© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Guide To Kansas City's Summer Reading Programs And Virtual Library Events

Kansas City Library staffers wait for patrons at Swope Park as part of their Pop In at the Park program at area parks.
Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Public Library staffers wait for patrons at Swope Park as part of their Pop In at the Park program at area parks.

Faced with COVID-19, library branches limited hours and cut in-person events, but they’re still aiming to boost reading over the summer.

School’s out for summer. Many area pools may be closed, but summer reading programs are in full swing – just heavy on online programming due to the coronavirus.

Summer reading programs started in the 1890s to encourage kids to read during summer vacation. They've evolved over the years as a way to get people of all ages into the library over the summer.

“When the pandemic hit,” said Melanie Fuemmeler, elementary coordinating librarian at Johnson County Library. “We were moving full-force ahead with our traditional programming.”

But, like many other businesses and organizations during the coronavirus pandemic, library systems have had to pivot.

“Ultimately, we’ve had to consolidate programming that would happen in 14 individual branches to what we’re now thinking of as one virtual branch,” said Fuemmeler. “So we cut back a ton. That’s been an emotional thing to do.”

Libraries are starting to reopen across the metro, with limited services. At some locations, patrons will be able to browse and check out materials. Other libraries continue to offer curbside pickup or drive-up service.

For now, in-person programs and events are on hold through at least the fall.

“We’re hoping that we can provide a program that provides a sense of normalcy as part of their summer routine,” said Katie McDonald, youth services department manager for the Mid-Continent Public Library, “but we did have to change it up a bit to make sure it’s safe for all participants.”

Here’s what to expect from some of the area’s summer reading programs this year.

Look for digital programming on a variety of platforms

Library systems often map out programming about six months or more in advance.

So, preparing for this summer’s virtual activities, said Johnson County Library’s Melanie Fuemmeler, involved quickly doing intensive research about online platforms, from Instagram Live to Zoom.

And these platforms have their own set of challenges, she said, especially when working with presenters from around the country.

“You are only in control of your own technology,” she said. “Just because our technology is working, doesn’t mean that theirs is. And so we’ve really tried to schedule trial runs at least two weeks out.”

Kansas City Public Library, Mid-Continent Public Library, and Olathe Public Library are also tapping a range of platforms, including Discord, Facebook Live, YouTube, and Zoom.

For the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library, once you register for the summer reading program, you’ll have access to the online events for June and July.

Online book groups, storytime, performances, and more

Look for book clubs via Zoom, on-line sessions with storyteller Priscilla Howe, and STEAM activities.

The Johnson County Library also offers art classes with Young Rembrandts Kansas City, performances by kid rocker Jim “Mr. Stinky Feet” Cosgrove, as well as a summer writing contest.

Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library will be offering craft kits for patrons to pick up at the library, with a series of on-line videos on how to complete the craft, as well as storytelling, storytimes, and more.

Kansas City Public Library also offers online events, such as fandom yoga and cosplay videos, as well as a series called Make Do Tell, how-to activities from comics to STEAM on the library’s YouTube channel.

Also, look for library staffers to pop up at Kansas City parks through early August from 10 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays through Fridays, to sign up participants who receive a free book, log reading, and allow an opportunity to collect prizes.

Mid-Continent presents a range of activities on its MCPL360 Facebook page -- from a game show party via Zoom for teens to The Wires in concert to a virtual cave exploration.

Olathe Public Library offers performances by StoneLion Puppet Theatre Teen, a Roblox party for tweens via Discord, storytimes, and more.

Area libraries, such as the Kansas City Library, are encouraging reading through their summer reading programs.
Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Area libraries, such as the Kansas City Library, are encouraging reading through their summer reading programs.

Reading is encouraged, in any format

eBooks, eAudiobooks, eMagazines, and eNewspapers. And, of course, paperbacks and hardbacks – if you can check one out from your local branch.

Johnson County Library has a range of e-book suggestions for preschoolers, such as "Goodnight, Moon," through 3rd grade, like "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and up to 10th through 12th, such as "The Hate U Give."

Kansas City Public Library also offers reading ideas for a variety of age groups as well as a timely Black Lives Matters List for Young Readers, including "Hair Love."

Olathe Public Library features this year’s winners of the William Allen White Children’s Book Awards and provides a range of links to sources outside the library, including Audible Stories, free from audible.com while schools are closed, and Tumblebooks, with graphic novels, books in Spanish, and more, free through the end of August.

Prizes are still an option

Kids and teens can earn free books and other prizes – from earbuds to a Kindle – at the Mid-Continent Public Library through reading, attending virtual library programs, or taking part in educational activities at home.

“Mid-Continent Public Library is mailing book prizes to customers this year," said youth services department manager Katie McDonald. "We are having the best time packaging up books and sending them out to our community."

“We’re hoping that getting a book in the mail can bring the kids and teens in our community some joy right now.”

And there are special prizes available from the library’s partners: Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Symphony, and Science City.

If you log 10 hours of reading at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, kids, teens, and adults can earn a prize pack, plus an entry for a grand prize drawing.

"In the past, we've had different goals for kids versus adults," said Rachel Miller, the youth supervisor at the South branch of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library. "This year, we asked everybody to read 20 minutes a day, for a total of 10 hours over the course of the summer."

Kansas City Public Library will offer a prize for all ages, if you read five books, from sippy cups to light-up cups to the coveted pint glass.

In the past, Johnson County Library has offered books as prizes. But this year will be a little different when it comes to book distribution since the branches will offer limited access.

“We have 17 partnerships of community organizations,” said Melanie Fuemmeler. “So we will get books into their organizations and then as they serve their families and students, they will be able to offer them a free book.”

Kansas City, Kansas Public Library's Rachel Miller wants to remind the public that "the library is still here. We're still ready to serve you."

She added, "We've missed all of our patrons and we really can't wait to have them back when it's safe to do so. But we're going to try to make it as much fun and as educational as possible from afar."

Links to metro area libraries summer reading programs:

Johnson County Library

Kansas City Kansas Public Library

Kansas City Missouri Public Library

Mid-Continent Public Library

Olathe Public Library

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.