2011: A Winter Reading Odyssey

As the 2011 Adult Winter Reading program came to a close, the Kansas City Public Library found its collective cup neither full, nor empty. It was gone altogether. By the time best-selling author Jasper Fforde brought the yearly program to a smashing finish before a crowd of 190 in Truman Forum at the Plaza Branch on Thursday, March 17, the 750 custom bistro mugs that the Library had been giving away as awards were all but vanished.

In the preceding weeks, the mugs had flown off circ desks faster than anyone had anticipated. Even before Winter Reading officially ended on March 13 (it had begun on January 10), the Public Affairs team had begun working up IOU's to hand out until more mugs could be ordered.

What else were we to do? For one thing - celebrate!

The List

After 2010's mystery-centric "Readers in the Rue Morgue" theme, Readers' Services Manager Kaite Mediatore Stover and Public Affairs Communications Specialist Paul Smith decided to mix things up for 2011.

Settling on a theme incorporating stories set in alternate realities (and eventually dubbing it "Altered States"), Stover and Smith began soliciting branch managers and staff members for book ideas as early as May of last year. The resulting list of 22 Suggested Readings offered a smorgasbord of genres.

Fforde fans lined up to meet their idol at the Plaza Branch.

"Every title on this year's list could be found anywhere in the Library," says Stover. "We had classics, sci-fi, mystery, fantasy, literary fiction, and even a graphic novel."

"The list was geared not only to appeal to certain groups but also to get readers to expand their horizons," Smith says.

Though readers could fulfill the program by reading any five books, Stover and Smith say that the wide-ranging appeal of the Suggested Readings list was a major factor in participation levels.

The Art

Bolstering the Suggested Readings was a richly annotated brochure containing book descriptions and information on all Winter Reading book discussions and events - all tied together in elegant packaging designed by Adam Gebhardt, Exhibits Coordinator and Graphic Designer in Public Affairs.

"One of the major strengths of our past two Winter Reading programs has been the design elements - the booklets and the mugs produced by Adam," Smith says.

"In terms of art, the Altered States theme was difficult to conceive - but Adam nailed it with the opposing Statues of Liberty. The materials that we produce for Winter Reading are intended to serve as tools to help our public service desk advocates, and when these materials look as good as Adam makes them look, it helps seal the deal with potential readers."

The program artwork featured differing views of Lady Liberty.

Stover agrees: "When you give patrons a passive readers' advisory tool like the brochure, they may not read everything, but they'll keep it and keep coming back to it, especially when it looks this good."

Aside from the books, materials, and mugs, one of the biggest factors contributing to Winter Reading participation was the ground swell of everyday support and participation throughout all the library locations.

The Branches

As soon as a theme was chosen, branch managers and staff were brought into the discussion, not only to suggest books but to plan the book group discussions, branch parties, and, perhaps most of all, to adopt a policy of individual outreach.

"A crucial aspect of the program is face-to-face, across-the-desk interaction," Smith says.

Case in point: Every day she visited the Waldo Branch during the program, Stover says she saw staff members wearing the Winter Reading stickers that Waldo teen specialist Ashlei Wheeler requested and which Gebhardt designed.

Employees in all the libraries worked hard to distribute brochures, promote book discussions, and encourage participants to submit reading logs. Not only that, 60 staff members joined in the program.

"Every branch saw their numbers increase this year," says Stover.

There was, after all, a lot to take part in.

The Programs

More than just a list of books and a reward, Winter Reading offered 21 separate book discussion groups led by members of the staff and the community. Additionally, the Read It/Watch It series returned for its second year, presenting patrons free admission to screenings and discussions of The Handmaid's Tale, Children of Men, and The Road.

"We wanted participants to get involved in different ways and to read and think critically through different formats," Stover says.

Another new format this year: online interaction. Six librarians took part in a series of video book reviews that were posted to the Library's YouTube channel and received more than 600 views. The Library's page on Goodreads lit up with user-generated discussion of the books on the list (Example: I think Boneshaker is fantastic as well as Children of Men. I want to keep this recommendation list for the future; I want to read them all! - Steph)

The talk extended to the Library's profiles on Facebook and Twitter, where readers posted pictures of their newly acquired bistro mugs.

And in the program's final flourish, on Monday, March 21, a Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader was awarded to Southeast Branch patron and Winter Reader Kelly Ramey, whose name was chosen in a drawing of all participants.

Ramey shows off her factory-fresh Nook.


In the end, 1,155 reading logs were collected. That's more than double last year's total of 528. More than 600 readers participated, with 80 or more of them submitting more than one reading log (i.e. reading 10 books or more).

As for circulation counts, just over 1,000 copies of the items on the Suggested Readings list (including audiobooks) were checked out from the Library in the three-month period. That's more than three times last year's count.

Stover reports that when she presented the numbers to the Library's Board of Trustees, they were "stunned with the level of participation." The Winter Reading Program, she says, is one the Library staff believes in and supports with enthusiasm.

"The Library could never have reached these numbers without the combined effort of the front line staff promoting it to their readers and book groups, a gorgeous product from Public Affairs, and Facilities setting up for our numerous book discussion groups and events," she says.

"When the program is one the staff wants to participate in, how can it not be a success for the rest of the community?"

Our cup runneth over.

-- Jason Harper