Library Life

Cradle of Entrepreneurs Recap: Ollie Gates

Ollie Gates thinks that you can beat him at barbecue.

That’s what he told the audience at last night at the Kansas City Public Library's Central Library in a public conversation with Library Director Crosby Kemper III.

In your backyard, you can do what you want, cook it your way to suit your taste. Of course, Gates Bar-B-Q isn’t your backyard – it’s a business that’s been doing commercial barbecue in Kansas City for a long time. Mr. Gates joined us to help celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, an initiative of the Kaufmann Foundation, as a part of our ongoing series, Kansas City: Cradle of Entrepreneurs.

It all started in 1946 when his father, who worked as a porter on the railroad, bought a tavern. It was open late to catch the last crowd of the night. His mother, though, wanted a business somewhat more legitimate than a night club and soon they transformed the tavern into a restaurant. That’s when they started serving barbecue.

Mr. Gates started working in his father’s restaurant because he wanted a car. He was in college getting a building trades degree and it was a long walk from campus to town, when you couldn’t thumb a ride. After college, he went into the Army and worked as an engineer. He himself built the barbecue pit at 19th and Vine.

He came back from his tour with the Army eager to move the family business forward. He also had three kids to support. But he and his father didn’t always see eye to eye. By this time, it was called “Gates & Son” – but his father was known to paint over the “& Son” part on the sign when they were on the outs.

The "kitchen wasn't big enough for the two of them" and eventually Mr. Gates ended up with two of his own establishments – a restaurant and a night club, right down the street from his folks. He never looked back. Today, Gates Bar-B-Q is an award-winning chain of restaurants, beloved by Kansas Citians.

Guests line up for BBQ
Guests line up for free Gates

And what does Mr. Gates think is the secret to the success of barbecue in Kansas City? Major league sports. Once KC had professional baseball and football teams, restaurants had plenty of hungry customers. Sports played a crucial role in popularizing KC barbecue.

But major league sports was good for barbecue in general – how has Gates Bar-B-Q managed to survive for so long?

Part of their success is the tradition behind everything they do and the customer experience. But Mr. Gates thinks it’s what you do outside of the business that matters most, your role in the community. He served for 19 years on the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation, serving for a time as its President. Much of the “greening” of Kansas City happened during his tenure. He has given his time and efforts to numerous civic bodies: he was a driving force behind everything from enhancing our boulevard system, to our sports teams, to improving the Missouri highways, to being on the vanguard of developing the east side.

He doesn’t think of it as "giving back" to the city, though. He just wants to express his appreciation for his home town and show everyone that KC is his favorite place on earth.

Ollie Gates loves Kansas City!

About the Author

John Keogh

John Keogh is the Digital User Specialist for the Digital Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. He grew up in Fargo, ND, (too small) and lived in Chicago for several years (too big) before he moved to Kansas City. He calls KC his "Goldilocks town" because it's just right.

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Cradle of Entrepreneurs: Danny O’Neill of The Roasterie on Good Coffee, Good Conscience

As Library Director Crosby Kemper III pointed out early this morning at the Plaza Branch, Danny O’Neill is “the man who wakes Kansas City up.” For local coffee drinkers, this assessment is quite literally, elementally true.

Known to many by his superhero alias “the Bean Baron," O'Neill is the founder of The Roasterie, an 18-year-old Kansas City-based purveyor of air-roasted coffee that has built a national reputation for quality, sustainability, and, to a great degree, style.

O’Neill shared his invigorating entrepreneurial success story this morning at the Plaza Branch as part of the Library’s Cradle of Entrepreneurs series. The ongoing series, which features public discussions with Kansas City business leaders, has ramped up this week in conjunction with the Kauffman Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Cradle of Entrepreneurs continues tomorrow with a conversation with Ollie Gates of Gates Bar B.Q. and resumes on Friday with a visit from Clara Reyes of Dos Mundos.

As guests sipped complimentary Roasterie coffee, O’Neill outlined the invigorating story of raising a coffee empire from, as it were, a handful of magic beans. It all began in O’Neill’s Brookside basement in the early ‘90s – back before coffee connoisseurship was a thing, before anyone knew what a “barista” was.

Danny O’Neill spoke with Crosby Kemper III, on Tues. Nov. 15, 2011, for the Library’s Cradle of Entrepreneurs series.

Brought up a tea drinker in a hardworking Iowa farming family of 10, O’Neill was unaware of the joys of java until he volunteered on a coffee plantation during a high school trip to Costa Rica. Even then, he admitted, it was more the feel of being among farmers that he appreciated, not the actual beverage. He didn’t actually begin drinking coffee until he was a student at Iowa State.

From there, however, an obsession grew. He experimented with the air-roasting method, first with a converted popcorn air-popper, then with a $12,000 air roaster from Oregon. Considering he had only about $17,000 capital, the machine was a heavy investment.

So with only $5,000 in the bank, in the fall of 1993, O’Neill began peddling his home-roasted beans, which, in the Folgers-dominated market, were a tough sell. His first customer, the owner of a coffee kiosk at KU Medical Center, told O’Neill she had never before considered where her coffee had come from.

Good Taste

Now, of course, it’s commonplace to encounter a multitude of imported, fair-trade, organic coffee in your neighborhood grocery store. But as he built his customer base (early buyers included the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Andre’s, Café Allegro, JJ’s, and Houston’s on the Plaza), O’Neill was at the buzzing edge of the movement away from mass-produced brew toward higher-quality, sustainable coffee.

“We started with a clear notion of quality – simple, unadorned quality,” O’Neill told the Library audience. “We wanted the best coffee we could find in the world, but we didn’t have any resources.”

How to build those resources? The Roasterie couldn’t possibly compete on volume, O’Neill explained – the rival Folgers was producing 650,000 pounds of coffee a day. However, O’Neill believed his company’s air-roasting method produced a finer product, and that people would pay extra for better beans.

“Looking back, it was a great strategy, but honestly it was the only strategy,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill was right, and as his company grew, he found himself part of a team rather than a solo entrepreneur. Further, his Midwestern work ethic would be put to the test: “The notion of working 18-20-hour days rolls off the tongue a lot easier than it is actually doing it,” he said.

He also found quite quickly that maintaining good relationships with the farmers producing the coffee, as well as the communities they lived in, was just as important as maintaining good customer relations. And this, in turn, led to the opportunity to give back to those communities.

Danny O’Neill recounted how 15 cents per pound of coffee went a long way in one Brazilian community.

Fair Trade

O’Neill bought his first fair trade beans from a farmer in Brazil who wanted less than a dollar a pound. O’Neill felt that was too low, but the farmer insisted it was a good price in the Brazilian economy and wouldn’t charge more just to ease the conscience of an American client. O’Neill finally talked the farmer up by 15 cents a pound, but those 15 cents would go back into the community.

Before long, a preschool was built, then equipped with showers and a kitchen, and stay-at-home mothers of the children who had not been able to attend school were free to work during the day. The community flourished – all because of The Roasterie’s 15 cents a pound.

“What’s good for everybody is always going to serve us well,” O’Neill said.

Meanwhile, back home, O’Neill saw the need to expand to retail. He opened the Roasterie Café in 2005, and it, too, has flourished as a place that blends the great coffee the company’s known for with an emphasis on expedient customer service.

For the future, O’Neill envisions possibly moving into the single-cup method popularized by Keurig. But whatever The Roasterie decides to do, it will always be about moving full speed ahead.

“Velocity is your friend,” O’Neill said.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Food For Fines Recipe Contest Winner Announced

Last November 7-13 was Food For Fines week at the Kansas City Public Library, and our food bins truly overran with donations to Harvesters: The Community Food Network. But while anyone could bring in food to reduce their late fees, only one person could win our recipe contest.

The guidelines were simple: Submit a recipe that called for at least one ingredient that you might donate to Harvesters. Our culinarily inclined librarians would go through and pick our favorite and award its creator a special cookbook prize package.

Meanwhile, patrons were bringing in armloads of canned and boxed, nonperishable, unexpired food times to receive $1 off existing fines per every item donated.

Now, fines in the Library’s service area have magically been converted to food for Harvesters, and we have a recipe to try out in the kitchen.

And the winner is...

Congratulations to chef and book lover extraordinaire Deanna Long who won for her take on peach cobbler – a hearty classic that involves one of our favorite things to eat from a can: peaches!

Peach Cobbler

2/3 cup flour
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup shortening
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup evaporated milk
Large can of sliced peaches in heavy syrup

Mix first 6 ingredients and put in a 9x9 baking dish. Heat peaches in syrup on stove until bubbly. Pour peaches over batter and let it rise about 10 minutes. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes.  

While Deanna collects her cookbook winnings at the Library, find out how you can continue to support Harvesters, a great Library partner, all year long.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

What Can Google Fiber Do For You? Get the Full Gigabit City Results

Imagine it’s 75 years from now. Your grandson brings his son into Union Station. Before them stands a moving, smiling, talking, 3-D image of you and your son visiting the Station 50 years ago.

Around them are other holograms of Kansas Citians visiting the Station as it was in the year 2036. They walk, laugh, wave at the camera, and talk about what their lives are like, what’s important to them, what they want to pass on to their children’s grandchildren.

What if these living memories were not just in one historic building but in all of them? What if they were in our homes?

Mind blown yet?

Such a “Culture Cache Time Capsule” may sound far-fetched, but with a fast enough broadband network, delivering science-fiction-y media isn’t out of reach. As soon as next year, Kansas City could be the first to city to test whether ideas like this are possible – and, perhaps more important, how they could benefit everyday citizens.

As many Library fans are well aware, Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, were chosen from 1,100 communities to be the first metro area to receive Google’s new fiber-optic broadband network. With a connection that delivers one gigabit of data per second, Google Fiber promises network speeds 100 times faster than regular broadband.

But what to do with it all that speed? Since the announcement was made earlier this year, the business, tech, educational, creative, non-profit, and entrepreneurial communities (among others) have been circling their wagons to prepare for the arrival of what could be a breathtaking technological enhancement to our city.

The Social Media Club of Kansas City has stepped up as a leader in organizing disparate parts of the community in discussing potential uses for Google Fiber, and they’ve chosen the Kansas City Public Library as their gathering place and partner in the proceedings.

On October 3, 2011, at the Library, the Social Media Club and The Brainzooming Group led 80 local thought leaders in brainstorming ideas for how Google Fiber could reshape our city.

On November 10, 2011, the results from that brainstorming session were discussed at a public forum called “Building the Gigabit City: 1,000 Uses for Google Fiber in KC.”

The Culture Cache Time Capsule mentioned above was one those specific uses. Others included a “master school district,” micro-loans for urban areas, online study hangouts for high school students, a virtual town hall, medical access at home, and more. You can watch the archived video stream of the entire public forum on Ustream. (Note: It's divided into three videos.)

Brainzooming has also made the full, 120-page report available for download by all. It contains dozens of ideas to improve education, health care, civic life, cultural activities, public institutions, and libraries.

Download the full Gigabit City report (PDF), courtesy of The Brainzooming Group.

Once you've had a chance to look it over, let us know what you think of the report. In what ways do you think Google Fiber could be leveraged to make KC a better place to live? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Calling All Chefs: Food for Fines Book Lovers' Recipe Contest

Do you have the cooking chops to become the Kansas City Public Library’s resident Top Chef? In celebration of Food for Fines (Nov. 7-13), we’re holding a recipe contest to see who can come up with the best dish using nonperishable food.

The winning chef-testant will receive a lip-smacking prize package of hand-picked cookbooks from our gourmand librarians, and he or she will become Internet-famous when we post the winning recipe online.

If you’ve been following us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll know that between Monday, November 7, and Sunday, November 13, we’re encouraging patrons to bring non-perishable canned and boxed food to any Kansas City Public Library location to be donated to Harvesters: The Community Food Network. Each item is applied as a $1 credit toward the reduction of your existing Library late fees.

Last year, our Food for Fines campaign brought in more than 17,000 food items to Harvesters. That’s the equivalent of 13,000 meals provided to hungry Kansas Citians. So if you’ve got outstanding fines, now’s the perfect time to open up the cupboard, grab a hefty bag, and get down to the Library.

The Recipe Contest: Help us raise awareness for Harvesters by bending your culinary creativity to come up with an amazing recipe using at least one canned or nonperishable boxed food item. It could be a can of tuna, a packet of soup mix, a box of macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, cereal or anything else you might donate to Harvesters. (It needn’t contain only nonperishables; but you get bonus points for the more you use.)

Instructions: Dream up your recipe, cook it up, send us a photo of the finished dish, and include the list of ingredients and instructions. Deadline: Sunday, Nov. 13, at 5 p.m. E-mail your recipe and photo to

We’ll post all the recipes we get next Monday, Nov. 14, right here on the blog, and we’ll choose the winner based on originality, tastiness, and the likelihood that we’ll serve his or her concoction as a side dish at Thanksgiving.

Get cooking, KC!

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Big Small Business Comes to the Library for Global Entrepreneurship Week

Public libraries have always been beacons for entrepreneurs. Recent graduates and seasoned professionals alike need easy, affordable access to pertinent information that will help their businesses grow. Libraries charge neither tuition nor membership dues, and many of their resources, such as powerful databases, are available online.

Offering a free connection to a wealth of resources on subjects like obtaining financing, conducting industry research, and keeping up with trade publications – not to mention free wi-fi – the Kansas City Public Library (particularly the H&R Block Business & Career Center) is an entrepreneur’s office away from the office.

Kansas City: Cradle of Entrepreneurs

This November, in conjunction with the Ewing & Marion Kauffman Foundation's Global Entrepreneurship Week (Nov. 14-20), the Kansas City Public Library is continuing its acclaimed Cradle of Entrepreneurs series of public discussions with prominent local business founders. The series, which has so far included conversations with Gail Lozoff of SPIN! Pizza, John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing Co., and Mary Carol Garrity of Nell Hill’s, was named Best Library Series by The Pitch. All events are free and open to the public.

Carl Schramm comes to Central,
Wednesday, Nov. 2

Carl Schramm – The Kauffman Foundation
Wednesday, November 2, 2011 • 6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Event DetailsRSVP

On Wednesday, November 2, the Cradle of Entrepreneurs series continues with the man who coined the term from which the program takes its name. In his 2004 address, “Kansas City: Cradle of Entrepreneurs,” Kauffman Foundation President and CEO Carl Schramm said, “I believe the role of the entrepreneur in the life of Kansas City is central, not only to seeing its past in a new light, but, more importantly, to understanding what might lie ahead and how the present generation might effectively bring forth a yet more productive future.”

If you think that sounds inspiring, you’ll want to be in the audience at the Central Library next Wednesday, when Schramm engages Library Director Crosby Kemper III in a conversation about entrepreneurial innovation, job creation, and economic growth.

Danny O’Neill – The Roasterie
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 • 8 a.m.
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
Event DetailsRSVP

If you’re a discerning coffee drinker (and what real entrepreneur isn’t?) and you live in Kansas City, chances are good that you already wake up to freshly brewed coffee from The Roasterie. On Tuesday morning, November 15, at the Plaza Branch, you can incorporate into you’re a.m. routine not only an invigorating, complimentary cup of Roasterie coffee but also words of wisdom from the Bean Baron himself, Danny O’Neill.

Since founding the company in his Brookside basement 18 years ago, O’Neill has built The Roasterie into one of the most renowned specialty coffee roasters in the nation. Find out his secrets for entrepreneurial perk and java perfection.

Ollie Gates – Gates Bar-B-Q
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 • 6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Event DetailsRSVP

Why, yes, Ollie Gates, you may help us. On Wednesday, November 16, at the Central Library, the president of Gates Bar-B-Q you can help us understand what it takes to keep a family restaurant thriving, growing, and relevant for 65 years – not to mention serving up consistently delicious barbecue in a city that’s picky about its meat ‘n sauce.

Gates, a KC native who attended college at Maryland State College and Lincoln University, is not only an award-winning restaurateur but a local community leader with visions for economic development in the urban core. Get his tips for business – and burnt-end – success. And yes, there will be free Gates barbecue to sample.

Clara Reyes – Dos Mundos
Thursday, November 17, 2011 • Noon
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Event DetailsRSVP

If you’re an entrepreneur concerned with making a difference in your community, our conversation with Clara Reyes on Thursday, November 17, is not to be missed. Since founding Dos Mundos in an Overland Park basement 30 years ago, Reyes has led her bilingual newspaper in empowering Hispanic immigrants to Kansas City and the Midwest with news and information to help them navigate a new culture and economy.

Reyes was recently commended by the Mexican consul in Kansas City for having “contributed to the well-being prosperity and advancement of Mexican communities abroad,” and she was a founding member of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, now based in Washington, D.C.


About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Bobby's World

It would be tempting to compare Bobby Gordon's all-boys book club at the Plaza Branch to the Kansas City Chiefs. Both are active for the duration of the football season (well, most of it). And, both generate lively discussion among the fans who get involved.

But unlike our struggling team at Arrowhead, Bobby's Books for Boys Reading Group rarely has a bad moment on its chosen field.

That's not always a given, though, considering the typical reading habits of boys aged 8 to 12.

"Boys tend to come to the Library for different reasons than girls," says Gordon, a Plaza children's associate of 13 years. "Girls like to hang around, but boys have more activities. They come and go faster and tend to be a little later with their reading. I just keep an eye on things they check out and are interested in."

Now in its second year, Bobby's Books for Boys meets every third Wednesday starting October 19 and runs through March 2012. Last year, Gordon had a core group of five regulars that swelled up to nine at various points throughout the season. He hopes this year's group will be bigger and better.

But how do you keep boys coming back to read every month? For Gordon, it's a matter of picking the right books and cultivating conversation.

"Being boys, we're gonna do the same things we do when we're sitting around watching sports," Gordon says. "We get food, sit around, act it out - just doing things that boys do. While we're being goofy, we're still able to have a good conversation."

Also, with a reading list that includes the first books in many popular preteen series, including Jenny Nimmo's Chronicles of the Red King and Dan Gutman's Genius Files, Gordon hopes to hand his young readers the ball and let them run with it on their own.

Word about Bobby's Books has been getting around, too.

"Girls have been asking me why they can't come. I've had some good titles, and they're like 'Why can't I come?'" Gordon says.

Sorry, ladies. This one's for the boys.

Bobby's Books for Boys is part of the Library's Building a Community of Readers initiative.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Know Your Librarians: Amy Morris, Westport

Amy Morris still remembers her first librarian. Growing up in Raytown, she rode her bike to the neighborhood branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library. There, she was greeted by Jean (Morris doesn't remember her last name), a librarian who broke the typical stereotype.

"She was loud and boisterous and had tons of makeup and crazy jewelry," Morris remembers. "She introduced me to lots of authors, taught me how libraries work with the Dewey Decimal System, and made me more excited about reading and libraries than I already was."

It would seem that such a monumental introduction to the value of libraries early in life would send a book-obsessed young person on the road to library school. Though that wasn't the case, Morris' path to the Westport Branch never strayed far from her love of reading and writing.

After completing her undergrad in business, Morris worked as a benefits administrator for MetLife before finding her way into teaching reading at an elementary school in Raytown. Then, she returned to school, studying English and creative writing at Avila University.

After a dispiriting stint as a writer for a direct marketing company, Morris found her way to the Kansas City Public Library's Westport Branch, where she's been happily working the service desk and running children's and adult programming (among many other tasks) for the past five years.

"It seems like I've spent half of my life in libraries. They've always been a passion of mine," she says.

Morris brings that passion to her work at the desk as well as to her programming. She recently took over planning and conducting all children's programs at the Westport Branch, including the weekly Story Time for Twos and Preschool Story Time, which regularly draws 40-80 children from nearby day care centers each week.

Morris has also had success with her Second Friday Movies series, which usually attracts around 20 people, mostly seniors, some of whom are in the habit of showing up early. "I developed a PowerPoint presentation to show before the movie with ads and trivia questions – just like in a theater. It's a great way to advertise Library events," Morris says.

The KC Unbound Blog has provided Morris with her latest creative challenge. Since the blog's inception a year ago, Morris has produced one to two book reviews per month, alternating between novels and cookbooks.

"I'm always looking for new challenges - whether that's writing book reviews or blogging about The Big Read - so the blog is an outlet for me," she says. (Look for her write-up of Tom Sawyer next week.)

What seems to energize Morris most, though, are her lively day-to-day interactions with patrons at the front desk. Whether she's recommending books, talking about the Library's new mobile app, assisting with e-reader services, or striking up conversation for the sake of getting to know her patrons better, Morris, like her early childhood hero, is herself rarely silent at the service desk.

"I get excited when I get somebody else excited about the Library," she says.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Molly Raphael: Transforming Libraries

American Library Association President Molly Raphael began her address at the Central Library with an invocational reading: "The best restaurants in the world are, of course, in Kansas City. Not all of them; only the top four or five."

As any Kansas Citian worth his or her celery salt knows, those are the opening lines of native son Calvin Trillin's American Fried, the book that put Arthur Bryant's on the map. In fact, Raphael claims that she and her husband still have -- and still occasionally consume -- sauce from a two-gallon jug purchased at Bryant's 30 years ago.

"Lest you worry that the 30-year-old sauce might have spoiled," she told the audience of nearly 200 in Kirk Hall, "I assure you that nothing could possibly be living in that sauce. It's so hot!"

But Raphael didn't come to KC just to praise our food.

The Missouri Library Association's annual conference was held in Kansas City October 5 - 7, 2011, with most events and activities taking place at the KCI Expo Center.

Wednesday night, October 5, at Central, Raphael outlined some of the biggest challenges facing libraries today and offered solutions for going forward. The title of her speech was "Libraries: Essential for Learning, Essential for Life," and it was previewed by an editorial in the Kansas City Star earlier in the week.

The biggest obstacle Raphael put forth was all about perception. No one in the library profession would argue that libraries aren't essential to the welfare and growth of the community -- indeed, of civilization. Lawmakers and other decision makers, however, tend to view libraries as "ancillary," "discretionary," and just plain "nice to have."

Only by being viewed as critical to a community as police and fire services, Raphael argued, can libraries ensure longevity.

Raphael noted that in the '90s, pundits said that the Internet would drive libraries out of business. That didn't happen, and even now, in the Googlized early 21st century, many libraries are seeing only increases in demand and use.

But how to convince public decision makers that libraries are more than just places to sit and read? According to Raphael, libraries must do three things: (1) meet the unique needs of their communities, (2) build cases using studies and research, and (3) rally users to talk about the transformational power of libraries.

First, in order keep moving forward, libraries must identify the needs of their communities and deliver services to meet those needs in new ways. Raphael used our own Library's well-reputed public programming as an example, saying that our calendar of special events addressed our community's need for discussion and engaging content. (Our Health & Wellness Center could also be considered an example of identifying and meeting a communal need with outside-the-box Library services.)

Other examples of the ways libraries are meeting new needs: focusing on virtual resources; proving portals to content versus access to in-house archives; placing less emphasis on collections and becoming collaborative centers for entrepreneurs and creative people in the community.

Next, to show how libraries impact their communities, we must look not at inputs (i.e. how many books are in the system) but at outcomes. And then we must back those outcomes with research data that shows why they're significant.

A few examples: What's the effect of a summer reading program on children's reading levels? How does an academic library contribute to student learning or attract research funding? By answering these questions with real-world statistics, libraries can show evidence of their value.

Third, Raphael proposed that libraries' approach to self-promotion must change. Rather than telling our stories ourselves, we should tap users to spread the good word. "When we who work in libraries tell our story, there is almost always a perceived element of self-interest," Raphael said -- after all, we're trying to keep our jobs.

But when patrons share their library stories, that element of self-interest disappears, Raphael said. To get community leaders to view libraries as "transformational" rather than "informational," we must encourage users to speak out about how libraries have transformed their lives.

"As a public librarian," Raphael said, "I frequently witnessed the power of people from our community telling our story. I often met with elected officials and other community leaders to talk about our programs and their value. In tough economic times, I knew they struggled with how to make the best decisions they could, including the officials whom I knew valued library services. What I saw time and time again was the profound impact that a parent, or a teacher, or a business leader, or a community activist could have in making the case for us."

Despite a note of urgency in her address (these are still tough economic times), Raphael made it clear that this is an exciting time to be working in libraries. Even in an information-soaked age, libraries remain a transformational force for good. And it's up to all of us -- including our patrons -- to let community, state, and national leaders know.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

KC Library iPhone App Now Available

Apple users rejoice! Two weeks after rolling out our KC Library mobile app for Android and most other mobile platforms, it is now available on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It’s a free download from the App Store – just search for “kc library.”

The KC Library app puts the Library’s digital services in the palm of your hand. With it, you can:

  • Search for books, music, and more in the catalog.
  • Place and manage holds.
  • Renew items you have checked out.
  • Get hours, locations, and maps for all locations.
  • Find the latest special events, classes, story times, and other programs.
  • Ask a librarian a question via phone or email.
  • Read our blogs for book reviews and stories from behind the scenes.
  • Connect with the library on social networks.

So far, we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback about the app. In fact, Droid-using patron @CallMeFin tweeted this message over the weekend.

Let us know what you think! Download the app, give it a test run, and tweet your feedback to @KCLibrary or post on our Facebook Wall. And if you dig it, we'd love for you to rate it and post a review in the iTunes store.

The app is also available for Droid and many other smart phones and tablet PCs. Visit our app developer's site,, or use your QR reader to get the app directly by scanning the code below:

QR code for KC Library mobile app

(iPad users: The app will work just fine on your device, but a bigger, iPad-optimized version is coming soon.)

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. He has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Video: How to Build a Gigabit City

10.3.11 – As patrons browsed the shelves and logged in to the public computers at the Central Library, elsewhere in the building, a cadre of community-minded business professionals discussed how information moving at light speed could change life in Kansas City.

As Joe Cox, president of the Social Media Club of Kansas City, put it, "Google is coming here to build the sandbox and fill it with sand. It’s our job to get the Tonka trucks and build the sandcastles.”

When Google announced that it would choose Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, to serve as a test market for a new high-speed, fiber optic broadband Internet connection, local groups such as the Social Media Club began uniting the tech community to devise a roadmap for how the city can take advantage of Google Fiber.

Those efforts came to fruition this past Monday, when the Kansas City Public Library hosted the landmark Building a Gigabit City ideation workshop and public forum. In the daylong workshop, the Brainzooming Group led a diverse group of 80 plugged-in locals brainstorming ways Google Fiber can be used in the areas of K-12 schools, higher education, urban and suburban living, libraries, health care, and community activities. At the end of the day, the group presented its results before a crowd of 162 people from the public.

The video below gives a quick peek into what was a truly rich and almost overwhelming day of top-caliber idea generation and communal dialogue.

Check the Library’s online Media Center in a few days for full video of the evening session (full audio is available now).

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot: Kindle E-books Now at the Library

The wait is over. Kindle e-books are now available at the Kansas City Public Library. Users of the Amazon Kindle e-reader and mobile or web-based Kindle apps now have their choice of more than 2,000 titles, all free with a Library card.

With the addition of Kindle compatibility, the Library is now able to provide e-books for the vast majority of e-readers and mobile devices, such as the Nook, Kobo, iPad, and any smart phone or tablet PC with app capability. (Get full instructions for using e-readers with our collection.)

But considering that the Kindle – the most popular e-reader in the world – has for years been incompatible with school and public libraries, our patrons online seem thrilled with this new service.

“I’ve already downloaded several books,” said one patron on our Facebook Wall. “The process is so easy, and it’s great that I can get and return my books without leaving the house (my two-month-old thanks you, too!).”

The process does look pretty easy, and if you have a wi-fi Kindle, you can do it from anywhere with an Internet connection. To see how it works, take a look at this video produced by OverDrive, the Library’s e-books provider.

If you’re ready to start checking out e-books for your Kindle, head to our OverDrive catalog and do an Advanced Search for Format: Kindle Books.

Learn about other e-reading resources and get step-by-step downloading instructions in our online e-books tutorial.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

The Ruiz Branch Celebrates 10 Years of Service

Julie Robinson remembers the first thing Irene H. Ruiz ever said to her: "How long will you stay at my library?" Robinson's answer: "Until they tell me I'm going somewhere else." Now, eight years later, Robinson has built a reputation for her branch as a unifying force in the community it serves.

After moving to Kansas City from California, Robinson worked as assistant manger and children's librarian at North-East. After five and a half months, she was asked to fill in as interim manager at the Irene H. Ruiz Biblioteca de las Americas. The branch had seen three managers come and go in the past three years - hence the skepticism on the part of the building's namesake.

One of Robinson's favorite memories is of the day in 2006 when the Ruiz Branch dedicated its portrait of Mrs. Ruiz, painted by local artist Bob Walkenhorst. Mrs. Ruiz had just been named the first woman "Hero of the Year" by Primitivo Garcia Elementary School, and people flocked to Robinson's branch to show support.

"We had never had anything that showed who she was, just the name of the branch," Robinson remembers. "We had a lot of people come who had known her for many years, as well as Library people. It was a truly great moment."

Irene H. Ruiz served first as a teacher, then as a librarian from 1976-1996, beginning at a time when the Library was tied to the school district. As the librarian at West High School, she developed the Latino-dominated neighborhood's first Spanish-language collection.

She also recorded a series of oral histories of the Westside neighborhood - stories told by first-generation immigrants. A consummate community builder, Ruiz is one of the few Hispanic females in the country to have a public building named after her.

And Robinson is more than following her example.

From changing the entire tone of the branch through bi-weekly teen lock-ins (which were so popular when they began in 2007 that incident reports dropped to three in a single year as teens put on their best behavior); to helping build the Back-to-School Pep Rally into the Library's single biggest Outreach event; to sowing the seeds of Switzer Neighborhood Farm; to working with Public Affairs to nurture a relationship between the Library and the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City; Robinson has made her branch into an active hub for the entire Westside.

"Being accepted by the community has been a real achievement," Robinson says. "I don't speak fluent Spanish, and yet the community has always accepted me as being one of them, as being a Westsider."

Help Robinson celebrate the Ruiz Branch's 10 years of service on Friday, September 30, at 6 p.m., with a musical showcase featuring the Alta Vista Middle School Mariachi Band and the Solis Family Band. Refreshments will be provided, and tours of the newly remodeled library will be given.

And don't be surprised if you see Mrs. Ruiz herself in the stacks.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content guy at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Summer Reading Report 2011

When the Library declared it would reach 16,000 kids and teens through this year's Summer Reading program, it quickly became an all-hands-on-deck proposition. Reaching more readers than ever would require advocacy at all the branches, with staff promoting it from the front desk to the childrens' areas and beyond.

It would also take the biggest Summer Reading Outreach campaign to date, with a team of librarians led by Outreach Manager Carrie McDonald conducting reading programs at 20 non-Library locations in hopes of signing up 2,500 kids.

It would be nothing less than Building a Community of Readers from the ground up. And when the numbers were tallied a few weeks ago, the Library found that it had built an even bigger community than it planned.

According to Children's and Youth Services, 20,770 children and 4,724 teens participated in Summer Reading through reading, program attendance, or both, for a total of 25,494. (Last year's total was approximately 15,000, according to Youth Services.)

"The results more than met any of our expectations," says Helma Hawkins, director of Children's Services. "We definitely brought in kids we hadn't reached before thanks to the Outreach program, and we also reached new children inside the Library."

And that, Hawkins says, was thanks in large part to the efforts of frontline employees. "The staff was enthusiastic in promoting reading all summer long," Hawkins says.

Additionally, the completion rate (children who read 12 or more hours) increased over last year from 49% to 53%.

Teen readership also saw a significant increase.

"We changed up the program this year, which seemed to be attractive for teens as we more than doubled our participation from last year," says Crystal Faris, director of Teen Services.

Instead of asking teens to log reading hours, the Library asked teen participants to write book reviews - via handwritten card, email, or SMS text - to earn Library Bucks and entries into a drawing to win a Netbook. (See examples of reviews on the Teen Blog.)

Here are some more numbers from a truly landmark Summer Reading Program.

2011 Statistics

Children's participation: 20,770
Children's enrollment in reading: 9,505
Children enrolled through Outreach: 2,700
Children's completion rate (read at least 12 hours): 53%
Children's program attendance: 8,707 (at 177 events)
No. of Royals tickets awarded to families of readers: 8,000

Teen participation: 4,724
Teen program attendance: 2,501 (at 168 events)
Teen book reviews submitted: 2,233
Teen book reviews submitted via text: 180

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content guy at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.

Coming Soon: Library E-books for Kindles

Kansas City Public Library cardholders will soon be able to check out e-books for the Amazon Kindle. Within the next week, the Library’s e-books catalog will be outfitted with Kindle-friendly downloadable e-books that also work on any device, such as a smartphone or PC, that is equipped with a free Kindle app.

Though Nooks, iPads, and other supported devices have long been compatible with public library e-books, Amazon’s Kindle — the most popular e-reader on the market — had famously not. That’s why e-reader fans’ ears perked up earlier this year when OverDrive, the library world’s biggest provider of downloadable e-books and digital audiobooks, announced an impending deal with Amazon to be finalized later in the year.

That time has finally come, and OverDrive is working quickly to convert its client public and school libraries with Kindle-formatted e-books – at no cost to libraries or patrons. Expect the Kansas City Public Library’s OverDrive e-books catalog to be updated within the next few days.

How Will It Work?
Though we haven’t had a chance to test it yet, the process for downloading Kindle e-books from the Library looks like it will be fairly straightforward. The e-books will work on all Kindle models (3, DX, 2 and 1) and on platform apps such as the Kindle Cloud Reader. All you’ll need is a Library card and a free account. For those already familiar with downloading our e-books, note that the process with regard to Kindles does not involve Adobe Digital Editions software. (More about downloading e-books.)


  • Visit our OverDrive collection at
  • Browse or search for an e-book.
  • Click the “Get for Kindle” button. This opens the website. You may be required to sign in with your account if you are not already logged on. (Sign up for a free account.)
  • Select a Kindle device or Kindle reading app. Click the “Get library book” button and sync your device or app to download the book, or choose to send it directly to your Kindle via USB.
  • You can also deliver e-books wirelessly to your Wi-Fi-enabled Kindle.

For more details, read OverDrive’s official press release and Amazon’s Kindle lending page.

Update, Sept. 28, 2011: Kindle e-books are now available. To get started, visit our e-reader tutorial page.

Got a suggestion for an e-book the Library should purchase? Make a purchase suggestion on our website.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content guy at the Kansas City Public Library. A former journalist, he has been tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and YouTubing for the Library since 2010.