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2024 Writers Conference

Buckle your seatbelts, writers! We’re trying something totally new this year! 2024's Writers Conference will be one day, Friday, November 15th, focused on deep learning. If you’ve been to our conference before you know it’s a come, learn, and leave situation. Not to worry . . . you can still do that. We’ll have plenty of craft lectures and book discussions for you. 

We’re excited to offer pre-conference lectures via our YouTube channel on “Social Media for Introverts” with Jenifer Boles, and “Beta Reader Matchups” with Jessica Conoley. You watch, do homework, and come to the conference ready to workshop. These lectures will be available soon.

Writers conference book discussion titles will include Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody and The Emotional Craft of Fiction: how to Write the Story Behind the Surface by Donald Maass.


Library’s Community Information Boards Are Windows to Invaluable Resources

Johnson County Library is committed to providing all sorts of resources to help patrons live their lives. That includes sharing information about vital non-profit agencies and programs.

To that end, each of the larger Library branches has a bulletin board filled with flyers on everything from Johnson County government and social services to volunteer opportunities to fun and enriching events. Items of interest from Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas are also shared.

Patrons may walk by those bulletin boards without giving them a second glance, but the postings are extremely useful. Much of the information is available in both English and Spanish.

Since 2017, Johnson County Library information specialist Dylan Reiter has been assigned the community information board task, first at Antioch and now at the new Merriam Plaza branch. 

“The main desire is to provide access to assistance resources,” Reiter said. “I’m happy to fill that role.”

Eleven of the 14 Johnson County Library branches have these community information boards, and many also have tables for additional brochures, including career and finance information. The materials are available at all but the neighborhood Libraries of De Soto, Spring Hill and Edgerton.

In the older branches, the bulletin boards are often close to the entrance. In newer branches, they are positioned close to the restrooms.

Each of the larger branches has a designated person like Reiter maintaining the materials and making sure they stay up to date. These staff members have a lot of continuity in those roles, are very dedicated, and take that responsibility seriously.

They have a set of rules and criteria to determine what gets posted, giving priority to resources and programs available free of charge.

When they have more materials than space available, they are guided by Huber’s Hierarchy of Needs, explored in the book “The Purpose Based Library,” by John Huber and Steven Potter.

The pyramid of needs gives top priority to safety and security, followed in order by other basic needs of health and nutrition, functional literacy and access, community engagement, and functional skills development. If there’s room, they can also include materials pertaining to creative expression, advance knowledge and philanthropy.

At Antioch, Reiter had ample space for the bulletin board plus a separate area which included lots of career and finance information. He is also on the Library’s career and finance team, so he realizes how impactful those materials can be. Those brochures frequently disappeared quickly, providing an indication of patron interest.

At Merriam Plaza, which just opened March 20, Reiter is still waiting for a table. So the bulletin board serves that information function currently. 

In addition to posting assistance materials on behalf of other Johnson County agencies, Reiter also frequently posts items from the Kansas Department for Children & Families, Salvation Army, United Way, and blood drive announcements for the American Red Cross.  Senior Computer Users of Kansas City (SenCom), which conducts computers classes for seniors, is also a popular handout. 

Flyers, often written in both English and Spanish, also provide information about utility assistance, early childhood programs, domestic violence crisis hotlines, summer vaccination clinics, cultural events, literacy services, District Court help, and ways to volunteer for Hospice, Hillcrest or as a reading mentor.

Library branches are an ideal place to disseminate this community information, Reiter said. They are welcoming places, unlike some government buildings that can be intimidating.

The bulletin boards are a great way to provide information when people may have sensitive family situations and may be hesitant to ask in person.

“So these boards are a way for us to passively provide access to that assistance,” Reiter observed, “while keeping everyone’s dignity intact.”


Save the Date for the 2024 Writers Conference

Buckle your seatbelts, writers! We’re trying something totally new this year! 2024's Writers Conference will be one day, Friday, November 15th, focused on deep learning. If you’ve been to our conference before you know it’s a come, learn, and leave situation. Not to worry . . . you can still do that. We’ll have plenty of craft lectures and book discussions for you. 

We’re excited to offer pre-conference lectures via our YouTube channel on “Social Media for Introverts” with Jenifer Boles, and “Beta Reader Matchups” with Jessica Conoley. You watch, do homework, and come to the conference ready to workshop. These lectures will be available soon.

Writers conference book discussion titles will include Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody and The Emotional Craft of Fiction: how to Write the Story Behind the Surface by Donald Maass.


Open Call for Submissions for Annual Publication Volume 7

Johnson County Library, a leading advocate for creative and expression and artistic innovation, is thrilled to announce an open call for submissions for the annual publication Volume 7. “Volume” is a literary arts notebook showcasing local art and writing. The main distribution channel is annual writers conference and other art and writing focused events. Writers and artists are invited to submit their original works for consideration.  

This year’s theme is Show Us Your Change. Through our diverse experiences, there is a common thread that binds us: the inevitability of change and the opportunity it presents for growth and renewal. Whether welcomed or resisted, change compels us to confront our fears, embrace the unknown, and emerge transformed. It is through our unique experiences that we uncover the depth of our resilience, the breadth of our adaptability, and the richness of our humanity. Show us what change means to you.   

Submission requirements: 
Poetry: 60 line limit 
Prose: 1000 word limit 
Artwork: minimum resolution 300 DPI 
Unpublished and unexhibited work only, please.   

Submission deadline is July 31, 2024. Please submit your work via our online submission portal
Selected works will be featured in Volume 7 and may be used for promotion of the publication. Future additional use may be requested. Artists and writers of selected works will receive an award of $200

A person with shoulder length silver hair and bangs smiles at the camera. They are wearing glasses and a colorful button down shirt.

Photo credit: Beth Grimm 

New Board Member Has Lifelong Love of Libraries and Books

Chrysalyn Huff is a successful businesswoman, a busy mother and grandmother, and is active in local civic affairs. She has also just been appointed to the Johnson County Library Board, bringing passion and energy to the role.

Her mother and an elementary school teacher instilled in her a profound appreciation for books and reading. Throughout her childhood and adult life, Huff has found Libraries to be havens for knowledge and inspiration.

“The Library for me has always been a safe place,” says Huff, who was born in Kansas City but grew up in many places as her family traveled for military and ministry work.

Her mother was a voracious reader and Huff inherited that enthusiasm. She struggled a bit in elementary school but a teacher praised her reading ability.

“That really built up my self-confidence,” Huff recalled. “It really empowered me in school. Books became a love language for me.”

Judy Blume’s books showed her all that girls could be. She also was captivated by history books and biographies about John F. Kennedy, Queen Latifah and other influential difference-makers. She reads about 30 books a year and recently finished Kristin Hannah’s best-selling novel “The Women,” about Army nurses during the Vietnam War.

Huff met her husband Jeffery at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo. They married 36 years ago and moved to Johnson County. They now live on a small farm near Lake Olathe, with chickens, a greenhouse and a large garden.

They have three grown children: Ryne, Joshua and Arrianne and three grandchildren. Huff is very involved in their lives and deeply proud of them.

She especially enjoys taking her grandchildren to Libraries and has been impressed with how each Johnson County branch has its own welcoming personality. She is familiar with the Corinth and Central Resource Libraries and looks forward to visiting other branches soon.

For many years, Huff had a national event planning business before she took a break in 2007 while her sons were active in high school and college sports. She started painting and refurbishing vintage second-hand furniture, which led to her creating Restoration Emporium in 2012, in the West Bottoms.

The one-of-a-kind home décor business was an instant sensation and even thrived during the pandemic, with a huge online presence. It’s now rebranded as RE, with a retail store in Zona Rosa. Joshua runs the day-to-day operation but Chrysalyn is still very involved.

As a businesswoman, Huff has been active for years in the Olathe Chamber of Commerce. She also graduated from Olathe and Lenexa civic leadership programs. She became friends with longtime Olathe Mayor Mike Copeland and other community officials, including Shirley Allenbrand, who took office as Johnson County District 6 commissioner in 2021.

Allenbrand urged Huff to consider a Library Board post, which was immediately appealing.

“My eyes lit up,” Huff recalled. “That was the most exciting thing anybody had ever asked me.” She was appointed by Commission Chair Mike Kelly after the two had a good conversation. She told him how books have been so instrumental in her life and in teaching her business fundamentals. 

Huff has attended one Library Board meeting and is already impressed. “I was blown away by how professional it is, how well run. The preparation for the meetings is amazing.”

She’s determined to help Johnson County Library maintain its stature as an outstanding Library system, providing unfettered access to information and free resources, to great programming and to beautifully-preserved spaces.

“I’m super excited to learn more about the digital services,” she said. “The political coffees, I’m excited about. There’s so much that they do. I am fascinated.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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 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.


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 »