This Bookworm Moves Up to 30 MPH, Helping the Library Celebrate Its 150th Birthday

Friday, November 17, 2023
The Library-themed streetcar sits at Kansas City's Union Station
The Library anniversary-themed streetcar, on its inaugural trip through downtown Kansas City, sits at Union Station.

The Library anniversary-themed streetcar, on its inaugural trip through downtown Kansas City, sits at Union Station.

The Library is taking its 150th birthday celebration on the road – or more precisely, the rails.

One of Kansas City’s downtown streetcars rolled out of the River Market area Friday, November 17, with a brightly colored, Library anniversary-themed exterior wrap. Its most prominent feature: a cheerfully wide-eyed bookworm stretching some 56 feet along the streetcar’s three sections, looking up from (what else) an open book.

The car will keep its commemorative trim for a full year, artfully joining one fixture in the city’s history with another. The Library was founded in 1873. The first streetcars, pulled by horses and mules, showed up on Kansas City’s streets four years earlier.

“How fitting,” says Jennifer Tufts, the Library’s community engagement project manager, “that someone stepping onto the modern version of a historical vehicle will be invited to explore the enduring impact of another.”

Today’s streetcars stop twice near the Central Library as they move northward, then southward on each loop from Union Station to the River Market and back. Beyond the distinguishing wrap, the Library is plotting special pop-up programming aboard its Discover the Library car, tentatively including ride-and-read-alongs with local authors. It will further engage downtown visitors, commuters, and residents with visual elements and activities at the southbound Library stop.

A little more than two weeks after the streetcar launch, on December 5, the Library kicks off a full year of special programming and other sesquicentennial activities across all 10 of its locations. That’s 150 years to the day that the Kansas City Board of Education established “a library for the use of the officers, teachers and scholars of the public schools of this district, to be known as the Public Library of Kansas City.” It remained under school system oversight until 1988.

The anniversary commemoration follows the theme 150 Years of Discovery.

Closeup of the bookworm featured on the side of the Library-themed streetcar

Library and the streetcar: Together again

The streetcar has been a popular canvas for museums, sports teams, and other cultural institutions and organizations since the Kansas City Streetcar Authority began offering vehicle wrap sponsorships in 2018. Donna Mandelbaum, KCSA’s director of communications and marketing, says she has wanted to bring the Library into the program for years.

That builds on an existing Library-streetcar relationship. They partner annually on Art in the Loop kickoffs and wrap-ups at the Library. The Young Friends of the Kansas City Public Library collaborated with KCSA on “Dear KC: A Locally Inspired Poetry Contest” in celebration of National Poetry Month in March and April 2023.

When the streetcars launched in 2016, the Library’s public affairs department and Missouri Valley Special Collections created a foldout guide identifying places of historical interest along the 2.2-mile route. The publication has been updated and was among the giveaways at the Union Station and Library stops in conjunction with the streetcar unveiling on November 17.

A communitywide celebration

It was Mandelbaum who first suggested a bookworm as a featured element of a wrap, and Library officials quickly bought in. “The idea of a bookworm roaming through downtown, with read-alongs and other programming to highlight the Library’s 150th year, seemed to fit the bill,” says Courtney Christensen, the Library philanthropy department’s administrator and project specialist.

Says Mandelbaum, “I think people are going to have a lot of fun with the playfulness of it.”

The wrap itself, on a streetcar carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers over the course of a year and seen by untold thousands more – motorists, pedestrians, office and condo dwellers – conveys an important message: This is a Library celebration, yes, but also a communitywide celebration of a century and a half of service to Kansas City.

Bookworms, and all others, are invited to join in.