Library Life

Tom Sawyer Penguin cover

It was a year of ice and fire in the book industry, of fallen leaders, marriage plots, and Paris wives. But amid the usual best-seller buzz, Kansas City Public Library customers were thrilling to a 135-year-old novel of a boy’s life in rural Missouri.

That’s right, Aunt Polly. When we ran the circulation numbers for 2011, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this year’s Big Read selection, stood boldly atop the list.

Surpassing runner-up The Help by more than 200 bleeps of the barcode scanner, Tom Sawyer became the second Big Read selection to earn the most checked-out book of the year honors.

Carrie McDonald photo

It's the day before Thanksgiving. The Central Library is closed to the public due to a water main break. Down on the first basement level, Carrie McDonald is days from retirement. It should be a great opportunity for kicking back and reflecting on nearly 30 years of service.

But "kicking back" is not in Carrie's vocabulary.

Before we can ask what she's going to do with her retirement, the Library's Outreach Manager for the past 18 years jumps from her desk chair, strides between stacks of children's books, and scribbles labels on a stack of Books to Go boxes with a Sharpie.

Before the ink has even dried, she's back at her desk, giving directions to a confused delivery driver who has dropped in to pick up books.

"It's wonderful how a finite number of hours in my career has helped me focus," she says.

Carrie's working life was quieter 27 years ago when, as a student in Emporia State University's graduate library science program, she was hired part-time to maintain databases on a late shift in the old Main Library. After a few months, she moved up to the reference desk at the Plaza Branch.

Give Us a Gig photo Aaron Deacon Social Media Club

Unless you’ve been living in a hole out in the prairie, communicating with the outside world only through smoke signals and/or fax machine, at some point in the past few months you’ve heard murmurs about the impending arrival of Google Fiber to Kansas City.

But in case you haven’t, get ready – the gig is coming.

A thousand times faster than broadband, 20,000 times faster than your dial-up prairie fax machine, Google Fiber will bring an Internet connection so fast, powerful, and flexible it will feel more like a whole new utility.

Google is currently laying fiber optic cable under the streets of Kansas City on both sides of the state line, and sometime in the first half of next year, folks living in KCMO and KCK will have the option to subscribe to the service at home. It’s also expected to become available in many public buildings, such as libraries and schools.

For us, this is huge.

Indeed, here at the Library, we’ve been full-on obsessing over the potential benefits that a light-speed 1GB connection could bring to our city. Empowering entrepreneurs, giving the school district a shot in the arm, decreasing the digital divide, improving health care for the disadvantaged – there are few areas of life, it seems, that couldn’t stand to gain from a stronger, faster Internet connection.

Wick Thomas

Every November, amateur novelists around the world put their word processors where their mouths are in daring attempts to spit out 50,000-word tomes in a mere 30 days.

This year, a hearty group of Central teens led by Youth Services Associate Wick Thomas joined the ranks of flash novelists to take up the National Novel Writing Month challenge.

"NaNoWriMo," as it's known for short, began in San Francisco in 1999. Thanks to its founders' Internet savvy, it has spread to a worldwide phenomenon, with major literary blogs such as GalleyCat providing daily coverage. This year, NaNoWriMo organizers tallied a collective word count of 3,074,772,767.

Contributing 138,000 of those words: Wick's teens.

"I didn't know the teens would be so excited to participate," Wick says.

Wick found helpful support in NaNoWriMo's resources for young writers, including a free "Triumphant Chart of Noveling Progress," on which teens could write their names and track their progress.

Derrick Barnes photo

In just three years, talented and industrious Kansas City author Derrick Barnes has published eight books through youth publishing giant Scholastic. But when his fourth son was born, Barnes needed extra income to pay the bills.

So he, like many professional, published authors, began looking for work.

“I was looking for a job that was in line with what I do as an author,” says Barnes.

When a friend forwarded Barnes a job listing for a part-time position in the Library’s Outreach department, he saw the opportunity to ply his skills as a crafter and reader of stories for children. Soon, he will begin conducting reading programs on behalf of the Library through the Stories to Go program.

“It’s a nice little marriage,” he says.

Barnes is best known for his Ruby and the Booker Boys series of books about a quick-witted underdog girl trying to stand out in a family of boys. He’s also published several teen novels, including the recent We Could Be Brothers, which he discussed earlier this year at the Kansas City Public Library as part of the Guys Read program.

As a working author, Barnes frequently visits schools and libraries to read his books and share his experiences as a writer. The Library job will provide him practice in the off season – and afford him the chance to do a little market research.

Halloween kids at Central Library

For Ashlei Wheeler, Teen Services specialist at the Waldo Branch, reading to children is an interactive experience. "It's so much fun to see them get into it and want to know what happens next," Wheeler says.

"They notice things differently than adults do. They notice things that get them psyched, and that gets me psyched, too."

"I like the creativity they bring to it," Wheeler adds.

Unfortunately, many children in the Kansas City Public Library's service area don't get to have this kind of creative, interactive reading experience on a regular basis.

According to a 2009 Jumpstart report, the average child growing up in a low-income family has only been exposed to 25 hours of one-on-one reading. (Compare that with 1,000-1,700 hours in middle-class homes.)

Early childhood literacy is a key indicator of future academic success.

According to the Jumpstart report, 37 percent of children arrive in kindergarten lacking the skills necessary for lifetime learning. If they haven't developed them by third grade, there's a good chance they never will.

If kids start behind, they'll stay behind.

Veronica Manthei photo

Veronica Manthei is one eclectic lady. Stop her the next time she reports for duty as a Library Technical Assistant at the North-East Branch, and you're likely to find her with a slew of books, audiobooks, and movies checked out to her account.

Some of them, quite likely, in Spanish.

"The rule in my house growing up was, 'You cross the threshold, you speak Spanish,'" Manthei says.

To give you an idea: When we visited with Manthei, she had 39 checkouts, including The Rum Diary on audiobook in her car, LL Cool J's Platinum Workout in her kitchen, a romance novel (ahem, Viking Heat) in her purse, The Discovery of Witches on playaway, a couple of indie movies on DVD, several graphic novels, and season two of Glee.

Her eclecticism doesn't end there.

Born in Boston to Argentine parents, she grew up in Florida. She then went to college first at George Washington University in D.C., where she studied political science and special education, then completed her schooling at the University of Texas at Austin, with a degree in biology.

Since then, she's lived in New York, New Jersey, and Iowa. In 2006, she and her husband, Gregory (who's of German-Czech descent), and their two children, Alexandra and Garion, moved to Kansas City.

"I've told my husband, 'We don't need a house, we need a covered wagon,'" Manthei says, and laughs.

Union Station neon sign photo

Like many great brainstorming sessions in the history of public libraries, it began with librarians gathered around a blackboard, pizza and drinks on hand. But, unlike most, it ended with the awarding of a $100,000 grant.

One night this past July, Youth Services librarians Crystal Faris, Jamie Mayo, and Kim Patton gathered in the home of their colleague Mary Thompson to form a plan that would rock Kansas City teens' world.

They imagined a place where community teens could access digital media production tools and software and create original content that showcases their imagination capabilities. All the while, the teens would be learning new skills with new technology.

Or, as cultural youth anthropologist Mizuko Ito famously put it, a place for "hanging out, messing around, and geeking out."

In June 2011, the Institute of Museum and Library Services put out a request for proposal for the creation of mentor-led, interest-based, youth-centered "Learning Labs" in libraries and museums around the country. The grant would be funded by IMLS and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign.

Ollie Gates and Crosby Kemper III

Ollie Gates thinks that you can beat him at barbecue. That’s what he told the audience at last night at the Kansas City Public Library's Central Library in a public conversation with Library Director Crosby Kemper III. Mr. Gates joined us to help celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, an initiative of the Kaufmann Foundation, as a part of our ongoing series, Kansas City: Cradle of Entrepreneurs.

Roasterie Coffee dispenser

As Library Director Crosby Kemper III pointed out early this morning at the Plaza Branch, Danny O’Neill is “the man who wakes Kansas City up.” For local coffee drinkers, this assessment is quite literally, elementally true.

Known to many by his superhero alias “the Bean Baron," O'Neill is the founder of The Roasterie, an 18-year-old Kansas City-based purveyor of air-roasted coffee that has built a national reputation for quality, sustainability, and, to a great degree, style.

O’Neill shared his invigorating entrepreneurial success story this morning at the Plaza Branch as part of the Library’s Cradle of Entrepreneurs series. The ongoing series, which features public discussions with Kansas City business leaders, has ramped up this week in conjunction with the Kauffman Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Cradle of Entrepreneurs continues tomorrow with a conversation with Ollie Gates of Gates Bar B.Q. and resumes on Friday with a visit from Clara Reyes of Dos Mundos.

Last November 7-13 was Food For Fines week at the Kansas City Public Library, and our food bins truly overran with donations to Harvesters: The Community Food Network. But while anyone could bring in food to reduce their late fees, only one person could win our recipe contest.

The guidelines were simple: Submit a recipe that called for at least one ingredient that you might donate to Harvesters. Our culinarily inclined librarians would go through and pick our favorite and award its creator a special cookbook prize package.

Meanwhile, patrons were bringing in armloads of canned and boxed, nonperishable, unexpired food times to receive $1 off existing fines per every item donated.

Now, fines in the Library’s service area have magically been converted to food for Harvesters, and we have a recipe to try out in the kitchen.

And the winner is...

Congratulations to chef and book lover extraordinaire Deanna Long who won for her take on peach cobbler – a hearty classic that involves one of our favorite things to eat from a can: peaches!

Peach Cobbler

2/3 cup flour
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup shortening
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup evaporated milk
Large can of sliced peaches in heavy syrup

Gigabit City report

Imagine it’s 75 years from now. Your grandson brings his son into Union Station. Before them stands a moving, smiling, talking, 3-D image of you and your son visiting the Station 50 years ago.

Harvesters food bin photo

Do you have the cooking chops to become the Kansas City Public Library’s resident Top Chef? In celebration of Food for Fines (Nov. 7-13), we’re holding a recipe contest to see who can come up with the best dish using nonperishable food.

The winning chef-testant will receive a lip-smacking prize package of hand-picked cookbooks from our gourmand librarians, and he or she will become Internet-famous when we post the winning recipe online.

If you’ve been following us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll know that between Monday, November 7, and Sunday, November 13, 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.

Last year, our Food for Fines campaign brought in more than 17,000 food items to Harvesters. That’s the equivalent of 13,000 meals provided to hungry Kansas Citians. So if you’ve got outstanding fines, now’s the perfect time to open up the cupboard, grab a hefty bag, and get down to the Library.

Mary Carol Garrity Cradle of Entrepreneurs photo

Public libraries have always been beacons for entrepreneurs. Recent graduates and seasoned professionals alike need easy, affordable access to pertinent information that will help their businesses grow. Libraries charge neither tuition nor membership dues, and many of their resources, such as powerful databases, are available online.

Offering a free connection to a wealth of resources on subjects like obtaining financing, conducting industry research, and keeping up with trade publications – not to mention free wi-fi – the Kansas City Public Library (particularly the H&R Block Business & Career Center) is an entrepreneur’s office away from the office.

Kansas City: Cradle of Entrepreneurs

Bobby Gordon

It would be tempting to compare Bobby Gordon's all-boys book club at the Plaza Branch to the Kansas City Chiefs. Both are active for the duration of the football season (well, most of it). And, both generate lively discussion among the fans who get involved.

But unlike our struggling team at Arrowhead, Bobby's Books for Boys Reading Group rarely has a bad moment on its chosen field.

That's not always a given, though, considering the typical reading habits of boys aged 8 to 12.

"Boys tend to come to the Library for different reasons than girls," says Gordon, a Plaza children's associate of 13 years. "Girls like to hang around, but boys have more activities. They come and go faster and tend to be a little later with their reading. I just keep an eye on things they check out and are interested in."

Now in its second year, Bobby's Books for Boys meets every third Wednesday starting October 19 and runs through March 2012. Last year, Gordon had a core group of five regulars that swelled up to nine at various points throughout the season. He hopes this year's group will be bigger and better.

But how do you keep boys coming back to read every month? For Gordon, it's a matter of picking the right books and cultivating conversation.