Library Life

Video: Beats, Books, and Spray Paint at the North-East Branch

It takes a community to raise a mural. This past October, working with Northeast neighborhood kids and parents, the Hip-Hop Academy covered two walls outside the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library with graffiti goodness. Watch a video documentary of the project on our blog.

As we reported last month, the Hip-Hop Academy guided students in designing and executing a reading-inspired, double-decker mural that reflects the community around the North-East Branch.

Students of all ages cut out stencils and plied spraypaint to cover a mural that had been painted three years ago and was peeling away. As you'll see in the video above, the new masterpiece is nothing less than epic.

Big thanks to Academy ringleader Jeremy McConnell, to all the parents and kids who participated, and to all North-East Branch staffers, especially Branch Manager Claudia Visnich and technical assistant Shirl Maldonado, who know how to get their hands dirty having a good time!

The Hip-Hop Academy conducts classes every Wednesday starting at 5 p.m. at the North-East Branch. Kids aged 10-17 are invited to come learn the fundamentals of hip-hop, including rhyming, DJing, dance, and art. All classes are free.

-- Jason Harper

Know Your Librarians: Sukalaya Kenworthy

Whether she’s teaching ESL classes to customers from Ethiopia, organizing a Cinco de Mayo fiesta, or speaking at a local school about her own Thai culture, Sukalaya Kenworthy is spreading multicultural awareness from her station at the Westport Branch.

A library associate of five years at the Kansas City Public Library, Sukalaya – “Su” for short – spent half a year as a technical assistant at Trails West before transferring to the Westport Branch as a library associate.

A native of Bangkok, Thailand, Su came to the States in 1996 to get her Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language at the University of Central Missouri (then called Central Missouri State). It was there that she met her husband, Curry Kenworthy.

Why did she choose KC?

“I was working in Thailand at a government office that helped people find places to study abroad. I looked through schools [for myself], and this just felt like the part of the country where I wanted to be – in the middle,” she says.

Now, she’s in the midst of a diverse of array of activities at the Westport Branch. In addition to managing regular teen gaming and crafts activities, she facilitates the KC Metro Poets monthly meetings. This past summer, she organized summer reading programs and spearheaded the Cinco de Mayo festival at the Westport Branch, which had neighborhood kids performing traditional dances and breaking a piñata.

Twice a month, Sukalaya puts her graduate degree to work, teaching an ESL class; the current roster includes students from Mexico, South America, and Ethiopia.

She’s brushed up on her own Spanish to improve her teaching and to better serve the Library’s Spanish-speaking population in general. And her efforts to learn other people’s languages have led to relationships that go beyond the Library’s doors.

“It’s amazing. I’ve made so many friends,” she says.

She says that her foreign customers – especially those from Ethiopia and Mexico – have been the quickest to invite her to their homes for dinner.

“There aren’t many barriers in these cultures,” Sukalaya says.

Su has also accepted invitations to talk about her native culture at Westport High School and Allen Village School.

Her outreach efforts expand to spreading the word about the Kansas City Public Library, too. In August, she attended a Literacy Fair in Independence, where she gave information about the Library’s ESL classes, the H&R Block Business & Career Center, computer classes, and general services.

One thing most of Sukalaya’s coworkers probably don’t know: She’s also an author and human-rights advocate. Her 2004 young adult novel, Hmong Means Free, focuses on religious persecution and human rights abuses in Vietnam.

Sukalaya says her favorite Library customers are teens.

“They are loud, noisy, and out of order, and when they say something, it’s almost in another language,” she jokes.

“They’re a fun group to work with,” she says.

This past October, at the Library’s annual employee appreciation event, Su’s knack for working with patrons was recognized. She was given the Library-wide Customer Service Award.

Because if anyone’s equipped to break down barriers, it’s Sukalaya

Explore the Library

Sukalaya Kenworthy’s Favorite Books About Thai and Asian Culture

  • Silk Umbrellas by Carolyn Marsden – “A girl in a northern Thai province who paints and sells silk umbrellas worries that modernization will end her family’s business.”
  • The Gold-Threaded Dress by Carolyn Marsden – “Oy, a Thai girl living in America, tries to impress her friends by bringing her mother's beautiful traditional dress to show her friends at school. It shows how Asian children try to fit in and adjust to American culture.”
  • Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Ho Minfong – “This picture book reminds me of life in a Thai village, where people still sing lullabies to their babies.”
  • Chang and the Bamboo Flute and Bird Boy by Elizabeth Starr Hill – “A mute boy lives with his parents on a houseboat on the Li River in China. He overcomes many obstacles to learn how to catch fish and make friends. Excellent books!”
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (Newbery Medal 2002) – “Tree Ear, a Korean boy in the 12th century wants to learn how to make pottery from an experienced potter. He works really hard to become an apprentice.”
  • Classic Thai Cuisine by David Thompson – “The recipes in this cookbook are very authentic, and the dishes are local to the provinces of Thailand. I'm surprised that this book was written by an American! Wonderful dishes with spices!!!”

-- Jason Harper

Connecting Teens at Trails West

The Trails West teens do not mess around. This past October 17-23, libraries around the country celebrated Teen Read Week, and at the Kansas City Public Library’s Independence branch, it was all about competing – and connecting.

Throughout the week, Teen Services Library Assistant Amanda Barnhart conducted a Battle of the Books poll, with more than 100 patrons voting on eight young adult titles. To some folks’ surprise, Harry Potter claimed the ultimate victory, defeating newer series like Twilight, The Hunger Games and Bleach.

The Hogwarts stalwart wasn’t the only story of an old favorite beating out the newcomers. In a triumph of primitive technology over digital diversions, a Connect Four tournament capped Teen Read Week at Trails.

Indeed, that 1970s Milton Bradley classic and originator of the catchphrase “Pretty sneaky, sis,” is back.

Branch manager Ritchie Momon says that he hasn’t seen as much interest in a game since the Speed card craze of a few years ago.

And on October 24, around 10 teens turned out for the retro-cool Connect Four tournament. They found that even though the game’s history may trace as far back as the 18th Century, to the game known as the Captain’s Mistress (an alleged favorite of Captain James Cook), Connect Four is quick and instantly gratifying.

“It’s superfast. You can whip out a couple of games while you’re waiting your turn for video games,” Barnhart said.

Lacking space monsters and plasma rifles to blast them with, Connect Four may never win out over high-adrenaline video games like Halo, but it has its appeal.

“It’s a game you played as a kid that you’re not gonna forget,” Steven reflected. “Not many games are like that.”

Unfortunately, young Steven’s childhood memories didn’t help – he lost to chess whiz David, who advanced to the final round to be defeated by Shay. Kit-Kats were distributed, a lightning round followed, and the teens went home from a day of battles well-fought -- and a week of books well-read.

If you’ve got time for a fight, here’s an online version of Connect Four. Watch out: the computer opponent is pretty sneaky.

Book Club Profile: Mysterious Undertakings at Waldo

Welcome to the first of our KCPL Book Group profiles. Mysterious Undertakings at the Waldo Branch gladly agreed to accommodate a drop-in visitor who took copious notes and photographs. But then again, Waldo welcomes all newcomers, and on this particular night, there was more than one newbie.

Mysterious Undertakings meets the first Monday of every month in a meeting room. The members take turns choosing the books and the selector leads the discussion. Facilitators Ann and Marty make certain the room is booked, cleaned, and set up.  Another participant brings tea, and everyone is free to bring their own tea cup. (If you use one of the Library mugs, you must wash it before you go.)

At this gathering, Phil led the discussion on the first Joe Pickett novel, Open Season. Phil knew that author C.J. Box was likely familiar to many of the attendees, and he took the time to point out that the conversation had to be focused on the book, not the author.

Readers spent a merry hour discussing the character of Joe’s wife, and if it was realistic to expect her to tolerate a relationship in which the finances of her family are so strained. Then they turned to the character of Joe, a Wyoming game warden, and his struggles to do the right thing for the environment, the livelihood of the residents, and his own family. These were topics of endless fascination for attendees –  species threatened by advancing development and the economic survival of a town.

One reader saw the similarities to Zane Grey in this mystery and said it was a western with a detective instead of a cowboy, which led to a conversation about blending the two genres.

All in attendance agreed that the Joe Pickett mysteries were a series that got better with each entry and always provided worthy points to ponder about the environment.

To join Mysterious Undertakings, call Marty Hatten, 816.701.3486. Find out more about Library book groups.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Head of Readers’ Services for the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. Kaite has contributed to Booklist, Public Libraries, Reference & User Services Quarterly, and Library Journal. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

Video: It's Only Civil to Remember Missouri

Earlier this month, Kansas City Public Library Executive Director Crosby Kemper III was officially sworn in to the Missouri Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. In addition to having a tongue-twisting name, the MCWSC aims to commemorate Missouri’s historically significant yet often overlooked role in the Civil War, and to recognize how that role reverberates today. The Commission was established in April 2010 by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

In the video below, Kemper takes the oath of office in our Missouri Valley Room and talks about why Missouri deserves to take a prominent place in discussions of the Civil War.

-- Jason Harper

And the Top Chef Is...

Our Food for Fines Week (October 18 through 24) has come to a close. And while we’re still running the numbers to see how much food Library patrons donated to our community partner Harvesters and how much we forgave in overdue fines, we’d like to recognize one person with exceptionally good taste.

Last week, on the KC Unbound blog, we ran a recipe contest based on some of the food items people commonly donate each year to reduce their Library debts and help Kansas City families in need. We gave you a list of 16 ingredients and asked you to make up an original meal using at least five.

Hearty congrats to winner Jeanne Calkins, who took a south-of-the-border approach to the recipe challenge, baking up a veggie casserole using the corn muffin mix, mixed greens, refried beans, corn, and olives from the list, plus some additions of her own.

Jeanne won a free cookbook – but better than that, she earned the bragging rights that come with being our honorary KCPL Top Chef!

Here’s Jeanne’s recipe:

Mad Mexicali Mix-up

1 box corn muffin mix

1 can mixed greens

1 can refried beans

1 can corn

1 can black olives

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped

1 Tablespoon butter or olive or vegetable oil (or 3T water)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar

1 cup jarred salsa or picante OR 2 tablespoons taco seasoning or chili powder

4-6 oz grated cheddar, Monterey jack, or Velveeta cheese (optional)

 ~pre-heated oven @ 350

~8 x 8, or 12 x 8 glass baking dish, depending on if you want a thick or thin result; greased with cooking spray, oil or butter

To do:

Heat the butter or oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sauté until onions are soft. Drain the greens & corn (I like to save the liquids in a baggie or jar in the freezer for future use in soup stock). Add greens & corn to the skillet with 1T lemon juice or vinegar. Mix in the refried beans and salsa; heat on medium until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste if you like.

Prepare the corn muffin mix according to box directions and set aside (don’t bake it). Slice ½ can of the olives (save remainder for another use, or slice them all if you’re an olive lover!)

Layer in your dish: mixture from skillet, olives, and cheese (if using). Spread top with prepared muffin mix, and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until top is golden brown. Let rest a few minutes before serving. This nutritious, meat-free dish freezes well; spices and veggies can be switched out with whatever is on hand.

-- Jason Harper

Food for Fines Recipe Challenge

Do you have what it takes to become the Kansas City Public Library’s resident Top Chef? In celebration of Food for Fines Week, we’re holding a culinary contest to see who can come up with the best recipe using some of the ingredients people have donated toward reducing their Library fines. Now, you may find these ingredients a bit unorthodox. But nothing’s impossible for the true book-lovin’ foodie.

If you’ve been reading our blog and following us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll know that between October 18 and 24, 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.

The Recipe Challenge: We’ve picked out 16 examples of the hundreds, if not thousands, of items that patrons have brought in so far. We want you to come up with the best recipe you can using at least five of these 16 items as ingredients. (Here's a bigger version of the photo.)

You don’t have to cook up your recipe (bonus points, though, if you do). We just want you to get creative, have fun, and help us spread the word about Food for Fines and the great work Harvesters does year-round.

Once you’ve come up with your recipe, type it up (snap a pic if you actually cooked it), give it a clever name, and email it to Kaite Stover at by 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 24.

Next Monday, October 25, we’ll post our top five favorite recipes on our website and award free cookbooks to the winning “cheftestants.”

Update: Congratulations to winner Jeanne Calkins! Find out what Jeanne whipped up from the list of ingredients.

Here’s a list of the ingredients that you have to work with, in part or in whole:

  • 1 box meat loaf mix
  • 1 box corn muffin mix
  • 1 can mixed greens
  • 1 box macaroni and cheese
  • 1 can pork and beans
  • 1 can sardines
  • 1 can sliced white potatoes
  • 1 box garlic herb snack crackers
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 bag Frosted Flakes cereal
  • 1 can golden corn
  • 1 can olives
  • 1 box chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 box rotini pasta
  • 1 jar peanut butter

Remember: Choose at least five of the above ingredients. And get cooking, Kansas City!

Food for Fines Week Is Here

Hey you – yeah, you, the one who’s been avoiding the Library because you’ve got overdue fines and money is tight right now. Today through Oct. 24, just bring a few cans of food into a Kansas City Public Library location near you, and, voila, our collection of four-squillion books, CDs and DVDs will once again be at your disposal. Why? Because it’s Food for Fines week.

Here at the Library, we like giving things away. Late fees, of course, are a necessary part of doing business. But it really bums us out whenever we hear that you aren’t coming to partake of our eighteen-quindupletillion free items (OK, OK, more like 1.1 million) because you kept that copy of The Ersatz Elevator too long.

That’s why every year, we team up with the wonderful people at Harvesters Community Food Network to bring you the one time of the year where you get the satisfaction of feeding your fellow citizens and having your foolish fines forgiven in one fell blow.

Each food item erases $1 in late fees for overdue items. And that really adds up. To wit, here’s a Harper’s Index-ian rundown of some of last year’s numbers:

  • Amount of fines forgiven during last year’s Food for Fines: $18,088.59.
  • Total number of food items donated: 19,881. (It’s slightly higher than amount forgiven due to folks’ generosity in bringing extra food.)
  • Average amount of fines forgiven per day: $2,584.
  • Amount forgiven per hour the Library was open during Food for Fines week: $33.
  • Average amount of fines forgiven per Library account: $14.20.
  • Pounds of food Harvesters received during Food for Fines in 2009: 18,108 (just over 9 tons).
  • Equivalent number of meals: 13,939.

So you see, it pays to give. But you can’t just bring in whatever’s moldering in the larder, such as that year-old, brick-hard fruitcake your Aunt Nonnie foisted on you last Christmas.

We will only credit you for undam­aged and unexpired boxed or canned non-perishable food items. Harvesters is always in need of canned meat, peanut butter, canned fruit, canned vegetables, and boxed meals. Non-nutritional beverages such as soda, as well as any beverages in glass or plastic containers will not be accepted. Dented cans are a no-no.

So grab that mac ‘n cheese and come on down. And stay tuned – later this week, we’ll be running a recipe contest.

The Hip-Hop Academy Gives Us a Mural Makeover

Earlier this month, a boy with spiked hair and bright blue eyes sat at a table in the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, sketching his next piece of public art. The word READ burst from the page in red-orange lettering. Now, it blazes on a wall for the whole neighborhood to see.

Thanks to the guidance of the Hip-Hop Academy, kids like 17-year-old Giovanni may be KC’s next mural masters.

The Hip-Hop Academy was founded in 2005 by three friends -- musicians Aaron Sutton and Roscoe Johnson and visual artist Jeremy McConnell – who wanted to show that hip-hop is not all about the negative messages that blast on urban radio waves.

When the Hip-Hop Academy’s kids write a rap lyric, it’s always about something real happening in their lives – and it’s always positive. “We want it to be something they’re proud to share with their family, something their grandparents could listen to,” McConnell says.

Conducting regular classes for kids and teens at places like the North-East and Southeast branch libraries, the Academy’s streetwise instructors channel students’ youthful energy into the creative elements of hip-hop: rhyming, DJing, breakdancing, and turning boring old walls into resplendent works of art.

That’s what McConnell, Sutton, and some Library kids did to a retaining wall bordering the North-East parking lot several years ago. Now, with that original mural’s paint peeling, McConnell and his crew are devoting a series of Wednesday afternoons to giving the wall a makeover, Hip-Hop Academy style.

Two weeks ago, Hip-Hop Academy kids and parents repainting the old mural and the wall above it, which had been tagged.

The project also has a practical benefit. North-East Branch Manager Claudia Visnich says that having walls tagged with illegal graffiti can be costly to property owners -- this is particularly troublesome in areas like Northeast Kansas City, where tagging is a frequent phenomenon. But, she says, most fly-by-night artists won’t touch a wall that’s already covered with a mural.

For the mural’s design, the Hip-Hop Academy has asked kids for ideas inspired by their reading and lives in general. Aroni’s READ design is the centerpiece, surrounded by other designs from stencils the kids drew and cut with help from their parents and instructors.

The Hip-Hop Academy will paint the mural in segments over the next few weeks. Kids of all ages are welcome to participate. The official unveiling party is on Sunday, October 24, from 1 to 3 p.m., with activities, snacks and programs by local teen organizations.

Whatever the finished mural looks like on October 24, it’s sure to reflect the community that surrounds it.

-- Jason Harper

Harvesters Sows Nutritional Wisdom at the Southeast Branch

Don’t let all those books fool you. Though reading is our raison d’être at the Kansas City Public Library, we also impart life skills to people in the community, especially children and teens. And one of those skills we enjoy imparting the most: eating right.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, representatives from one of the Library’s closest local partners, Harvesters Community Food Network, visited the Southeast Branch to show a group of teens that eating healthy isn’t that hard.

“We empower kids by teaching them how to cook and showing them there’s more options than fast food and the microwave,” says Taryn Glidewell, Harvesters’ nutritional education coordinator.

Harvesters’ Kids in the Kitchen program focuses on educating kids about different food groups and how to shop wisely – namely, by going to farmers’ markets.

At Southeast, Glidewell and three other Harvesters instructors talked about Kansas City’s biggest farmers’ market, the City Market, where, on a typical Saturday, 12,000 people stock up on organic, locally grown produce and other sustainable goods. As the food group of the day was grain, Harvesters passed out bags of corn, bran, rice, couscous and other grains for the teens to look at and touch.

Harvesters, with the Library's Gabi Otto (right).

Next, the teens played a game of bed-sheet ping pong to work up an appetite for the food they were about to fix: whole-grain bagels with cream cheese, fresh basil and peaches.

While the bagels toasted on an electric grill, the teens sliced up peaches, mixed chopped fresh basil with cream cheese and a little black pepper, and talked about why whole grain is better for you than the refined flour found in so many junk food products.

“I never looked twice at a bagel before,” said one of the teens.

The basil cream cheese was a definite hit, as were the farm-fresh peaches. Seconds were passed around before the hourlong program concluded, and the kids went home with happy – and healthy – tummies.

Help Out:

Want to know how you can help feed hungry families in Kansas City? The Kansas City Public Library is holding its 2010 Food for Fines Week October 18 through 24. During this time, patrons can bring in unexpired, nonperishable canned or boxed food to reduce existing overdue fines by $1 per food item. All the food goes to Harvesters. Click here to learn which food items are most needed.


-- Jason Harper

My Library: Gina Kaufmann

A fixture on the local literary scene, Gina Kaufmann has written for The Kansas City Star and The Pitch, spent two years on the air as co-host of KCUR’s Walt Bodine Show, and organizes regular storytelling events. Now a freelance writer working on her master’s in creative writing, she’s a regular at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch.

Kaufmann is a lifelong Library patron. As a kid, she took drama classes at the old Plaza Branch and later researched papers there as a teenager. Once while working on a high school report on cystic fibrosis, she stumbled on her dad making photocopies of maps of Africa. He was trying to settle a dispute he was having with a friend regarding how the name of the country Zaire had changed over time.

“I ran into people in my family who had left the same home I did earlier in the day at the Library,” she remembers.

As a candidate in the University of British-Columbia’s Optional-Residency MFA

in creative non-fiction and a freelance writer, Kaufmann uses the Library not only for research but as an alternative to working and taking classes from home.

“It’s appealing to have a workplace where you aren’t tempted to redecorate your bedroom when you hit a hard spot in your writing,” she says.

Though many of her fellow laptop luggers go to coffee shops, Kaufmann prefers the Library -- there’s no pressure to buy multiple lattes in exchange for the free broadband wi-fi, and there’s a wealth of information on the shelves all around.

As a former tutor for Literacy KC, Kaufmann conducted her sessions in the Library, where she and her student felt comfortable and where helpful books were near at hand.

Lately, the Library has been helpful in her research for a project about 19th century Kansas women. One of the subjects is world explorer Osa Johnson of Chanute, KS, whose book, I Married Adventure, chronicles her trips to exotic locales with her husband, Martin, a photographer and filmmaker.

“She was his protector – he held the camera and she held the gun,” Kaufmann says.

Kaufmann knows the kind of information she’s often looking for can’t be found through simple Internet searches.

“Using Google to give yourself a basic familiarity of a subject is fine, but to do something you want to call ‘original research,’ you have to get up and go somewhere,” she says.

And for Kaufmann, more often than not, that somewhere is the Kansas City Public Library.

Explore the Library


Gina Kaufmann’s Ultimate Non-Fiction Reading List:


-- Jason Harper

The Upper Room's Family Literacy Program Gives Moms and Kids the Upper Hand

Everyday life can be loud – especially for young mothers raising kids in urban Kansas City. But on a recent Tuesday afternoon, a side room in the Lucile H. Bluford Branch of the Kansas City Public Library was a haven of quiet industry as a handful of women studied for the next phase in their lives.

The Even Start Family Literacy Program, a federally developed program managed by local literacy powerhouse the Upper Room, combines adult literacy instruction with teaching life skills to parents and children, separately and together. Its core principle: parents are the first teachers.

Five days a week, the Bluford Branch is home to the adult literacy portion of the program. In the large conference room, tutors prepare students for the high-school-equivalency GED exams – a must-pass for those without high school diplomas who want to rise in the workforce.  Meanwhile, their children, aged six months to 8 years, receive free child care and education, also provided by the Upper Room. Currently, nine mothers and 12 children are participating in the Family Literacy Program

“They love the Bluford Library – it’s an ideal classroom for them,” says Upper Room Program Director Betty Muhammad, who oversees the Family Literacy Program.

“The Library is such an important part of what we do. It’s our ultimate resource for everything,” affirms Helen Jones, child care director for the program. “Some of our kids have never been in a library before. It just wasn’t in their environment.”

Creating an environment of literacy for whole families is a big part of what the Upper Room does through programs such as Even Start. And ever since this local organization began 12 years ago, the Kansas City Public Library has provided essential support.

Betty and Jerry
The Upper Room's Betty Muhammad and Jerry McEvoy

Headquartered on the third and fourth floors of St. Louis Catholic Church on Swope Parkway (hence the name), the Upper Room’s influence extends to all corners of the city. Its Summer Academic Camp unites 2,700 kids from low-income homes with hundreds of professional teachers and student tutors to improve math and reading skills. Classes in music, art, dance, swimming, gymnastics, and martial arts are also offered. The Library’s Books to Go service provides books for the kids, and a two-week training session for the camp’s tutors takes place in June in the Plaza Branch’s Truman Forum.

Upper Room Executive Director Jerry McEvoy says that students in the eight-week summer program gain a full academic year of reading progress.  “Parents know their kids are reading better. That’s why they keep sending them,” he says.

During the rest of the year, the Upper Room provides after-school tutoring and a hot meal every school day of the academic year to 500 students. And then there’s the Even Start Family Literacy Program.

Every morning, Monday through Friday, a bus picks up the enrolled mothers and their children and takes them to the Swope Ridge Geriatric Center for breakfast and lessons in parenting and parent-child interaction.

The parents are then taken to the Bluford Branch for the adult literacy portion – the GED tutoring – while the kids receive their own rounds of early childhood education. (All of the children in this year’s Even Start completed the Library’s Summer Reading program.)

“For single mothers who don’t have a high-school education, we provide the key elements that discourage women from moving forward: transportation and child care,” McEvoy says.

Even Start Family Literacy students with instructors Juli Whitney (seated, left) and Mary Davis (seated, right).

Alicia, an adult literacy student whose seven-year-old son is also in Even Start, plans to become a nurse after completing her GED. She’s tried other adult literacy programs, but they didn’t work out. “This program is more hands-on,” she says. “They help you with things you struggle with. For me, that’s fractions.”

This past August, all five of the students who began the Upper Room’s Even Start program in January passed their GED tests. They were rewarded with Gates Bar-B-Q at a reception at the Bluford Branch.

One of the graduates is enrolled at Penn Valley Community College, another is pursuing nursing school, and two others are tutoring students of their own.

It’s a cycle of literacy that uplifts the whole community.

-- Jason Harper

Know Your Librarians: Wick Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas says he gravitates toward the so-called “troublemakers,” kids with a lot of energy and a little bit of mischief who are in need of focus.

"I see a limitless potential in people who haven't set their path yet that needs to be cultivated and explored," he says.

Though still a student, Thomas has already established a reputation as a veteran activist.

In 2008, The Pitch named him Best Activist in Missouri, and a recent July 4-themed feature in The Kansas City Star profiled him in a sampling of noteworthy local crusaders, including the executive director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, a female African-American conservative Republican, and an immigrant rights' proponent.

He currently serves as president of the board at EQUAL (Empowering Queer Activists and Leaders), which provides education, advocacy, and support for youths interested in social justice.

Wick Thomas

In 2006, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force gave Thomas a Creating Change Award for establishing a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance in 2004 while he was a student at Paola High School. He's also been involved in bike activism, has volunteered for the ACLU and Greenpeace, and founded the local environmental group TWIG (Think Work Inspire Grow).

While he was at the Ruiz Branch, he helped develop green programming, including assisting with the creation of the Switzer Neighborhood Farm community garden, which the Library planted alongside various community organizations (see a photo gallery on Facebook).

"You see kids on computers all day -- it's important to get them outside and actually doing stuff with the earth," he says.

When it comes to his work at the Library, Thomas has no trouble keeping his political views in check – in fact, doing so is part of his job. If any activism comes into play as he helps patrons find materials, it’s only in upholding libraries as neutral sources of high-quality, uncensored information.

"Libraries are our last strongholds of freedom of speech," he says.

For Thomas – as for all librarians – this means helping patrons access credible, unbiased information, which can sometimes be hard to find in our search-engine-ruled age.

He has particularly strong feelings about the G-word.

“As far as information systems go, with Google, you get the most popular results, not the best. You can't explain what you're looking for to Google -- it's not a person. The information is not detailed or unbiased,” he explains.

“It’s important to talk to a human,” he adds.

And for Thomas, sometimes just being human is an exercise in First Amendment rights.

Explore the Library

Four Books that Changed Wick Thomas’ Life

-- Jason Harper

Know Your Librarians: Kim Patton

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

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

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

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

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

“I used to like to read racy romances, but they wouldn’t let children in the romance section without an adult, so I had a librarian hold a stack for me until my mom came to pick me up,” she remembers.

Years later, working as a Salvation Army officer in Lawrence, Patton would take her own kids to storytime at the public library. When a job as children’s desk assistant came available, a friend suggested Patton apply.

“I lived in libraries, but I never thought of working in one,” she says.

Settling in at the library, Patton noticed the lack of resources for kids past the sixth grade.

“I whined and whined about not having a young adults’ area, so I carved out a place, got some grants, got five computers, and made the Teen Center,” she says.

She joined YALSA in 2000 as a Teen Services trainer and moved up the ranks to board member. At the American Library Association’s annual conference this past June, she was inaugurated YALSA President for 2010-11.

This is no mere honorary title.

From her post atop the 5,400-member organization, Patton represents the interests of teen librarians everywhere. She recently made a public response to a Time magazine article on summer reading and suggested readalikes for the hot new novel Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

YALSA influences how public and school libraries serve teens and also helps determine how library schools train future teen librarians.

“It’s a great avenue for leadership development and a great way to give back to an organization that’s furthered my career,” Patton says.

But on the home front, Patton remains closely involved with her Central Library teens. And she knows all the techniques to keep them reading.

“To some teens, reading is cool,” Patton says. “To others, it’s the farthest thing from cool you can get.”

There are lots of things vying for teens’ attention. Playing video games, for example, is the most popular activity among adolescent boys – and by providing access to gaming, libraries can get teens in the door who wouldn’t otherwise come.

But distractions or not, Patton says, if you can get teens excited about a book, they’ll make time.

Her three rules for getting kids hooked: (1) Give them enough of a teaser to get into a book, but leave them hanging. (2) Develop activities and programming around the book. And (3) once you have them hooked, be ready with other titles.

And perhaps most of all, be you.

“Teens have no patience for poses,” she says. “You can’t try to talk like them, you can’t try to dress like them. They see through that. They expect us to be ourselves.”

For someone as genuinely invested in teens as Patton, that’s not a hard task at all.

Explore the Library: Kim Patton’s Top Five Teen Reads of the Moment

Social Networkers Plug Into Local History at the Westport Branch

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

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

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

For a club devoted to grassroots scholarship, that’s practically a history minor. But it began with a slightly different focus than the lofty goal of higher learning. Mundy, who played Eliza Wornall in a 2008 re-enactment of the Battle of Westport, was looking for new friends.

“I decided to start the group because I had a desire to visit local historic sites and attend lectures, but my family was less than enthusiastic about it, and I didn't really have any friends that were as excited about history as I was,” she tells KC Unbound.

“I needed like-minded people to hang out with,” she adds.

As the audience in the lecture hall showed, there are plenty of people interested in Kansas City’s past. The story behind General Order No. 11 is particularly compelling.

The speaker, Park University professor Timothy Westcott, outlined the events that led up to Brigadier General Thomas Ewing’s decision to drive out most of the civilian population of the lands around Kansas City. Though Missouri was a Union state, its western counties were home to many Southern sympathizers who were providing aid to the pro-Confederate guerrillas, known as “bushwhackers.”

On August 21, 1863, buschwhacker William Quantrill led 450 raiders to Lawrence, killing 180 men and boys and burning much of the town to the ground. Three days later, General Ewing issued his order, which, Westcott argued, sent the region into even greater chaos.

One was the famous General Order No. 11 (1863), which George Caleb Bingham painted in 1868 to thwart Ewing’s campaign for governorship of Ohio.

The lecture ended with a comparison of two paintings.

General Order No. 11 (1863) by George Caleb Bingham

The other painting was the less well-known Back Home, April 1865 by Tom Lea III, which shows a solemn Missouri family returning to their leveled homestead in the so-called Burnt District (the lands pillaged by Union soldiers enforcing Order No. 11). Lea’s painting hangs in the Pleasant Hill, Mo., post office.

Afterward, as people began heading over to the Harris Kearney House for refreshments, Mundy and her friends talked about their next outing: a trip to historic Rocheport, Mo., the very next Saturday.

Because there’s always time for history.

Explore the Library:

If you’d like to join the American History Meetup, create a free account and connect with the group here.

-- Jason Harper