Building a Community of Readers with Books to Go

Most library patrons must make a trip to the library to take advantage of its many services.

But for more than 6,500 Kansas City children at more than 351 sites, the Books to Go program brings the library to them.

Created almost two decades ago as part of an outreach effort that began even before the Building a Community of Readers initiative, Books to Go provides a rotating collection of books to locations where hundreds of local children spend much of their week: in-home childcare providers, day cares, schools (public and parochial), churches, the YMCA, and other sites.

And not just any books. Books to Go staffers Tiffany Alexander and Peggy Farney hand pick titles to complement the various programs directed at these young readers.

“We take requests,” explains outreach manager Mary Olive Thompson. “Teachers will develop themes for their programs – perhaps insects or sailboats – and Tiffany and Peggy select and fulfill these special requests.

“And we work closely with the library’s collection development team to get the books we need.”

The cost to the schools and day cares? Nothing. The entire program is built into the Library’s annual budget. And there are other perks in the Books to Go program. Like no overdue fees or replacement fines.

“We want the children to be able to take the books home with them,” Thompson says. “And if some books vanish and are never returned … well, they go to book heaven. We remove that as an issue so that children can just concentrate on the joy of reading.”

To make reading and sharing books that much easier, the Library provides participating children with Books to Go bags in which to carry their reading matter.

“It’s something that simplifies the process... and the book bags encourage the children to share books with their families.”

Going a step further is the Stories to Go program in which outreach associates Derrick Barnes and Rob Herron visit the sites to put on a show.

Barnes, the father of four, said that during a Stories to Go visit he and Herron may read to children from a book, sing, dance, play instruments – even put on a puppet show.

“We do a beat-box version of ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ Anything that allows the children to interact with us,” said Barnes, who is himself the author of children’s books.

“It’s probably the only job where you are greeted by cheers and hugs.”

Barnes and Herrom put on between 15 and 20 shows a week, both as individuals and as a team. They’ve learned how much their young audiences can handle.

“You can lose a crowd that young,” Barnes said, “so the books and stories can’t be too complicated or too long winded. You have to be thinking like a child — never talk down to them. We always start out with a conversation, listening to the children’s ideas.”

The Stories to Go program is funded by the Building a Community of Readers initiative.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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