The De Soto Library, at 33145 W. 83rd St., is one of three small community branches on the outskirts of the Johnson County Library system, along with Edgerton and Spring Hill. These branches are seen as vital anchors and gathering spots, integral to the fabric and character of their close-knit towns.
For Lori Ross, a lifelong De Soto resident and system-wide materials handling clerk with Johnson County Library, the branch is an institution and a wonderful resource for northwest Johnson County, west of Shawnee and Lenexa.
“It’s a good staple of the community,” Ross said. “It’s very much a connection to the world.”
For Branch Manager Christian Madrigal, De Soto is special because it’s a small branch where many patrons know each other and get to know the staff, talking about favorite books and developing positive relationships.
Especially before the pandemic, many residents used the branch for access to the entire Johnson County Library collection. In 2019, the branch had 1,735 card holders and a collection of 15,373 materials. It had 30,000 visits that year and a circulation of 37,000 items.
“I think the community really utilized the Holds system there,” Madrigal said. “Lots of people dropped in to use computers for job searching and to stay connected. We still have two regulars who come in every day to get the newspaper and stay current.”
For years, the branch had an active book club whose members hope to resume meeting soon. It remains a popular hub for teens, families and retirees who check out materials and rely on the Library Wi-Fi.
The branch has a storied history, and Lori Ross has an especially meaningful connection to its origins. Her great-grandmother, Edna Ross, started the first De Soto lending library in the mid-1950s, with books on shelves in the family’s store, Ross Electric and Plumbing Shop, on the town’s main street. That lending library lasted until Johnson County Library started providing a weekly bookmobile stop in 1957. By 1966, the bookmobile was so popular that it was parked in town and manned by volunteers.
In 1967, the prominent Coker family built a 1,200-square-foot Library at a convenient downtown location, next to the Post Office, near an elementary school, and just down the street from the Ross family store. The original facility, which opened in October 1967, had 3,000 titles and was leased by Johnson County Library.
De Soto continued to grow in population. By the early 1980s, it was clear the community needed a larger Library. A 3,776-square-foot building was constructed on the same site and opened in June 1982. That’s the Library that Lori Ross visited almost daily as a schoolchild for books and to hang out with friends. This year marks its 40th anniversary.
Ross and her mother Kathy now run the De Soto Historical Society on the upper floor of the old Ross family store, a block from the Library. The proximity is wonderful; people often visit the Historical Society and then head to the Library just as it opens.
Madrigal is excited that Johnson County Library is embarking on a renewal study for its community branches and is holding Listening Sessions to get patron suggestions. Working with Clark & Enersen architects, staff is looking at how to maximize the building for programs, possibly using temporary partitions to create meeting spaces. Other requests are to enhance the Spanish language collection, offer MakerSpace software and expand Library hours.
Madrigal is optimistic about the future, with the renewal study serving as a roadmap. It will be, he says, “an opportunity to provide or extend Library services that can match or be taken into consideration with our staff and patron feedback.”