Library Life

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

Back to School, Westside-style

It’s the first week of the 2010 school year in Kansas City, Missouri, a time of energy and excitement. And for many parents, it’s a time for cutting back – those no. 2 pencils and spiral notebooks add up. Thanks to the KC Public Library’s Ruiz Branch, nearly 200 Westside families got a break from the school-supply squeeze.

On Thursday, August 12, the Irene H. Ruiz Branch hosted the Ninth Annual Back to School Pep Rally. Described as “a Celebration of Learning,” the event was organized by the library in partnership with the Westside Community Action Network Center and the Tony Aguirre Community Center .

Three hundred backpacks full of supplies were given to 175 families with students in Westside schools. The supplies were donated by a large group of individuals and companies, including neighborhood people, local businesses, and federal agencies.

“It couldn’t be what it is without a lot of people,” says Ruiz Branch manager Julie Robinson, who has helped with the event for the past seven years.

Crispin Rea, a brand-new at-large school board member for KCMO, attended the event. Rea lives in the Northeast, but his family’s roots are on the Westside. “There’s a deeply rooted sense of community. It’s very tightly knit here,” he says of the Westside.

The Back to School Pep Rally is nothing short of a neighborhood tradition.

“A lot of these kids come from households without a history of school careers. We want to send them off with the proper tools for learning,” says Lynda Callon, executive director CAN Center.

Twenty-one library volunteers organized the supplies in advance, and 50 volunteers helped things run smoothly at the event itself – no small task considering 1,800 were in attendance. There were also workers from Drug-Free Sport , VolunTeams and Heart to Heart .

Helma Hawkins of Children's and Youth Services recommends reads.

It’s about more than just handing out three-ring binders, though. With attractions including several big air castles billowing in the street, carnival games, a juggler on stilts, a souped-up KCPD show car, and 30 vendor tables set up by groups ranging from Literacy KC to the local Woodturners Club (who made wooden tops for the kids), this was one massive block party.

And in the middle of it all: the library.

Vicki Hernandez, a fourth-generation resident of the Westside, says that people in the neighborhood rely on the Ruiz Branch for services such as free computer use and health insurance information. She says they also enjoy family events like the library’s Fall Festival and the back-to-school extravaganza.

“It’s the heart of the community, really,” she says.

And that’s especially true at the start of a new school year.

-- Jason Harper

Watch Meet the Past Episodes Online

Have you met Jesse James? Charlie Parker? How about Amelia Earhart? Last year, these and other local legends barnstormed the Library for Meet the Past with Crosby Kemper. Now you can watch all of KCPT's televised episodes and relive more than a century of KC history without leaving your homestead.

From April through October of last year, a series of top-notch re-enactors conjured the personas of some of the most memorable people in American history, all with ties to the Kansas City area: Harry S. Truman, "Boss" Tom Pendergast, Walt Disney, Thomas Hart Benton and others.

Fielding questions from Library Director Crosby Kemper III, as well as the audience in attendance (usually 450 or more), these denizens of the past brought flesh, blood and a fresh outlook to the stories held in the tomes on the Library’s shelves.

Now you can revisit those conversations in our online media center. Visit our complete episode guide, get the info, and follow the links to the videos on BlipTV.

Here’s a trailer for the episode that featured Kerry Altenbernd as the intense, passionate, and awesomely bearded John Brown.

About the series: Meet the Past began to take shape in 2007, when local historian Bill Worley approached the Library about portraying legendary political boss Tom Pendergast in a live setting. Public Affairs Director Henry Fortunato suggested having Kemper interview Worley before an audience, and in October of that year, Crosby and “Boss Tom” squared off before a crowd of 250 people, and Meet the Past was born. KCPT filmed an encore performance two months later, and the program was a hit, receiving a regional Emmy nomination.

More than 4,000 people attended the 2009 series, and many more caught it on TV. Each installment came with its own recommended reading list, too.

In 2010, Meet the Past came back for another installment, bringing actor Judd Bankert as President Woodrow Wilson to talk about the Fed, the League of Nations and World War I on the grounds of Kansas City’s Liberty Memorial Museum.

Stay tuned for more Meet the Past updates from the Kansas City Public Library.

-- Jason Harper