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Summer Reading Adventures Connect Community and Library

Johnson County Library invites people of all ages to join the adventure of Summer Reading 2024!

The Library will serve as a community hub, highlighting local groups that provide all sorts of enrichment, excitement and fun.

Events kick off Saturday, June 1 at 10 a.m. with award-winning musician and author Mr. Stinky Feet providing a rousing dance party at Central Resource Library. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Central will host a Community Connections Fair, introducing patrons to organizations that focus on activities ranging from kayaking and ukulele jam sessions to juggling and choral music instruction, plus art and science galore.

Johnson County Naturalists and the Audubon Society will do bird watching in the park behind Central Library. A portable planetarium in the Carmack Room will demonstrate the wonders of the solar system. A bus on site will introduce people to Johnson County’s transit system.

Summer Reading is a chance to expose everyone to the joys of books. The Community Connections Fair adds an extra dimension, says Melanie Fuemmeler, program operations manager at the Library.

“We also want to highlight all the other ways that Summer Reading brings people together to learn beyond books — through play, through exploration, through discovery, through community collaboration,” Fuemmeler said. “We really see Summer Reading as an opportunity to think beyond what people may perceive as the typical boundaries of a Library.”

This year’s theme is “Adventure Begins at Your Library,” which reveals how the Library is the portal to a world of exuberant experiences. The Summer Reading theme is a nationwide campaign provided by the Collaborative Summer Library Program, featuring dazzling graphics by illustrators Juana Martinez-Neal and Rob Donnelly.

Program Services Specialist Christin Devonshire is excited about the possibilities with this year’s theme and community connections.

“It’s just such a delightful time,” she said. “For me, it’s really cool to see that people of all different ages come to the Library for that moment of discovery.”

The Library is eager to lean into the adventure theme and introduce patrons to the amazing activities the County can provide. At last year’s inaugural Community Connections Fair, participants came away with plans to pursue new hobbies or to learn a musical instrument.

“Those are the moments that it feels like the Library really is this magical thing,” Devonshire said.

The Library will host free book distributions in all branches beginning June 3. It has ordered 25,000 adventure books from vendor Children’s Plus, including picture books, Easy Reader, J Fiction, Non-Fiction and Teen selections.

During April and May, thousands of free books were distributed through Johnson County’s elementary schools and through community partners like Merriam Parks and Recreation, the Jewish Community Center, Catholic Charities and Shawnee Mission Parents as Teachers. This Library outreach began during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and has been hugely successful, particularly for reluctant readers.

“We get continual positive feedback from teachers regarding the outreach book distribution,” Fuemmeler said. “This was a way for us to get a book in the hands of kids before they got out of school.” It shows students how much fun books can be and builds their enthusiasm for a lifelong reading habit.

This summer, the Library will have 13 key event offerings throughout June and July, including a STEM music program, art therapy, Read to a Dog, and Operation Wildlife’s raptor program.

The ever-popular bookmark contest is back, with submissions accepted through the end of July. 

Fuemmeler said the 12-member Summer Reading team includes reference librarians and branch staff, plus creative services and communications professionals. They work hard all year to make summer a unique and wonderful time. 

“It’s all about providing positive patron experiences and interactions,” she said. “It’s what makes each year memorable in its own way.”

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Dynamic Duo Helps Provides Digital Access

Johnson County Library is lucky to have a dynamic duo who are dedicated to providing patrons with the best possible access to electronic Library materials (known generally as eResources).

Samantha Chinn and Hope Harms collaborate beautifully on this ever-expanding digital side of Library services. They are the “Charms” team — a mashup of their last names that captures their collegial working relationship.

They help curate a vast array of online materials, educational services and databases. While physical books and materials are still integral to what libraries do, the world of digital materials has become equally important, especially in the past five years. Patrons may be surprised to learn that nearly half the Library’s collection budget is now devoted to electronic resources.

Chinn was named eResources Collection Specialist in June 2023, after serving in a similar role for Kansas City, Kansas Public Library. She was thrilled to join Johnson County Library, where she watched her mother, Rhonda DuPree, work behind-the-scenes for decades as a page at multiple branches.

“I have a history with Johnson County Library,” she said. “I saw all the back end. I think that’s why I wanted to be a Librarian.”

She’s devoted to the task. “There’s so much to learn,” she said. “Johnson County is such a big system and supports so many people. I’m just excited to grow the collection and really learn about the community and what they want.”

Harms served as eResources Librarian from 2017 until June 2023. Over that time, it became apparent that demands for digital resources were changing, so Harms took on a new role last year as Digital Access and Cataloging Specialist. She works closely with the IT, Web and Technical Services teams to support digital access to the physical collections and eResources. She also elevates materials to make them easier to find online.

“I like to describe my role as focusing on digital access and discovery,” she said. “We are pushing more into spaces where patrons already are. So, if they are already searching Google, maybe we can get those collection items coming up in a Google search.”

This is a new frontier for Libraries, Chinn explains. It builds on the tremendous growth in patron use of eBooks, eAudiobooks (even more popular than eBooks), digital publications, eLearning, online research, and streaming video.  

Not surprisingly, digital usage spiked in spring 2020, when physical branches closed for the pandemic, and the upward trajectory has continued from there. Johnson County Library’s reports to the State Library of Kansas show digital uses (or checkouts) jumped from 652,922 in 2021 to 738,918 in 2022 and to 1,151,724 in 2023.

Much of that increased traffic is attributable to the Library’s transition in May 2022 to the Libby platform by OverDrive, which provides excellent eBook and eAudiobook choices.

“People love the user experience,” Harms said. “Our patrons are gobbling it up.”

Chinn works diligently to respond to patron requests for new materials. Recent acquisitions include the digital version of The Economist (no longer in the Library’s print collection) and more content from Candid, a nonprofit foundation directory. She is trying to acquire the digital version of The Wall Street Journal and is exploring additional Genealogy resources.

Harms and Chinn regularly compare notes with their counterparts at Olathe and other metro Library systems, sharing trends and ideas. They also get invaluable help from the Collection Development department and from front-line staff, to know what people are seeking.

“It’s taking all the things we are able to curate for our collection,” Harms said, “And gathering and ensuring we are a well-oiled machine on the back end, so people can reliably access it and make it easier to find.”

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Library Helps Incarcerated Adults Create Lively Recordings for Children

Grace Bentley, a youth information specialist at Merriam Plaza Library, delights in leading Storytimes and helping children and parents discover the joys of reading books.

But one of the most gratifying parts of her Johnson County Library job is assisting incarcerated adults to make wonderful recordings of themselves reading aloud for the children in their lives, through a program called Read to Me.

The adults are clients at the Therapeutic Community Center, a six-month drug treatment program that is part of the alternative sentencing approach at Johnson County District Court. Johnson County Library assists those clients with a variety of services while they are TC residents, including getting Library cards and checking out books.

The Read to Me program specifically allows these adults to create audio book recordings, which then are shared with their children, along with copies of the actual books. It is funded by Johnson County Library and the Library Foundation.

Every other month, Bentley visits the facility for a day, training about 20 clients each time in how to record themselves reading aloud. She brings along recording devices and a diverse collection of books written for everyone from toddlers through teens.

She coaches the clients to have fun and to read with a lot of enthusiasm, including describing what’s going on with the images in picture books. Some adults are self-conscious or nervous, but she assures them that it’s okay to make mistakes, to stumble or to read slowly.  

Adults can record books for one to three children each time, and Bentley estimates the Library has mailed out 200 books over the past year.

The program has operated for years, but it used to be geared just for early readers. Now Bentley encourages parents of older children or teens to read the first chapter of a book, setting up a later discussion of the whole book. The recordings used to be on CDs, but now use QR codes, for access on smartphones or tablets.

The feedback from participants and recipients is wonderful.

“This is such a feel-good program,” Bentley said. “They love getting to talk to their kids about the books.”

In addition to parents, she’s helped grandparents, aunts and uncles. Older siblings can read to their younger brothers and sisters. Bentley just listens to the beginnings of the recordings to match them with the right books. In those snippets she hears a deep connection from reader to child.

“There’s so much love and joy in the first little bit of these recordings,” she said. One relative at home emailed that the child who received the recording kept playing it over and over in her bedroom.

On one visit to TC, a client said his daughter loved the “Elephant and Piggie” book series by Mo Willems. On that particular day, Bentley didn’t have that series available but did have another Mo Willems book to provide.

One client wrote Library staff about how meaningful the program has been to her. “The Read to Me program is a super fun and creative way to connect with kids of any age,” the client wrote. “Being away from my two kids right now is tough on all of us, and this has given us a little piece of happiness that has allowed us to bond over a book.”

Incarcerated Services Librarian Melody Kinnamon praises Bentley’s passion for the Read to Me program, for promoting a love of literacy and for building everyone’s reading skills.

“The parents love her,” Kinnamon said. “They see her having fun, being goofy, letting down her guard, and it encourages them to do the same with their children.”

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Library Broadening Access to Materials in Multiple Languages

As Johnson County becomes an increasingly diverse county, with a growing Hispanic population and vibrant Asian and European communities, Johnson County Library is responding with new materials.

For many years, the Library has maintained a collection for Spanish-speaking residents. At first the materials were dispersed throughout all 14 branches but that made each branch’s collection too small to promote and to grow. 

In recent years, Spanish-Language materials were consolidated at fewer branches. Now, that collection is expanding to include more items in Russian, Vietnamese, German and French. Six of the 14 branches are part of this important initiative: Central Resource Library, Blue Valley, Oak Park, De Soto, Gardner and the new Merriam Plaza branch. They were chosen based on circulation and demographic data and to make sure all quadrants of the county were included.

“We just started adding more languages to turn it into the World Languages collection this year,” said Rachel Fair, senior collection development clerk. “We knew we wanted to take what was originally a Spanish collection and turn it into a World Languages collection. We do get requests.” 

Fair came to Johnson County Library from the Kansas City Public Library system in 2017 and began working with the Spanish-language collection in 2018. She helped acquire titles mostly for children but also for adults.

Fair recalls that towards the end of 2019, she reviewed Library usage and realized that the requests for items in different languages were increasing. These came through “suggestions for purchase,” known as SFPs. The SFP form is on the jocolibrary.org website and anyone can fill out a request. The Library makes every effort to be responsive, if those items are available. 

Collection Development Manager Lacie Griffin says the Spanish Language project was supposed to be completed in 2020, but the pandemic put that on pause. The World Languages emphasis began in 2021, although Griffin noted it can be difficult to find materials to purchase. Availability is the first criteria, followed by patron interest.

The Library added a new vendor this year, Ingram, to gain access to more foreign-language works. The collection is starting off small but Fair is committed to this mission. 

“It has expanded into something I’m taking responsibility for,” she said. “I enjoy it. I’m learning so much. I think it’s exciting.”

Fair says some of the books are absolutely beautiful. The Spanish-language graphic novels are especially colorful and that’s one big area of expansion. A frequent request is for Spanish-language versions of Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. She also finds translations of Stephen King novels and a lot of classic literature in translation.

Through Ingram, she’s found titles in Vietnamese, French, German and Russian, and is seeking books in Korean. She hasn’t found any titles in Mandarin Chinese or Japanese yet, although she does get those requests. 

“I’ve been going through the different languages they have access to and I’m trying to fill in our collection with what they can give us,” Fair said.  “I’m selecting whatever titles we can get that fit with the adult and children’s demographics.” 

As the collection gets built out, Fair anticipates that the new Merriam Plaza Library, which replaced the Antioch branch, will have the largest selection. 

“At Antioch, it had a very large Spanish selection that moved pretty well,” she said. “We were given new shelf space to expand at Merriam.”

It’s all very new, but Fair is persistent. She said she and her colleagues will continue to monitor requests and usage to make this new part of the collection as useful and responsive as possible. They realize that, in a county where diversity and multiculturalism are valued and encouraged, Johnson County Library’s World Languages collection will play a vital role in providing that access and fulfilling that mission.

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Memory Lab’s First Year Surpassed All Expectations

The Johnson County Genealogical Society’s Memory Lab at Central Resource Library has truly enjoyed a memorable, remarkable first year of operation. Hundreds of patrons flocked to the lab, which allows people to digitize old family photos, home movies and other mementos for future generations.

“The demand totally overwhelmed us. We had no idea,” said Darlene Jerome, a Memory Lab coordinator and past president of the Johnson County Genealogical Society. “What’s been most gratifying is serving the need in Johnson County. They don’t have to send their memories off and hope they get them back.”

As a special 50th anniversary project, the Genealogical Society, in partnership with Johnson County Library, launched the Memory Lab in April 2023. It provides free access to scanners and other equipment for people to digitize, preserve, and organize old photos, slides, VHS and 8 mm movies and treasured documents onto flash drives to easily share with others. The Johnson County Memory Lab is a rare service; the only one nearby is at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence.

The equipment purchases were funded through a grant in partnership with the Johnson County Library Foundation. The Library provides the space, in a meeting room at Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th St. in Overland Park. The Society organizes the volunteers to staff the service, which is available Mondays through Wednesdays and Fridays. Appointments can be made through the Genealogical Society's website.

From the very beginning, they were flooded with people wanting to visit. All available slots were filled every two months. Now, as demand has eased slightly, appointments are made 30 days in advance and people watch closely for cancellations.

In its first nine months, through December 2023, the Memory Lab served 480 patrons over a total of 1,148 hours. Patrons scanned 278,557 documents over that time, plus 272 movie reels. In the first three months of 2024, the Memory Lab assisted 202 patrons in scanning 101,127 files and 92 movie reels.

“I have digitized slides and photos, and it’s awesome,” said Susan Wagner, a Genealogical Society member who was delighted to use the equipment. “It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for some time and just didn’t have the capability. The fact that they provided this free of charge is just great.”

Wagner estimates she scanned 1,000 slides, plus many pictures, over numerous visits. The slides were mostly taken by her father, who died when she was 15, so these are a cherished connection to him.  

Wagner’s sisters were 18 and 13 when she was born. Many of the slides revealed family life before she arrived. Through the slides, she learned for the first time that her paternal grandmother crocheted, a craft Wagner also enjoys.  

She also scanned old photos, some dating back to the late 1800s. Wagner appreciated how the scanner not only digitizes photos but also edits and enhances them. Wagner also likes to write, and she said these mementos have provided added inspiration for her stories.    

Many patrons have been able to preserve and enhance wedding photos, baby pictures, scrapbook pages or other historical documents that over time could fade or deteriorate. Digitizing documents to the cloud also protects them against the risk of fire or other damage. Some people have been thrilled to watch old home movies at the lab when they lacked that equipment at home.

Incoming Library Board Chair Kelly Kilgore was able to digitize some of her family's home videos from the 1980s and 1990s on a recent visit to the Memory Lab. Kilgore visited the Lab in preparation for a weekend visit from her parents, digitizing one video of a trip her parents took in the 80s and another of her maternal grandmother's celebration of life to share with them on their visit.

Jerome said this Memory Lab collaboration between the Genealogical Society and Johnson County Library has been really successful, and they are looking forward to another great year. Wagner agreed. She already loves visiting Johnson County Library branches and said Central is an ideal location for the Memory Lab.

“I think it was a very smart move on both parts,” she said, “to team up and make it available.”

More information about the equipment and its capabilities, available session types, and an orientation video are all available at JCGS »

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Summer Getaway

Wanna get away? We've got your passport to podcast pleasure. Join Charles, Gregg and Dave for beach-reads, summer audiobooks and the Library as a “third space.”

Segments:

  • 03:47—Beach-reads
  • 16:56—Summer-worthy audiobooks
  • 26:25—The Library as a third space

 

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Program Brings Bestselling Authors to Johnson County Library Patrons

Johnson County Library is delighted to introduce a new online program to its Library on Demand service. The organization has joined the Library Speakers Consortium, a national partnership that streams several author events each month to patrons of every member Library system.

See all the live and pre-recorded programs we offer via Library Speakers Consortium »

Library Speakers Consortium logo

“You get access to all these nationally-known writers,” said Gregg Winsor, regional librarian with Johnson County Library, who has watched some of the events. “All these other Libraries across the country who use this have the ability to pool resources together to get these bigger name authors that we normally wouldn’t get the chance to come and visit.”

The program is up and running and is available online. Patrons can register there for future live events. They can also watch numerous excellent and compelling archived interviews “on demand,” whenever it is convenient and fits their own schedule.

More than 250 Library systems across the country are part of this consortium, but Winsor said it appears that Johnson County Library is the only system in the Kansas City area to be part of it.  

Program Coordinator Helen Hokanson, who leads the Library's local writers programming, discovered this service and brought it to Library administrators’ attention in 2023. Winsor said it is a wonderful complement to all the book discussion groups hosted by Johnson County Library and in the community.

“Listening to an author talk about a popular book is, for us, a natural fit,” he said. “This is really looking to enhance what we have. Supplement, not substitute.”

Winsor noted that patrons got used to taking advantage of online programming during the pandemic. These new Zoom webinars are user-friendly and intuitive. Winsor has been highly impressed with the caliber of the conversations between the host and the author, delving deeply into characters, conflicts, themes and other significant elements of the books.

“The quality of the questions they ask is really quite high,” he said. “The person facilitating is quite knowledgeable and does a wonderful job.”

For live events, patrons can also submit questions ahead of time or can ask questions in the moment using the “chat” feature.

Winsor particularly enjoyed some recent events featuring Madeline Miller talking about “Song of Achilles” and “Circe,” and Ruth Ware discussing her psychological thrillers.

All genres are included, including fiction, non-fiction, biography, history, romance, poetry, business, even health and personal growth. Writers of young adult and children’s books are included. Winsor said some excellent children’s book authors, such as Kate DiCamillo, will be featured during the summer reading season, so parents should check out the schedule.

The consortium is dedicated to presenting a wide diversity of genres and authors, including women and people of color.

The closest member Library system appears to be Columbia, Missouri. Other member systems across the country include Detroit, Anaheim and Spokane. The Library Consortium notes that its impetus is to broaden the public’s connection to great books and writers.

“Right now, only the largest and best funded Library systems can regularly afford the speaking fees of top authors,” the consortium says on its website. “Our vision is to change that dynamic by pooling the resources of hundreds of Library systems to dramatically expand access to these programs for all patrons.”

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Patron Finds Library Spaces Soothing, Comforting

Kelly Farrar is a Community Support Specialist at Swope Health in Kansas City, serving as a caseworker for clients dealing with persistent mental health challenges. She assists adults in locating affordable housing, supports them during doctors’ appointments and provides other essential social service help.

But when she leaves the office to go pick up her 9-year-old daughter Clare from elementary school in De Soto, she finds the nearby Monticello branch of Johnson County Library to be a great space to relax, recharge and continue working in a beautiful setting.

“I’m in the Monticello branch once or twice a week,” she said. “I posted on Facebook, thanking them for the space. It’s very friendly. I wanted Library staff to know how much I appreciated it.”

The Monticello branch, located at 22435 W. 66th St. in Shawnee, opened in August 2018. It was the first new Johnson County Library branch built since 1994, to serve the county’s fast-growing western sector. The two-story, 30,500-square-foot building features floor-to-ceiling glass along three sides, filling the building with natural light. It was designed to be a 21st century Library, with vibrant color throughout and a diverse choice of cozy and cheerful seating areas.

Johnson County Library aims to provide attractive community spaces, and most branches have been updated in recent years with new seating and modern ergonomic furniture designed for comfort and tranquility.

That’s what’s been so appealing to Farrar. She had seen the Monticello branch from Shawnee Mission Parkway. She finally decided to stop in for a visit on the way to picking up her daughter earlier this school year.

Farrar has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). So when she entered the Library, she immediately found the décor and layout to be appealing.

“The fact that there’s multiple different seating arrangements,” she observed. “Not just the standard table and four chairs. When I walked in there and saw all these ADHD chairs I was so excited. I focus really well there too.”

Now, after she finishes with clients at her office and heads to De Soto, she frequently takes a break at Monticello. “I change where I sit every week,” she said. “I bring my work and I work on my clinical notes.”

Farrar has also started bringing Clare to Monticello after school, on their way home. “When my daughter is there with me at the Library I know she is safe and she will be occupied,” Farrar said.

Clare does her homework but also likes playing Roblox on the Library computers or just reading a book. She enjoys the “Captain Underpants” graphic novel series and is starting to read books featuring Percy Jackson.

One day after Clare’s school Halloween party, they stopped by the Library. Clare was still dressed as Link from the Legend of Zelda, and was delighted to find a Monticello staff member also dressed as Link that day. It was a happy coincidence and Clare and the staff member bonded over their costumes.

“She never says, ‘Can we go now?’” Farrar said, noting that her daughter enjoys hanging out at the branch as long as possible. “The staff have all been very friendly.”

Farrar enjoys her work and her Swope Health clients and feels gratified to provide vital services to people needing mental health support. During her commute, she has discovered that Johnson County Library’s relaxing Monticello branch is a haven to strengthen her own mental health, making her and Clare feel welcomed.

“It’s just a fun, safe place, where Clare and I can hang out,” Farrar said, “and be productive at the same time.”

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Merriam Plaza Library a New Jewel in Johnson County

Johnson County Library achieved another milestone in its seven-decade history with the March 20 opening of its newest branch, Merriam Plaza Library. This beautiful facility is co-located on a campus with the Merriam Community Center in the 6000 block of Slater Street.

The 15,000-square-foot branch replaced the much-loved but outdated Antioch Library, which had served Johnson County since the 1950s at the corner of Antioch Road and Shawnee Mission Parkway.

The new building is just a few blocks from the Antioch location and has Antioch’s same staff and collection. In fact, nearly 450 people, including Library-loving patrons and employees past and present, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder over about 1/3 mile on March 2 for a marvelous Slater Street Storybook Relay. They passed 58 items from Antioch to Merriam Plaza, the last of the Library collection to make the journey.

The Library and community center entrances face each other across a courtyard. The two facilities share a parking structure and a welcoming outdoor gathering space. Merriam leaders pitched the many benefits of a shared campus to Library officials in 2017, beginning a partnership to create this distinctive jewel and destination in the heart of the community.

At the March 20 grand opening, Merriam Mayor Bob Pape said patrons can nourish their minds at the Library and then work on their physical fitness at the community center right next door.

“It’s kind of a one-stop-shop for a total body makeover,” Pape said.

The energy-efficient building was designed by Dake Wells Architects, with many patron suggestions in mind, and constructed by Titan Built. Modern amenities include a convenient drive-thru; a cozy and colorful children’s reading area; vibrant public art; a large meeting room with updated technology to host Storytime and other events; two well-equipped study rooms; spacious windows allowing in lots of natural light; and an attractive green roof that preserves the roof’s lifespan while nurturing pollinators and native vegetation.

The Library also commemorates an important but little-known chapter in American racial justice history with the Webb Family Meeting Room. Long-time Merriam residents Alfonso and Mary Webb’s successful 1949 lawsuit to desegregate Merriam schools laid the legal foundation for the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education case five years later.

The Webbs had 10 children (five sons and five daughters) and lived in the community known as South Park, now part of the city of Merriam. Six of the children are still living. The Webb family’s courage and commitment to educational access resonated with Library officials, who wanted to pay homage to the family and share the story with future generations, through the room’s name and a gorgeous four-wall mural by local artist Emily Alvarez. Johnson County Library extends sincere gratitude to the Webb siblings for giving their time and energy to this project.

Victor Webb, son of Mary and Alfonso, addressed a large crowd at the March 20 grand-opening, while holding his 1-year-old grandson Jeffrey.

Webb recalled how the school district had built the new South Park Elementary School, open only to whites, while Black students had to attend the old and inferior Walker School. His parents helped rally the community to fight this injustice.

“It’s about what my mom and my dad did so many years ago,” Webb said. “They believed everybody had a right to a good education.”

Webb thanked the Library, the county and city for honoring his parents’ legacy with the beautiful meeting space. Gesturing to his grandson he said, “When I’m gone, he can walk in this room and he will know what we stood for and what we fought for.”

The Library project was completed on time and on budget. It cost about $13.7 million, funded through the Comprehensive Library Master Plan. Merriam residents did not see a city tax increase to pay for the project. The Library Board of Directors intends to sell the Antioch land and building, with proceeds from the sale funding future Library capital projects.

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Merriam Plaza is Now Open!

Located at 6120 Slater St. on a shared campus with the Merriam Community Center, our newest Library is now open! 
See what Merriam Plaza has to offer »