on June 5, a crew from BTG broke ground and planted more than 100 native plants according to plans developed by Opperman LandDesign. A week later, BTG posted a photo on its Facebook page showing the garden at work processing water from a weekend rain.

The plants in Ruiz's new garden represent two biomes: wetland and arid. And because they are native and already adapted to the environment, they require less maintenance from the Library's facilities crew.

But there's more to this garden than absorbing runoff. It's also designed to educate Library customers and the community.

"The Ruiz Branch is a natural gathering place where people come to learn, and a rain garden would serve as a demonstration tool for people considering installing one at their own home," says Kate Becker, program manager for BTG's Keep Kansas City Beautiful program.

Rain Garden at Ruiz
Library facilities crewman Michael Butcher checks the progress of the new garden.

For Branch Manager Julie Robinson, the rain garden is part of a larger goal to make the Westside a "learning habitat."

"We want everything that's encountered in the neighborhood to be a learning experience for the citizenry," Robinson says.

For an example of this concept in action, one need only look across the street.

Flourishing in the shadow of an abandoned school on ground once occupied by a medical kit manufacturer, the Switzer Neighborhood Farm is the result of hard work on behalf of the Library, the Westside Action Youth (WAY) Coalition (of which the Ruiz Branch is a member), the Westside Community Action Network (CAN) Center, and volunteer farmers from the neighborhood.

Since the farm was planted in June 2010 by more than 300 SkillsUSA volunteers, it has grown to encompass 26 plots and houses ducks, chicken, and bees.

The farm has also provided the opportunity for community organizations such as BTG and the CAN Center to offer educational programming on basic gardening topics such as composting, rain-barrel making, and cultivating local plants.

Another learning opportunity exists on the other side of West Pennway: Just across from the Library, the garden outside the Tony Aguirre Community Center hosts a Monarch butterfly way station, where neighbors can observe butterflies stopping on their migratory path from Canada to Mexico.

In addition to developing more programs around the garden and surrounding spaces, Robinson wants to place multilingual labels on plants, trees, and objects in the neighborhood.

"As people will walk by these sites every day, it will soak in," Robinson says.

And that's how the Library's garden grows.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.

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Every great collection has to begin somewhere. For the Black Archives of Mid-America, it was in the trunk of Horace Peterson’s car in 1970s Kansas City.

At least, that’s the story according to Missouri Governer Jay Nixon, who spoke and cut the ribbon at the Archives grand opening ceremony this past Friday.

“Now, the Archives are right where they should be – in the heart of the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District,” the governor told an enthusiastic, elbow-to-elbow crowd inside the Archives’ new home in the restored Parade Park Maintenance Building at 1722 E. 17th Terrace.

As a jazz combo bopped away in the corner, community members enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and mixed with notables such as Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, Archives Director Doretha Williams, board president Barbara Peterson, and council members Melba Curls, Jermaine Reed, and Jim Glover.

Following presentations by Williams, Library Director Crosby Kemper III, and Cleaver, the governor arrived to tie a bow on the evening with an enlivening address that quoted Missouri poet Langston Hughes and connected the grand opening back to its founder.

“In preserving history, Horace Peterson made history,” Nixon said.

And that history is finally accessible to the public.

Through the efforts of community leaders and organizations including the Kansas City Public Library, the Archives’ board, Gov. Nixon, Carol Coe, Sharon Sanders Brooks, the Kauffman Foundation, and others, thousands of rare artifacts, documents, and photos that tell the story of Kansas City’s African-American community will be preserved and displayed in a way that would’ve made Peterson proud.

Indeed, the Archives’ grand opening weekend saw the triumphant culmination of a long period of rebirth for the institution.

View a gallery of photos from the grand opening:

A Long Time Coming…

Just five years ago, in 2006, the Archives (then located in a firehouse at 2033 Vine St.) shut down amid financial problems.  With guidance from Coe and Brooks, the community demanded that local leaders take notice of the potential loss of a tremendous historic resource. Nixon, at the time attorney general, took heed, intervened, and elected a new board.

That new board included Kemper, who secured a $1 million grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to support renovation of the Archives’ new home in the Parade Park building, which is owned by the Kansas City Parks & Recreation department. It was there that Friday night’s celebration took place.

The Library’s relationship with the Archives goes back further than five years, however. It was in the early ‘90s that Library Deputy Director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner (then a computer tech in IT) took interest in the Archives.

“It has the same mission as the Library, it serves the same community, and we should collaborate with the Archives in saving that community’s history,” Buckner told KC Unbound earlier this year.

That collaboration came to fruition this weekend, and more great things are to come.

In addition to the physical collection and archive of materials digitized with help from the Library over the years, the Archives also features a brand-new permanent exhibit: With My Eyes No Longer Blind.

Juxtaposing portraits of African-American community leaders with a KC skyline of buildings that loom large in that community’s history, the exhibit presents a compelling rendering of the human story Peterson (who died in 1992) spent his life preserving.

You can view the exhibit at any upcoming Archives event, or by scheduling an appointment. The Archives’ collection can also be viewed by making an appointment.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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Summer Reading is upon us. The Library's branches are bustling with children piling into puppet shows and raising the roof at musical hoedowns, with teens texting and tweeting book reviews, and families dutifully logging reading hours to win prizes.

In many ways, it's a time of celebration.

But for Kansas City, it's also a time of urgent renewal.

In central Kansas City, only 19 percent of children are reading at grade level. Expand that outward into the metro, and the number is still low: 33.8 percent. A community with such low reading ability among children is a community that -- when those children later enter the workforce -- could decline for generations to come.

Sign Up for Summer Reading Now!

The Kansas City Public Library has long understood the impact of reading on the local economy -- a community that nurtures readers grows better future leaders. This philosophy is at the heart of the Building a Community of Readers initiative.

Now the Library is not alone in its desire to get children, from birth through third grade, on the path to meeting grade-level reading standards.

For the first time ever, this year's Summer Reading Program finds the Library joining forces with the Office of the Mayor of Kansas City and Mid-Continent Public Library in ensuring that Kansas City children won't succumb to the summer slide.

Through a new initiative called Turn the Page KC, Kansas City Mayor Sly James is looking at the city's economy through a lens of literacy, and the Library is helping to bring his efforts into focus.

"Kansas City is committed to providing the energy and resources to get every one of our children reading at an appropriate level by the time they get to third grade," Mayor James announced earlier this year.

"This is our most important economic development goal," the mayor said.

To begin to see that goal through, $50,000 was allocated in the Mayor's Office budget this year as seed funding for Turn the Page. Additionally, a donation of 10,000 books was secured from Rosen Publishing of New York. The books were distributed through LINC following a May 7 announcement (covered in the Kansas City Star) that took place in the Children's Library at Central. The Mayor's Office will also recruit five VISTA-AmeriCorp volunteers to work in partnership with local school districts over the next year.

For the mayor, this is just the start of a major initiative to boost the entire city through reading readiness.

"The mayor first and foremost sees this as an economic development issue," says Margaret Hansbrough, Special Assistant for Policy for the Office of Mayor James.

"If we don't have citizens who can thrive in the educational system and workforce, that's a major issue, and third grade is an early determiner. If you can hone in on that early indicator, you can make some long-term systematic change."

To measure that change, the Library and Mid-Continent will provide the Mayor's Office with participation statistics that will be used to determine the impact Summer Reading has on students' classroom performance in four school districts: Kansas City Public Schools, Center, Park Hill and Hickman Mills.

To better collect the data, both library systems are using the same web-based tracking software (Evanced Summer Reader); and both are using the same incentive program, developed by our Library, which rewards children for hours read and teens for book reviews submitted.

Summer Reading isn't just for school-aged children, either.

"Reading books aloud to pre-school children on a regular basis, involving them in exciting activities and events at the Library, and building their home libraries by earning books as prizes for Summer Reading goes a long way toward helping these children be ready to learn when they start kindergarten," says Helma Hawkins, director of Children's Services.

Hawkins says that promoting a love for reading in children long before they enter the classroom ensures they'll be ready to learn when that first bell rings.

So, while Summer Reading may look much the same it has in years past -- with kids grabbing books off the shelves, piling into programs, and moms and dads reading aloud to their children -- there's a lot going on under the surface.

And what's going on under the surface could change the community for years to come.

Watch an intro video for Turn the Page KC:

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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It’s a famous, elemental creation story. Los Angeles, the early 1950s: Ray Bradbury sojourns to the basement of UCLA’s Lawrence Clark Powell Library armed with a bagful of dimes to bang out his now-classic lines like “It was a pleasure to burn” at ten cents an hour on a rented typewriter.

Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 over nine days – approximately one-ninth the time it takes readers to blaze through the dystopian firestarter – on a dime-driven typewriter in a library basement. Bradbury described himself as a fantasy author, with 451 being his only “science fiction” book. But like most of his 11 novels and 600 short stories, the book transcends its appointed genre. It burns, it jangles nerves, it frightens, and most of all, it teaches.

For librarians, Bradbury was perhaps above all a teacher. And not just because of the anti-censorship message at the heart of Fahrenheit. In novels like The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, and his massive catalog of stories in the speculative fiction realm, Bradbury interwove arresting lessons about human nature with stock images of rocket ships and red planets. As a result of Bradbury’s prophet-like appeal and gift for unlocking our deepest, primordial fears and desires, librarians have been among his most devoted pupils.

Bradbury’s death this past Wednesday at the age of 91 sent shockwaves through the library world. At the Kansas City Public Library, we too felt a sense of loss. Below, our librarians offer their remembrances of one of America’s most influential authors and a great friend to libraries.

Read, reflect, and share your own thoughts in the comments.

When I was in eighth grade English class, about age 14 or so, we were assigned to read a short story by Ray Bradbury – "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh." The title character was also about 14 years old. Perhaps that’s why it was assigned – maybe we were supposed to relate to him. But it didn’t work for me. I didn’t like this story at all. Even then I fancied myself a budding historian, and I wanted to read something historical about the Battle of Shiloh, one of the major engagements of the Civil War.

But in this short story, which takes place on the eve of the battle, there are no combat scenes, no great moments of heroism, no glory. Instead, it’s just a brief conversation between the drummer boy, named Joby, and another character identified only as the general, who’s obviously Ulysses S. Grant.

One of the few great aspects of growing old is that you learn to appreciate things you didn’t understand when you were younger. Such is the case with me and my feelings about "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh." I have re-read this story many times in the decades since I was in junior high school, and each time it resonates more and more. For that alone, I remain grateful that Ray Bradbury became a writer.

-- Henry Fortunato

Thursday morning I listened to an NPR interview with Ray Bradbury. He died Wednesday. Bradbury was born in 1920, a month and three days after my father.

He is thought of as a science fiction writer, and while I have a deep love affair with science fiction, from the pulpiest to the most literary, “science fiction writer” only captures a fraction of what Bradbury did. He wrote what Harlan Ellison called “speculative fiction.” Besides science fiction, Bradbury wrote fantasy, horror, and mysteries, as well as screenplays (with John Huston and Norman Corwin he wrote 1956’s Moby Dick).

Even obviously science fiction works like The Martian Chronicles, used science fiction’s structure, not to write about technology, but to explore human relationships.

My favorites were the ones not contained by the boundaries of one genre. Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes all spill out in wild exuberance, splashing over the generic dams erected to contain them. Everything of Bradbury’s I ever read focused on people and how they dealt with each other—even if they were Martians or electric grandmothers rather than humans.

-- John Arthur Horner

My first encounter with Ray Bradbury came in 5th grade when I read The Martian Chronicles.  It was one of those rare events in the life of my imagination that was truly revelatory!

I’d started reading science fiction two years earlier and I’d fallen in love with Golden Age, “Big Idea” hard-SF authors like Asimov and Clarke.  Bradbury gave me something completely new – SF without the Big Idea.  He put people at the heart of his stories.  He wasn’t interested in how science could change the world, but with how people would have to live in that world.  He was the first major SF author to give the genre a truly human soul.

Like many fans of SF, I want to believe that science will make the world a better place.  That it will solve problems and improve living conditions for all.  Bradbury taught me that science, by itself, can’t do anything.

People make the world.  Our choices and actions, their consequences, and the relationships we forge are the things that matter.

This lesson hasn’t always been welcome in the land of SF – but it’s always, irreducibly, important.

-- John Keogh

Embarrassing confession: I never read anything by Ray Bradbury until graduate school.  Somehow, I made it past high school and navigated an English degree without knowing anything about Bradbury besides the fact that he had written a classic novel. It took a Science Fiction/Fantasy class to finally bring me face-to-face with one of his most terrifying short stories, "The Veldt.

"The Veldt" is about a set of siblings. A set of creepy siblings.  The type of siblings that you just know speak in monotone and are completely expressionless.  A set of creepy siblings that, when faced with the possibility of having their virtual reality technology taken away from them as punishment, decide to use that technology to kill their parents and then continue playing as if nothing had happened. This story terrified me.  There I was, writing a paper about creepy kids throughout literature, and Bradbury’s spawn were the kids that gave me nightmares! 

Mr. Bradbury, though I found you later in life, you still managed to freak me out like a nine year old discovering Goosebumps for the first time.  Thanks for the ride.

 -- Elena McVicar

I am not a big science fiction fan and have not read a lot of Ray Bradbury, so I will not be able to say as much as others might on this author.  I do remember the profound effect that Fahrenheit 451 had on me (I think I read it in 6th or 7th grade).  Here was a book that proclaimed the importance of literacy to civilization, that suggested that governments might wish to keep people ignorant, and that it was possible for people to resist.  I would also say that the idea of people memorizing books so that the books could live may have helped push me into memorizing poems and stories.  I can feel that urge growing again, and I may start memorizing some of the Iliad (only parts). I can thank Ray Bradbury for showing me that memorization can be very empowering and that remembering and reading are how we keep civilization alive.

-- Bernard Norcott-Mahany

My first introduction to Ray Bradbury came from a short story that was anthologized in our sixth grade readers: “All Summer in a Day. It has stayed with me all these years for several reasons. It was the first short story I read where children were the primary characters and adults played a very insignificant part. The children, collectively, are the villain in the story, and this was also a bit of a shock. It was also my first encounter with a type of science fiction I could relate to. There were no robots, altered chemical formulas, elaborate machinery that did unheard of things, no one had unpronounceable names, and all the vocabulary was recognizable. It was the kind of short story that gets to the heart of the terror a sixth grader can face every day.

Bradbury weaves that relatable terror into a larger narrative concerning a little girl, Margot, born on Earth, who moves to the recently colonized planet of Venus, where it rains every day except for two hours a day once every seven years. Margot remembers sunshine vividly. The other children in the class, however, were all born on Venus and have never experienced real sunshine. In the end, a petty argument has appalling consequences for one of the students.

“All Summer in a Day” is a powerhouse of a short story that comments on the brutality of children, the treatment of immigrants, and does it all deftly and in a terrifying way. (Check out the 1982 made-for-TV version on YouTube.)

-- Kaite Mediatore Stover

Fahrenheit 451 was probably the first serious book I read, and it shaped my life for years to come. As a 13-year-old, I thought the book was about censorship and as a result that became my first crusade.

Later, when I read an interview with Bradbury explaining that the book was actually about television destroying literature, I was pushed away from television news (though admittedly not television entertainment) and toward newspapers. I would eventually get my degree in journalism and work in the newspaper industry for 15 years before joining the staff of the Kansas City Public Library.

But perhaps most importantly, the book introduced me to science fiction and fantasy and began a love affair with those genres that is still alive today.

-- Steve Woolfolk

What are your memories of reading Ray Bradbury? Share them in the comments.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library. His favorite Ray Bradbury book is Dandelion Wine.
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Children who visit libraries early in life are more likely to return as they grow up. The same goes for art museums. This summer, the Kansas City Public Library is partnering with the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art for a program designed to enhance young readers’ love of listening – and looking.

Titled A Look and a Listen, the program will pair picture books with paintings in the gallery at the Kemper Museum. This June and July, children's librarians will read and talk about books that complement works in the brand-new exhibition Lois Dodd: Catching the Light.

Running every Wednesday, June 6 - July 25 (except for July 4), A Look and a Listen is part of the Library’s broader Summer Reading Program for children and teens.

Programs will begin at 10:30 a.m. and run for approximately half an hour. In addition to the readings from librarians, museum docents will provide discussions of Dodd’s paintings.

A breathtaking retrospective of a 60-year career, Catching the Light features 51 works by a plein-air painter with a brilliant eye for colors and shapes — two things that are important to the development of early literacy skills.

"Dodd's paintings are fresh, they're real, and this program will expose children to new ways of looking at the world," says Clare Hollander, one of the seven librarians who will conduct readings inside the exhibit gallery.

Combining stories and art has always been crucial in teaching children to read. It’s no accident, after all, that librarians are behind the most prestigious prizes in children’s book illustration: the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Book Award.

"I think of art and literature almost in the same category," says Helma Hawkins, the Library’s director of Children's Services. “By exposing him or her to great stories and great art, you build a cultural world for your child.”

Admission to A Look and a Listen is free and no reservations are necessary, though the museum advises parents to bring their own pillows.

Because looking and listening are sometimes best done in comfort.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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In an age of texting, tweeting, and LOL-inducing memes, putting out a print zine may sound a little 20th century. But there’s something to be said for publishing a story you can have and hold.

This summer, the Library is asking KC area youth to send in their homespun works of art and letters to produce a brand-new zine for and by teens.

Zines, for those not in the know, are handmade (often photocopied) magazines containing comics, fiction, poetry, essays, and other ephemera that usually reflect a subculture or community outside the mainstream.

Kansas City has been home to many zines over the years. Thanks to the recent efforts of Library worker Stephanie Iser, the Missouri Valley Room now is home to a growing zine collection.

Now, the Library wants local teens to put their thoughts to ink and paper to create a zine of their own.

“Self-publishing through Twitter, Facebook, and blogging is great, but with those tools there’s a format you have to follow,” says Central Youth Services teen associate Wick Thomas, creator of the project. “With a zine, you have complete control over the design, the content, and the way it’s distributed.”

For Thomas, zines have a staying power that tweets and bytes don’t.

“There’s something more impactful about picking up a zine, taking it somewhere, and reading it,” he says. “If you read something online, it won’t stick with you the way it would if you found it in a coffee shop.”

Thomas says he had been wanting to make a zine for years, but it took a little urging from Iser to get him to move. (“She lit a fire under me,” he says.) Additionally, Thomas found himself with an ad hoc zine editorial board following the success of his National Novel Writing Month program in November 2011.

“We were done with NaNoWriMo, and we were looking for a way to get the teens’ works published, so we decided to self-publish,” Thomas says.

In addition to honing their own written words, Thomas and his group of novel-writers-turned-zine-editors are currently fielding submissions from all over the city. They welcome contributions of artwork, writing, and anything else that area teens think is fit to print. The deadline for the as-yet-unnamed zine is currently July 1, 2012, though that may be extended.

Once the submissions have been collected and filtered, the editors will produce both print and online version of the zine – and they’ll decide on a name, too. Print versions will be sent to all Library locations, and copies will be added to the catalog for future zinemakers to check out.

“We’ve got a lot of amazing teens in Kansas City who don’t have a way to get published, and we just wanted to show them that this is possible,” Thomas says.

If you’re interested in submitting your work (or if you know a teen who might be), e-mail Wick at

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.

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One is a master at getting kids revved up at programs. The other knows children's books like an old pro.

Meghann Henry and Elena McVicar are ready to take the joy of reading both into the community and into the kids' areas at two branches in need of their services.

Though they could be "anywhere in the city," according to Henry, on a recent Wednesday afternoon, the two new youth services librarians are at the children's desk at the North-East Branch. Earlier in the day, they had given a program at J.A. Rogers Elementary.

At the program, as McVicar read and gave book talks, Henry led story circles and character-building exercises based on Shane Evans' book Olu's Dream.

It's a tag-team approach designed to capitalize on each librarians' skills.

"When she wants a program for a book, she comes to me. And when I need a book for a program, I ask her," Henry says.

Before coming to the Library, Henry worked for three years as education director at Kansas City's renowned Coterie Theatre. Her programming skills perfectly complement McVicar's formal library training. With a dual MLS/Master of Arts in Children's Literature from Simmons College in Boston, McVicar brings a passion for getting kids to read.

"I'm really into the new titles and new trends," McVicar says. "I've been plugged into the world of children's library services for the past three years."

Now that they're plugged in at the Kansas City Public Library, the two will bring their passion for working with kids to the North-East and L.H. Bluford Branches, as well as into the community.

As youth services librarians, they'll perform all the usual services for children and teens at their home branches -- Henry at North-East and McVicar at Bluford.

But, as part of the Outreach team, they will also spend about half of their time invested in the community-wide efforts coordinated by their supervisor, Outreach Director Mary Olive Thompson.

Double Duty

This unique marriage of youth and outreach services in these two librarians' job descriptions grew out of the need for children's librarians and outreach support at both the North-East and Bluford branches.

There had been no children's librarian at North-East for years. At Bluford, the spot had been vacant following Thompson's move to Outreach in late 2011. Meanwhile, both branches also needed help bringing kids into the libraries.

"We can't serve the community from a single point in each location," says Joel Jones, director of Branch and Outreach Services. "We have to go out to the schools and community centers but also be at the branches."

Going forward, Henry and McVicar will report to Thompson and their branch managers. They will collaborate on outreach programs and serve children and teens at both branches.

They will reshape their roles as their roles reshape them.

"Mary and Joel have been encouraging us to focus on our strengths -- what we're good at -- and the rest will come," Henry says.

Is this hybrid youth-services/outreach approach the shape of things to come?

"It's more of an experiment than a model for the future of children's and teens services," Jones says.

So far, it's off to a rocketing start.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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What happens when you put trained engineers and science-savvy kids in a room together for two days and ask them to battle it out with LEGO robots? We found out the answer on a recent Saturday at the Plaza Branch.

The results were… surprising.

Surprising , that is, that the kids didn’t beat up on them worse.

After all, the children and teens of the LEARN Science and Match Club of Kansas City had an unfair advantage. Their mastery of FIRST LEGO robotics has earned them national and even global rankings (eighth in the world, to be exact). So even though the adults who hunkered down for two days this past weekend at the Plaza Branch, were engineers, programmers, and a team of our own tech-savvy librarians, LEARN’s kids had gotten months to prepare.

Best of all, the challenges simulate real-world engineering problems. The theme for Geek vs. Geek was the food industry.

Get more of the story in the video below.

“We’ve been doing this for seven years, and we’ve touched several thousand kids,” said LEARN’s Rebecca Kidwell. “Our goal is giving them hands-on, interactive experiences that they think of as games but that we think of as true learning.”

Last Saturday at the Plaza, it looked as if both kids and adults were learning from each other.

“One of my favorite things about this event has been watching the kids and the grown-ups interact with each other,” said April Roy, Plaza children’s librarian and assistant branch manager. “You have professional engineers who are talking on this technical level with children, and they’re having great conversations about science and math.”

The learning doesn’t stop with robots and games, either. LEARN’s kids have recently won the first phase of an MIT grant to create a prototype product code-named Script Alert. The app uses tracking technology to identify all the prescription drugs consumers bring into their homes and make sure they take their medicines correctly.

“Our kids are doing real-life science and making a real impact on the world,” Kidwell said.

Watch more: LEARN on Fox 4’s Morning Show

Competitors at Geek vs. Geek included: Balance Innovations, Digital Maelstrom, Perceptive Software, Rhythm Engineering, UMKC, and the Kansas City Public Library. Sponsors: Balance Innovations, Synthesis Solutions Inc., and the Library.

Music in the video:

"Something Elated" (Broke For Free) / CC BY 3.0

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.

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Kansas City atheists may not believe in God, but they definitely believe in Sue Sanders.

That's true of two area atheist groups, at least: The Kansas City Freethinkers and the Kansas City Atheist Society.

Both are avid followers of "Sandersism," which, as countless other organizations know, is the practice of booking meeting rooms from Sue Sanders, scheduling coordinator in the Kansas City Public Library's Public Affairs department.

As the schedule master of the Library's 18 conference rooms across 10 locations, Sanders fields as many as 100 requests for reservations a day.

They call, they e-mail, they submit.

Some represent for-profit concerns that will have to pay for the space. But many more are nonprofits, for whom room rentals are free -- and therefore highly appealing.

"The rooms are very much in demand," says Sanders. "We could do with twice as many."

The vast list of community organizations and individuals that use the Library's meeting rooms makes up a cultural cross-section of the community.

The list teems with churches, professional-development societies, support groups, fraternity/sorority alumni clubs, job clubs, women's interest groups, activist committees, book clubs, crafting circles, and much, much more.

There are the Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, the Descendants of the Five Civilized Tribes, the OoEee Book Club, the Paper Scrappers, the Blind Ham Radio Club, the Android App Conversion specialists, and even the Marching Cobras drill team (who presumably leave their drums and whistles at home).

One thing they all share in common: a lack of rent-free places to gather.

"Without the use of the Library meeting room for free, our group would have to fork over $60 to $100 a month for a room," says Linda Hager, meeting organizer for the Missouri Council of the Blind, Progressive Affiliate.

Hager says her group came to the Library a year ago, after the church where they had been meeting hiked up its rates. Sanders quickly found a space that would accommodate their needs: the Chairman's Office near the front doors of Central.

The group - which consists of blind people - also found a friend in the Downtown Community Improvement District ambassadors.

"The guards that help us there are primo," Hager says. "They meet us at the door and help us in. The Chairman's Office is perfect for blind people to access -- it's convenient, it's comfortable. The guards will even go get us coffee. They're worth their weight in gold. And Sue is a breeze to work with for scheduling."

Sometimes Sanders helps with more than just scheduling.

Considering that she interacts with such a large and diverse sampling of the community, Sanders knows of more local citizen groups than just about anyone else in the city. Through working with them, she gets to know the people themselves.

"I can tell a lot about people's lives by how they speak, what locations they want, and what their group is," Sanders says.

That's why, when Sanders finds out about two groups that might be able to help each other accomplish their goals, she often attempts to help them get in touch.

For example, when a man from the east side of Kansas City called looking for a meeting place for his brand-new anti-violence group, Creating a Safe Community, Sanders wondered if another client of hers, Anger Alternatives, an anger-management group, might be interested in connecting.

After obtaining permission from both groups, she put the two in contact.  

"I saw two groups that could help one another. It seemed logical. And compassionate," Sanders says.

There's always room for that.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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 The readers have spoken. Voting in the finals for the 2012 Publitzer Prize for Fiction has closed, and a worthy novel has been democratically awarded the highest prize in mock American literary awards. Where the real Pulitzer Prize committee left off, you, the public, picked up.

Congratulations to Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, the landslide victor of the Publitzer Prize readers’ vote. Now, in addition to being a New York Times Notable Book of 2011, Plot has the official stamp of approval of the Kansas City Public Library’s uppermost echelon of fiction connoisseurs.

As a testament to the winner’s popularity, as of this writing, all print copies of Plot are checked out from our system (a CD audiobook is up for grabs at Central).  However, there are several copies of the first and second runners-up – The Submission by Amy Waldman and Open City by Teju Cole – available at various branches.

So, if you’re one of those who voted for Plot but have yet to read the other two, I suggest you get down to the Library. Or, alternately, click back to the many great Publitzer nominations tendered by your cohorts – that list was probably the best thing to come out of this little extravaganza.

Marriage Plot wins Publitzer

Because, after all, the Publitzer wasn’t about making a grand literary statement or saving American letters from the clutches of an elitist cabal (well, maybe just a little). It was about having a lively community discussion of the great fiction books that came out last year. And I think we accomplished that.

We couldn’t have done it without the help of our brilliant, discerning jurors: Kaite Mediatore Stover, Scott Wilson, Whitney Terrell, and Steve Paul. Be sure to read their nominations for, respectively, Salvage the Bones, Long, Last, Happy, The Marriage Plot, and Open City.

And this contest couldn’t have happened without you, the reading public. To show our gratitude, we entered all the voters' names into a drawing for a Readers' Advisory Prize Package of books hand-picked by Kaite.

The winner of the prize drawing: Kelly Fann. Congrats, Kelly!

What Did You Think?

Now, it’s your turn to sound off: What did you like/not like about the Publitzer Prize awards? Would you like us to do this again next year? What would you change about the contest? Who would you nominate for the jury?

You can give us feedback anytime – or lead the discussion yourself – on our Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Goodreads group.

Because as the Publitzer process demonstrated – if you’re living in KC and you love good fiction, you’re part of a reading republic.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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You found them in the beaches, you found them on the streets. You even found them in your school. The Alphabet KC scavenger hunt to capture photos of letter-shaped objects found around town is over, and the submissions have been dazzling.

Two weeks ago, we asked you to take a page from Stephen T. Johnson’s book Alphabet City, in which the Lawrence-based artist painted elegant reproductions of alphabet letters spotted in the urban scenery.

We wanted you to grab your camera, hit the great outdoors, and find letters wherever you could. We watched in amazement as the letters at first trickled, then poured in through Twitter, e-mail, and the mobile app Instagram.

Some were as straightforward as P-shaped railing or an F-shaped window frame. Others were less apparent, like a row of bike racks in a B formation, or criss-crossing train tracks forming a Z – or even a fine-art W spied by our friends at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

The person who sent us the most letters would win a signed copy of Johnson’s book. We’ll announce the winner in a moment.

First, we’d like to highlight some of our favorite submissions.

Kitchen Patrol
Hats off to Robert Hatem, who crafted an entire alphabet from objects found in his kitchen. Rob’s letter-finding extravaganza began one morning at breakfast, when he noticed the yolk from a cracked egg dripping in the shape of a Y. The next day, he decided to make a run at all 26 letters, arranging objects in his kitchen into different shapes. He calls the resulting image “Kitchen Sink” (so named for the one thing not in it).

Kitchen Sink by Robert Hatem

School D-A(to)Z-e
We wish we could have come along for the ride when Pembroke Hill prekindergarten teacher Madison Rommel took her entire class on a scavenger hunt around the school to find all 26 alphabet letters. The letters Ms. Rommel and her astute pupils found ranged from a log-cabin A to a planter Z. Now that’s a way to spend a school day.

A by Madison Rommel's students

Z by Madison Rommel's students

Alfabeto Bueno!
One of the last stops Amanda DeLeon made before taking her family on a Mexican vacation was to see Stephen T. Johnson talk about his books at the Library on Friday, April 20. The DeLeons took their Alphabet City fever on holiday, and Amanda sent us postcards in the form of letters found along the beaches of Cancun, where her kids had a blast hunting letters in the sun.

O by Amanda DeLeon

So Who Won?

Well, unfortunately, though we loved all the great submissions, we do have to award a top prize. And once all the letters had all been collected, there was one contestant who stood above the rest.

Congrats to master alphabet hunter Emily Soulliere!

X marks the spot!

From B’s in the River Market to X’s in Westport, Emily and her children found 27 letters in locations all around Kansas City. In addition to finding a ton of letters, they succeeded in catching the exploratory spirit of the Alphabet KC contest. And that’s why we’ll award the Soullieres with an autographed copy of Alphabet City.

Thanks to all our contestants, including Bridget, Corrie, John, Bob, Abbey, Heather, and @Bigcomedown.

View a Facebook gallery of all the submissions.

Or watch the slideshow via Flickr.

The contest is over, but that doesn’t mean all the letters lurking in the landscape have been found. As our contestants found, once you start seeing letters, you don't stop. Plus, it's a great early literacy exercise for young readers. Why not let the #ABCKC hunt continue?

As the old saying goes: Where there’s a will, there’s probably an A.

A by Emily

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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You nominated, the experts judged, and now it's time to vote. It’s been a fast and rollicking road to the final lineup in the first ever Publitzer Prize for Fiction – the Kansas City Public Library’s democratically driven answer to the real Pulitzer committee’s inability to award a prize for fiction for 2012.

After collecting your nominations all week long, on Friday, we posted  the Publitzer readers’ booklist, which featured many thoughtful and compelling comments sent in by lit-lovers like you. It was a fantastic roundup of the fiction books that most resonated with our local reading community this past year. Seriously, if you've been looking for a good new novel to read, look no further.

Then, over the weekend, our panel of jurors – Readers’ Services Director Kaite Mediatore Stover, Pitch editor Scott Wilson, novelist and UMKC writer-in-residence Whitney Terrell, and Kansas City Star senior writer and editor Steve Paul – took all of your nominations under advisement as they deliberated to determine the finalists.

Now, it's up to you to choose the winner. Each of the books below received nominations from readers before the jurors selected them as finalists.

Finalist 1: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Jeffrey Eugenides’s groundbreaking novel Middlesex won the real Pulitzer in 2002. Ten years later, he’s back with a story that juror Whitney Terrell describes as “a beautiful and extremely compelling portrait of college and post-college life.” (Vote)

Finalist 2: Open City by Teju Cole
Nigerian-American author Teju Cole’s debut novel, about a Nigerian psychiatrist who conducts a philosophical voyage across the streets of New York, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Juror Steve Paul called it “highly readable and exquisitely alive,” while reader Daniel Szabo praised it as “intelligent, original, and beautifully written.” (Vote)

Finalist 3:  The Submission by Amy Waldman
As former New York Times journalist Amy Waldman set about writing her story of a fictional struggle to build a 9/11 memorial, she found her subject matter oddly mirrored in headlines as debate raged in real life over a “ground zero mosque.” Her ensemble piece about a city and country in spiritual recovery compelled readers and jurors alike. (Vote)

Vote Now for the Winner of the 2012 Publitzer for Fiction

Cast your vote through midnight tomorrow, Tuesday, May 1. On Wednesday, May 2, the winning book will be announced – and we, the people, can feel like winners for having shown the Pulitzer committee how to recognize a good book.

Giveaway Announcement!
Just to sweeten the deal, if you submit your name and e-mail along with your vote, you will be entered into a drawing for a Readers’ Advisory Giveaway Package of books and galleys handpicked for you by librarian Kaite Mediatore Stover.

About the Publitzer Coordinator

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest

As our jurors prepare to hunker down and choose the finalists for  the first-ever "Publitzer" Prize for Fiction, it’s time to share what books you, the public, nominated.

Folks who have been following the race know that over the past week, the Kansas City Public Library has been conducting a campaign to undo the wrong wrought by the Pulitzer committee in giving no award for fiction for 2012.

We’ve been asking readers to nominate their favorite works of fiction from 2011, and our jurors would take your nominations and choose three finalists to be put to the vote beginning Monday, April 30.

We wanted you to be the faction that picks the fiction, and that’s exactly what you were. Well done.

As you dig in to what your fellow readers submitted below, check out the jury’s nominations:

Steve Paul: Open City by Teju Cole
Whitney Terrell: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Scott Wilson: Long, Last, Happy: New and Collected Stories by Barry Hannah
Kaite Stover: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward


The 2012 Publitzer Prize for Fiction Reader Nominations

Binocular Vision - Edith Pearlman

Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories - Edith Pearlman
“Ambition. Invention. Language. Courage. All on dazzling but quiet display. Why collections of stories are so neglected, I'll never know. The breadth of situations and the imagination at work here are brilliant; her use of language, unparalleled. If she were Canadian or Irish, she'd be recognized by now. Only the Book Critics Circle seems to "get it." (Ditto for Jim Shepard -- my 2nd choice -- You Think That's Bad: Stories. Also brilliant and inventive and beautifully executed. If it weren't a collection of stories, it might have been considered as well.)” - Catherine Browder Morris

Bitter End - Jennifer Brown
“Jennifer Brown approaches the subject of abuse and dating violence in a way that is so real, it is like reading your own story. It unapologetically addresses real issues that girls and women face, and sheds light onto what has always been a hushed, dark secret. Well written and compelling the whole way through, it speaks to readers of many ages, and should not only be awarded, but shared with our daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, and friends.” - Daffny Atwell

In the Garden of Beasts - Erik Larson
“It's a documentary-type book, i.e., non-fiction, but it reads like a novel. Really a fascinating read.” - Bill Pryor

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh
“This was definitely a page-turner and a quick read. The phrasing and rhythm of the novel holds one’s interests, and the velvety threads that bind the characters past and present with the meaning of flowers touched my heart. Yeppers, it's a winner.” - Carolyn Beldin

The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
“Exceptional writing, as always, from Eugenides, with a plot and storyline which morph from literary history to theological philosophy to college hardships while keeping a pace and intriguing group of characters in conflict.” - Michael Eaton

“In unpretentious, graceful, and deeply human prose, Eugenides crafts an epic of first loves. Churning in the crucible between college and adult life, the characters experience what it’s like to fall in love with the big questions, with people you have no business loving, with the aching desire for independence, and, in the end, they learn to love the consequences, too.” – Jason Harper

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
“I thought this book was a fantastic trip into a dream. I loved Morgenstern's writing style and never wanted this book to end. The mystery and allure of the story wouldn't let me put this book down until I finished. Loved it!” - Courtney Lilquist

Open City - Teju Cole
“Intelligent, original, and beautifully written.” - Daniel Szabo

The Pale King - David Foster Wallace
“It hurts to read, the way proper fiction should.”
- Brendan Murphy

Reamde - Neal Stephenson
“Because I could NOT STOP reading it.” - Jenne Bergstrom

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
“Ready Player One is the quintessential American novel. It takes place in the future while glorifying all things 1980s. It's a hero's quest, an underdog's story.” - Sherry Lockwood

“This is truly a NEW story ... very different and intriguing plot that appeals to everyone from 16 to 60.” - Judy Mediatore

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt
“DeWitt writes a modern take on the classic Western that is both literary and enjoyable.” - Stephanie Chase

State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
“Patchett draws characters who are both complex and flawed. She keeps the reader guessing about their motivations up until the final chapter.” - Alison Kastner

 “This novel had everything I look for in literary fiction: beautiful language, an interesting story, and characters with depth.” - Angela Kille

Wingshooters - Nina Revoyr

Wingshooters - Nina Revoyr
“In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird, A River Runs Through It, and Snow Falling on Cedars, Revoyr's novel examines the effects of change on a small, isolated town, the strengths and limits of community, and the sometimes conflicting loyalties of family and justice. Set in the expansive countryside of Central Wisconsin, against the backdrop of Vietnam and the post-civil rights era, Wingshooters explores both connection and loss as well as the complex but enduring bonds of family.” - Marilyn James

Nominated Without Comment:
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka – Pamela Jenkins
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – Emily Soulliere
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey EudenidesNatalie Millard
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – Miriam Newman
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – Kate Vilain
The Submission by Amy Waldman – Diane Martin, Susan Walton

Check back right here on Monday for the finalists!

About the Publitzer Coordinator

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
Kansas City Public Library on Facebook    Kansas City Public Library on Twitter    Kansas City Public Library on YouTube    Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest