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Kansas City Area Libraries Are Working To Get Anti-Racist Books Into The Hands Of Eager Readers

Kansas City Public Library issued a list of books, news articles and podcasts in the days after protests erupted over the killing of George Floyd.
Katie Stover
Kansas City Public Library issued a list of books, news articles and podcasts in the days after protests erupted over the killing of George Floyd.

Libraries on both sides of the state line are compiling lists of books to educate patrons about the issues being raised by Black Lives Matter protests.

Many Kansas City area residents are turning to local libraries to get educated on issues of race and social injustice as the metro, like the nation, continues to experience protests following the killing by Minneapolis Police of George Floyd.

Kansas City Public Library put out a statement earlier this month in support of the protests. And while the library’s branches remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, KCPL staffers began looking for different ways to educate the community on recent events, racism, and black history.

“As usual, the library is really good at offering a place to start for community members to learn about a subject and do a deeper dive,” said Kaite Stover, Director of Readers' Services at KCPL.

Stover decided the best way to make use of the library's resources was to make something beyond just a reading list. Instead, she compiled a comprehensive list of everything from history books, relevant podcasts and timely news articles.

She chose some of her personal favorites, including Carol Anderson’s White Rage, and the New York Times’ podcast based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting project, 1619.

“My goal was for it to be as accessible and useful and timely as Kansas City community members needed,” said Stover.

The list received nearly 5,000 shares on the library’s Facebook page and over 100 comments from readers. Stover says she’s sifting through dozens of readers' suggestions for new additions to the list.

“I think folks saw that as a place to start. It was posted at a time when everyone was online, looking for answers. It will help them make sense of the news right now, something they can pull into and research on their own,” said Stovers.

A library’s role in troubled times

Public libraries on the other side of the state line saw similar responses to their own race-related reading lists.

The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library says they’ve seen a positive response to their recentlycreated digital bookshelf that features a list of books relating to the Black Lives Matter Movement and civil rights movement.

Kim Woolery, the Arts and Communication Librarian at KCKPL, says that has allowed them to fill a need since only partial operations have resumed at their physical locations.

“We see it as our way of helping people find information that they may not be able to find on their own or may not know exactly where to look on their own,” said Woolery.

The original anti-racism reading list is now the number one post on the library’s blog.

On their digital checkout system, 17 of the top 20 most checked out titles are on subjects related to racism or black history. Every single copy of “How To Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi is currently checked out and the library is looking to order more.

Woolery says it's the role of the library to provide these resources to the community during these times.

“We have a unique position where we can reach all of the community and we can do it without having any cost to them,” said Woolery.

Woolery says the library is now working on fulfilling reader’s requests for more lists, like a new one that’s aimed at families and their children.

‘Bringing people together’ in Johnson County

Johnson County Library says it’s had a good response from the community to its reading lists online, but the majority of support has been thrown to the Race Project KC, a library initiative that aims to bring metro students together to learn about diverse voices in art and literature.

Angela Tucker with the Race Project KC says the program’s growth has been gradual since its creation five years ago, but nothing like the skyrocket in support it's seen in just the last few weeks.

“You see people across the country saying, ‘Hey, if you want to do something, donate, don't just say you want to do it, actually put money to the people that are doing the work,” she says.

Because of this, Tucker says the program has received nearly $5,000 in donations since the protests began nearly two weeks ago and dozens of requests from community members wanting to volunteer. She says she’s also hearing from more schools around the metro wanting to get involved in the fall when schools hopefully return to session following mass cancelations this spring due to the pandemic.

Tucker believes the uptick in support also comes from the public’s perception of public libraries as being place free from the politics and arguments that they may witness on cable news.

“We can just bring people together to learn history and to engage with one another,” said Tucker.

The program’s organizers are still figuring out exactly what they will do with the financial support, but know they will work on creating a volunteer program. Until that’s implemented, Tucker recommends the community look to digital resources like the ones that local public libraries are offering.

“We're really encouraging folks to read this book, take this audio tour, and look into ways in which you can bring light to your own mindset around these issues because that's what's really needed to create long term change,” said Tucker.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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