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Staff Pick: Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese

Today's Staff Pick comes to you from our librarian Alice, who gives four stars to Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese.

Witch trials are already a thing of the past in this historical novel set in Salem, Massachusetts during the lifetime of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter. Witch trials are over; but their memory lives on in Hawthorne’s nineteenth century, with tensions lingering amongst the old Salem families and Hawthorne himself bearing ancestral guilt over his own great-great-grandfather's role in sentencing accused women to death more than a century earlier.

But Hawthorne is not front and center here. He is upstaged by a new immigrant from Scotland, Isobel Gamble, who becomes his lover and eventual model for Hester Prynne, heroine of The Scarlet Letter. This is not Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story. It is Isobel’s story; and despite the fact that she possesses no roots in the town of Salem, Isobel's story dovetails interestingly with Salem history due to a condition called synesthesia which positions her and many of her Scots ancestors squarely within the domain of hereditary witches.

Readers may already be familiar with synesthesia, as many of us experience a blending of data from one sense with impressions rooted in another: associating letters and numbers with colors, for example, or “seeing” the shapes of scents and sounds. But even without this personal connection, readers interested in women’s history, New England history, the textile arts (as Isobel supports herself with fine embroidery), and/or historical witchcraft will be likely to enjoy this extensively researched and carefully plotted new release: perfect for reading any time of year, but especially during the time of Halloween! 

Kelly Sime

Kelly Sime

Meet the Presenter: Kelly Sime

Show of hands: how many of you have an author photo? How many have an author photo that you love?

If you’re like me, having your photo taken isn’t exactly your favorite thing. I can think of countless other things I’d rather do than have my picture taken. But here’s the thing: when you want to put your writing into the world, people will want to see YOU. You’ll need a photo if you want to publish work online, because most places ask for a short bio and a photo. You’ll need a photo if you want to present at conferences. And you’ll definitely need a photo when your book is published!

And you don’t want just any photo, either. A selfie might be cute, but does it really serve you as an author? Your photo tells people about who you are: it conveys tone, style, and genre.

Here’s where Kelly Sime comes in. She has more than 20 years of event and portrait photography experience, and she specializes in on-location occasions like weddings and non-profit fundraisers. Her style specialties are candid and photojournalistic images.

Kelly will be at the Writers Conference for two reasons: first, she’ll be walking around taking photos of the sessions, presenters, and attendees at the library. Second—and perhaps most importantly—she'll be taking author photos for any conference attendee who wants one. In just a few minutes, the two of you will work together to create an authentic portrayal of your personality. These photos are free to attendees and will be available online 2-4 weeks after the conference.

— written by Lisa Allen, adult services specialist


We're an Open Book

The Open Book is out today! 

What is the Open Book Newsletter? It provides updates on Library branches, upcoming events and programs, service highlights and how the Library is evolving to meet your needs.

Have you subscribed

In this issue you'll find information about author Brendan Kiely's program Reckoning with White Privilege, The Past is Prologue: Visual Biographies with artist Patti Streeper, a word from the Johnson County Library Foundation, and a story about our featured event, the Writers Conference!

Jessica Conoley

Jessica Conoley

Meet the Presenter: Jessica Conoley

Jessica Conoley has been on the faculty of our Writers Conference for years for a reason: attendees love her. They relate to her, respect her, and consistently tell us that her sessions are full of information, interesting, and engaging.

And that’s no surprise to anyone who’s spent any time with Jessica. She’s not only an accomplished writer and creative careers coach; she’s curious about others and genuinely interested in seeing people live their dream.

Jessica writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her fiction falls into the fantasy genre, where she creates dark and Ghibli-esque worlds with nods to her beloved 80s action films. Her non-fiction focuses on personal essays and career advice with a focus on mental wellbeing. Jessica also founded and leads The Creative’s Apprentice, where she provides step-by-step, easily implementable mindset and educational guidance so creatives can stop worrying about all of the “business stuff they’re supposed to do” and focus on the creative work they love to do.

Jessica was kind enough to participate in a little bit of Q&A so you can get to know her better before meeting her at the conference:

Why do you write? I write fiction to process the emotional/subconscious things I'm not ready to process in reality.  For example, the book I signed with my agent for is a fantasy prison escape novel.  A few years after I finished it I realized I was processing how I felt working in corporate America and my need to break free of a career path that was unhealthy for me. I think writing the book helped me find the bravery to leave that traditional 9-5 & start my own creative career. I write nonfiction to help other people. I have a knack for simplifying & de-scarying business and then teaching mentally healthy business practices to people. I find it very rewarding when my non-fiction writing empowers writers and other creatives.

Who do you read? Whose work sustains/inspires/challenges/soothes you?  I read a lot of SFF (science fiction/fantasy), Nnedi Okorafor, Naomi Novik, Katherine Addison, Becky Chambers. I also read a ton of business/behavioral science/marketing/energy type stuff. My go to books in the hardest year of my life were Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist & Caroline Myss's “Anatomy of the Spirit”.

How does being a business owner inform your own creative work? I see business as a creative medium in and of itself. My goal is to run a company where we find energy giving or energy neutral ways to grow our individual creative careers and help others. Anytime there's an energy draining task that we hate to do, (marketing is the white whale of course) my job is to explore and find a different way to do it that doesn't feel like a drag.

What excites you about what you're teaching at the Writers Conference? I love helping writers meet their writing career goals, but what surprised me was how many people were living their dream & still tormented with anxiety and stress.  It became my mission to help writers reach their career milestones AND enjoy living their dream in the process.  Historically, the mental health of writers hasn't been at the forefront of conference programming, but this year we had multiple organizations came to us super excited about the topic.  It gives me hope that we as an industry are ready to embrace a healthier mental way of going about our writing dreams.

What do you really want attendees to know about you? You can live your creative dreams and do it in a mentally healthy, sustainable way that can bring in money. It will take work, time, and investment in yourself. But you are worth it and you deserve to be happy and bring your writing to the world simultaneously.

You can keep up with Jessica by visiting her website (linked above) or on Instagram and Twitter at @thecreativesapp

—written by Lisa Allen, adult services specialist


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!

Teen Takeout Tuesday, Nov. 1, All day

Sign up for the Teen Takeout book and get a free new-release teen book each month! Every month features a different theme, and the book is yours to keep. Registration runs from 1st to the 15th of every month (until full) at

Intro to Sewing Tuesday, Nov. 1, 6 – 7:30 p.m.

If you have never used a sewing machine, or just want to brush up your skills, this is the perfect workshop to develop or refresh basic machine sewing knowledge. During this in-person event, participants will learn to sew a seam, a hem and a button hole using a modern sewing machine. Our sewing machines are available for use after the class session, and anytime the MakerSpace is open, or BYOM (Bring Your Own Machine) if you’d like to learn how to use it. Registration is required.

The Past is Prologue: Visual BiographiesFriday, Nov. 4, 7 – 8 p.m.

The Past is Prologue is a bimonthly program that highlights topics often left out, glossed over, or misrepresented in our history books. For our November topic, artist Patti Streeper will detail her artistic process when choosing subjects for her visual-biographies series.

And much more happening this week »


Library Lowdown Quiz Showdown Part II

Our tribute to game shows continues with Library Jeopardy and Wheel of Fiction! Whad'ya know about the Library? Join former Jeopardy auditionee, Austin, as he does such a great job hosting that even Alex Trebek would be proud. Charles and Dave battle in a head-to-head Library trivia tournament of titans! Then, we bring in in Collection Development Librarian Beth and Reader's Advisory Librarians Gregg and Helen. They spin the wheel, but will it be fortune or failure as they are given book descriptions from our catalog and they're asked to identify titles? Spoiler alert, we chose really hard ones! 

It's the Library Lowdown Quiz Showdown Part II! 

BTW, if you missed Part I where we play Bluff the Librarian and Library Password, whad'ya waiting for?!


Rose Crane Retires, Thankful for Library Career and Colleagues

In more than 25 years doing crucial materials handling jobs for Johnson County Library, Rose Crane has seen constant change but has thrived and always kept learning.  

Now it’s time for new adventures. Crane recently retired, feeling grateful for her colleagues and for a very fulfilling career. 

“I have enjoyed the people. I’ve worked with really great people,” Crane said in an interview. “Our Library, especially since COVID, is changing quite a bit and they are always looking for ways to be a better resource to the community.” 

Crane grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and frequented Kansas City’s old downtown Library as a child. She graduated from Northeast High and took classes at Penn Valley Community College before marrying and becoming a mom.  

Crane remembers reading a lot to her kids, who loved the Beatrix Potter books and the Frog and Toad series. She took her children to Johnson County’s Cedar Roe branch “because it had a great kids’ section.” 

When her youngest son was in middle school, Crane began working outside the home. Eventually she spotted a newspaper ad for a part-time courier/page position at Johnson County’s Central Resource Library. She applied and was hired in August 1996. 

She started out sorting materials but was so fast that the Library added processing/labeling duties. 

“It was active. I was learning a lot about the Library and the materials we had and how to prep them for the public,” she recalled. After a few years, she became a full-time Lead Processor.  

In the early 2000s, Library automation technology was changing fast and many processing and cataloguing tasks were outsourced or re-defined.  

Crane eventually was named Acquisitions and Processing Supervisor, overseeing the work flow from ordering to payments to receiving shipments to conferring with vendors. It’s a big job, involving nearly 150,000 items per year. 

While the Library staff was ever changing, Crane and a core group of coworkers bonded and became friends over the years. They included Jason Barnes, now Bibliographic Services Manager; Richard Baumgarten, Liz Schneeberg; Janet Woolsey, Mary Nicometo, Marie Lewis and the newest members, Alyssa Matzat and Dawn Brumbley.  

While Libraries nationwide deal with book-banning challenges, Crane says Johnson County Library has always had a philosophy of providing access.  

“This is what we stand for,” she said. “We don’t judge.” 

Crane and other materials-handling professionals were briefly furloughed when COVID struck but  they returned to work in May 2020. While Central was closed for renovations in 2021, they worked in a challenging warehouse environment but managed to maintain effective operations. 

“We kept reminding ourselves, we’re in this together. It’s all temporary,” Crane said. “I think that’s a mantra that we have even now, because there have been so many changes and everyone had to learn so many things.” 

She anticipates a busy retirement. Her granddaughters, ages 2-7, are a lot of fun. She will help with her church’s children’s ministry. And she plans to make her garden in Overland Park “a paradise.” 

For her co-workers she leaves words of encouragement. “Keep up the good work,” she said. “So long as you roll with it and have some patience and grace for one another, it’ll all work out.” 


Mary Silwance

Mary Silwance

Meet the Presenter: Mary Silwance

Mary Silwance is a poet, a former English teacher, and editorial team member for Kansas City Voices. She’s passionate about the natural world and uses her voice to educate people on climate change. Her environmental activism sometimes finds its way into her work; but so does womanhood, diversity (or the lack thereof), joy, pleasure and beauty. She explores ecology from an intersection of justice and spirituality in workshops and was a recent attendee of the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Conference.

Mary’s poem, The Mystery, won our 2018 Women’s Voices writing contest and her poems and essays have been published widely, both in print and online. You can also listen to Mary on several segments on the local radio station KKFI.

Mary is a returning faculty member, and we’re so excited for her to join our conference again this year! This year, she will be teaching a session titled “Point of View.” You can learn more about her and read past work at her website.


—written by Lisa Allen, adult services specialist