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.
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.