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Youth Services Specialist Stayed 38 Years. It was “Too Much Fun to Leave”

Dennis Ross always loved kids and reading, and in a 38-year career with Johnson County Library he found a way to spend nearly every day nurturing those passions.

When he was hired as a children’s specialist in 1984, he thought he might stay only a few years before finding a “real job” that was more lucrative. But he never left.

“I feel very fortunate to have landed in youth services in this Library system,” he said. “It was too much fun to leave. It was a tremendous place to work.”

Ross retires June 30 and looks back fondly over a lifetime of serving wonderful children and families.

“You watch kids grow up,” he said. “I have had people come in for programs with their children and say, ‘Remember me when I was a little kid and I used to come to your Storytime?’ That’s been a real joy.”

Ross grew up in Prairie Village and graduated from Shawnee Mission East High. He and his three siblings regularly checked out books from the Corinth branch.

He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1975 with a liberal arts degree. He was interested in early childhood development, so got a job with a toddler center affiliated with the university. After a few years, he became a teacher and director at a Topeka child care center.

He and his wife wanted to move to the Kansas City area, so when Ross saw a Johnson County Library posting for a children’s specialist, he applied and started his new job in January 1984. At the time, the Library had Parent-Child Learning Centers, offering preschool classroom experiences within the branches.

After Mona Carmack became Johnson County Librarian in 1988, she wanted more traditional children’s Library services, like Storytimes and programs for school aged children. Ross was assigned to Cedar Roe from 1988-1990, then went to Antioch, which at the time was the headquarters.

“It was so much fun to do storytimes,” Ross said. “Once we started doing it, we jumped into it full speed.”

He was a rare man in a female-dominated field but that never bothered him.

“I was always the only man in the room, but I got so used to it I didn’t hardly notice it,” Ross recalled. “I have felt extremely fortunate in my adult life to work with mostly women. I learned so much from them and they were always so nice.”

He was part of the team that opened the new Central branch in 1995 and has been based there ever since.

A few years ago, he was promoted to assistant branch manager, supervising both adult and youth specialists. His bosses praised his leadership and management skills.

Library technology has changed dramatically over the decades but the mission remains just as vital.

“Patrons still come for the same reason,” Ross said. “They want materials and information. They just have different ways to get it.”

In retirement, Ross and his wife don’t have big plans but look forward to traveling, reading, relaxing and taking care of their three dogs.

Ross says he’ll always enjoy visiting Central, but he knows he will miss seeing people on a daily basis—the people who made his work life so fulfilling.

“I have worked with people who are intelligent, dedicated, motivated, and creative” he said. “They really do care. We have such terrific staff.”

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Archiving Architecture

It’s another grand Throwback Thursday where we encourage you to time travel through Johnson County's history. JoCoHistory is a collaborative presentation of the history from the Johnson County Museum, Johnson County Library and many JoCoHistory partners. Explore historical photographs and documents about the people, places and organizations of Johnson County, Kansas, from the 19th century to the present.

Collection spotlight: Johnson County Museum Historic Preservation Survey

About this collection: Begun in 1991, the Historic Preservation Survey is a collection of photos documenting the architectural style and condition of more than 10,000 pre-1950 homes across Johnson County. The original photos are owned by the Johnson County Museum.

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Staff Pick: The Genius Under the Table

The Genius Under the Table is bleak but also strangely cozy at times.  It’s hopeful, heartbreaking, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and may stir up tender feelings for your own strange family.

Read more of our Librarian Hannah Jane's review »

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Penguin Encounter with the Kansas City Zoo

Visit the penguins of the Kansas City Zoo from the comfort of your home! Animal experts will walk us through a day in the life of the three different species of penguins that call the zoo home. Watch the animals eating, swimming, and living life. Come ready to ask your questions about these incredible swimming birds as we explore Oceans of Possibility this summer.

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Program Archive: Common Sense (Cents) Budgeting

Denise Dias from the K-State Extension Family and Consumer Services Office presents on Common Sense (Cents) Budgeting in this Career and Finance video from our archives. She covers all aspects of creating a spending plan including how to stretch a dollar, why setting goals for your income is important, how to spend money wisely and ways to focus on saving. 

Also, be sure to attend our upcoming events on budgeting at the Library!

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This Week at the Library

This week at the Library, you can join us at:

Library OnDemand Available anytime you like.

Your doorway into live and archived programs. Arts & Culture, Career & Finance, Community Matters, Writers and more!

Online Bilingual Storytime / Hora de cuentos bilingües en línea Monday, June 13, 10 – 10:30 a.m.

The whole family will enjoy this flexible Storytime. Hearing stories is a great way to spend time with your kids and help them foster a love of reading. Stories, songs, fingerplays and movement activities foster pre-reading skills. Fun for the whole family

Toda la familia disfrutará de esta especial hora de cuentos bilingües. Escucha historias con tus hijos y ayúdales a cultivar el amor por la lectura. Al contar cuentos, interpretar canciones, hacer juegos con los dedos y realizar actividades de movimiento fomentamos las habilidades previas a la lectura. ¡Diversión para toda la familia!

One-on-One Genealogy Help Via Zoom Tuesday, June 14, 9 a.m. – noon

Visit the Johnson County Genealogical Society at jcgsks.org to schedule an appointment. A volunteer will contact you by email to set up an in-person or a Zoom session link for you prior to the scheduled date.

Silencing Your Inner Critic Tuesday, June 14, 11 a.m. – noon

This workshop focuses on using positive self-talk and affirmations to help create a positive self-image. We also dig into how self-care is not selfish.

Special Feature Storytime: Celebrate Juneteenth Wednesday, June 15, 11 – 11:45 a.m.  

Celebrate Juneteenth with Newbery and Caldecott Honor author Carole Boston Weatherford and poet and illustrator Jeffery Boston Weatherford. The whole family will enjoy Juneteenth stories and spoken word poetry on African American heritage.

Juneteenth Walk and Read June 19 – June 30, All Day

Johnson County Library will be posting a Walk and Read in honor of Juneteenth at the Johnson County Square. The stories posted for this special event will be Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free by Alice Faye Duncan and Change Sings by Amanda Gorman.

And much more happening this week »

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Dividing Lines Tour Shares Vital KC History with the World

For several years, Johnson County Library has offered an audio driving app called the “Dividing Lines Tour.” It highlights the history of segregation in Kansas City and sheds light on the governmental policies and individual actions which decimated Black neighborhoods all over the United States.

The downloadable audio tour takes participants from Shawnee Mission East High in Johnson County to Kansas City’s urban core. Thousands of local students and residents have traveled that journey for a revealing visual history lesson.

Now, the Library is offering a virtual version that can be experienced by anyone online. It not only explains the past but illuminates the present.

It is the story of how residential segregation and the racial wealth gap didn’t just happen but resulted from real estate practices and discriminatory government policies, pioneered in Kansas City and Johnson County, and replicated throughout the United States.

“The story of our city is a mirror to the stories of every other major city,” said Johnson County Library Youth Services Manager Angel Tucker, who helped spearhead the Dividing Lines tour. “It helps us understand stark inequities and why our neighborhoods look the way they do.”

The narrative reveals the national influence of Kansas City real estate magnate J.C. Nichols, who championed racially restrictive housing covenants that excluded Blacks. The video explores block busting abuses, redlining loan maps, and heroic struggles for equality, through the eloquent voices of lawyer/activist Sidney Willens and neighborhood advocates Mamie Hughes and Margaret May. It shares student perspectives from both Shawnee Mission East and Central High in Kansas City.

This information often isn’t in history books and is a revelation for most people, Tucker said. “It reveals a history that connects to our present,” she said. “If we can all unpack this history, maybe other cities can as well.”

Johnson County Library first offered student bus tours for its Race Project KC program, explaining landmarks along the way. Church and community groups sought out the experience, leading the Library to create the audio driving app. Local History Librarian Amanda Wahlmeier and Civic Engagement Librarian Ashley Fick provided crucial research.

The Library partnered with Christopher Cook and Nathaniel Bozarth, longtime partners on social justice multimedia projects at Brainroot Light & Sound. Cook served as writer/producer and videographer. Bozarth was a writer/producer and also narrated.

The driving app was highly praised locally, but when the COVID shutdowns began in March 2020, it galvanized the Library to create an online video version.

“When the pandemic hit, we knew we were not going to be able to put students on buses,” Tucker recalled. “We went to Chris and Nathaniel and asked, can we create a virtual experience that captures this online?” That’s just what happened.

The virtual program consists of three 30-minute segments, and has already had several thousand views. It includes archival documents and news updates not in the original driving tour.

Cook and Bozarth said this ongoing collaboration with the Library has been hugely rewarding.

“With Nathaniel and I having such an interest in social justice story-telling, it felt like an artistic commission more than just a standard client,” Cook said. “We feel a lot of personal pride and creative ownership in it.”

Bozarth agreed. “For me as a creative and as someone engaged in anti-racism activities, the story of Kansas City is representative of stories like it all over the county,” he said. “Taking this local tour, presenting it in a way that can be consumed by people all over the country held enormous hope for me. It’s for a much larger audience, applicable anywhere.”

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Acclaimed Archives

It’s another grand Throwback Thursday where we encourage you to time travel through Johnson County's history. JoCoHistory is a collaborative presentation of the history from the Johnson County Museum, Johnson County Library and many JoCoHistory partners. Explore historical photographs and documents about the people, places and organizations of Johnson County, Kansas, from the 19th century to the present.

Collection spotlight: Johnson County Archives

About this collection: Largely images from annual reports produced by Johnson County staff over the first half of the twentieth century, most notably the County Agricultural Agent and the Home Demonstration Agent. Numerous activities of those two offices are depicted, including programs with area farmers, homemakers and 4-H clubs.

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June Podcast Episode – Oceans of Possibilities!

June – Oceans of Possibilities!
This kid-friendly family episode explores Summer Reading 2022 in the most fun way possible. We interviewed snow cone-loving Narwhals, a starfish who knows he’s a star, a euphoric crab who’s not crabby at all, a jellyfish who loves peanut butter and many more aquatic creatures to get book recommendations and hear about their favorite parts of summer reading. If you’re not careful, you might just learn something about these citizens of the sea. We hope you enjoy these aquatic antics!

Check out all of the book recommendations mentioned in this episode.