‘Dynamic, Cutting-Edge’: Library’s Street Sheet Earns National Award for Innovation

Monday, December 21, 2020

Among the Library’s many challenges at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic was staying in touch with Kansas City’s most vulnerable populations, keeping them connected to vital services despite their limited or lack of access to technology. The solution: Keep it simple.

At a time when many services were moved online, the Library began producing a basic but information-packed, printed Street Sheet with where-to-go, whom-to-call details on shelters, meal services, COVID-19 testing, and other available health resources. It now goes out to more than 260 agencies and providers across the area.

It is, the Urban Libraries Council says, one of 10 top library innovations of 2020.

The ULC, an organization of more than 150 leading library systems across the U.S. and Canada, accorded the Kansas City Public Library a Top Innovator award in the category of Race & Social Equity. KCPL and winners in nine other categories were recognized during a virtual ceremony December 11.

“In the 10th year of our Innovations Initiative, we received the most dynamic and cutting-edge submissions to date,” ULC President and CEO Susan Benton said. “We celebrate the Kansas City Public Library for creating an initiative that will positively impact their community and serve as a model to public libraries throughout North America.”

Mary Olive Joyce, the Library’s director of Library outreach and community engagement, called the Street Sheet “a prime example of how our Community Resources team responds to the needs of our most underserved patrons. It is a key part of our continuing effort ‘to meet people where they are.’ ”

Created by Joyce’s Outreach team in partnership with the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, the Street Sheet grew out of a wider listing of emergency and other community services. With the pandemic came a concern about continuing to get that information to those experiencing homelessness.

The downtown Central Library and other Library locations initially closed amid a citywide shutdown. And while selected services have been restored (apart from holiday and other temporary closures), staffers’ personal contact with those vulnerable residents of Kansas City remains limited.

“A lot of other people can go online or they have telephones, and they can find out about resources where a lot people living on the street don’t have that access,” said Kelly Berry, who oversees the Street Sheet as the Outreach department’s community engagement specialist. “The paper form of communication is still very critical to them.”

With the Library’s well-developed network of community partners, the sheet gets wide distribution – not only to an array of support agencies and organizations but also police officers and security guards. At least one of the city’s yellow-jacketed Community Improvement District (CID) ambassadors distributes it on her downtown rounds.

The sheet initially was updated weekly and continues to get twice-monthly updates, on the first and third Wednesdays. It’s also uploaded to the Library’s website.

“I had someone last week from (the health care nonprofit) Care Beyond the Boulevard say that her clients, the folks she’s servicing, are talking about it,” Berry said.

Said Library Executive Director John Herron, “We are very proud of the impact. It is more than information. It is an invaluable community connector.” You can view the Library’s Street Sheet submission to the Urban Libraries Council here. The UCL’s annual Innovations Initiative drew a total of 260 entries across 10 categories.

Outreach Resources Specialist Beth Hill (left) and
Community Engagement Specialist Kelly Berry.