Library Life

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When it comes to finding quality health care information in Kansas City, many minority communities are underserved. It’s a problem that needs more than a figurative band-aid.

“There is undeniable evidence that the African-American community suffers from higher rates of many chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and sickle cell disease,” says Jeannine Glore Midgett, Director of Community Outreach for Truman Medical Centers.

She says that the lack of access to quality healthcare resources, including educational information, only makes the problem worse.

The Internet is crawling with health information, but can you trust the top few results of a Google search? And if you do manage to find actual medical information, how do you make sure you’re interpreting it correctly? Your health, after all, is on the line.

It’s no wonder that people have increasingly been turning to public libraries for health information. As a result, more and more libraries are creating specialized services to help people manage their health.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

Food for Fines
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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Wick Thomas
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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.

Kim Patton by Elise Del Vecchio
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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.

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