Kansas City has lots of great libraries, but these specialized collections offer something unique
While the Kansas City region is home to robust public library systems, it also boasts specialized libraries that focus on individual subjects. These libraries have extensive collections devoted to arts, natural history, science and storytelling, and also offer events, activities, and exhibits for readers and researchers alike.
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Kansas City is full of curious people, and it’s lucky enough to have the Kansas City Public Library, Mid-Continent Public Library, Johnson County Library, and more to fuel that curiosity.
But if you want to dive deep into a subject, there’s no better resource than a specialized library. At these particular establishments, the staff are well versed in their particular field, able to help both the expert researcher and those new to the subject.
While many of the libraries are free to visit, in most cases their resources do not circulate, meaning you can’t take the books or materials home. So if you plan to visit, schedule yourself enough time to peruse the materials in house.
Most also have special events and exhibits, so even if you aren’t a researcher, there’s something to see and to learn.
And if you’re a music lover, check out Classical KC’s feature on resources available in the music collections of local libraries.
Got your pencil and bookmarks handy? Time to take some notes!
Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library and Environmental Learning Center
A branch of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, the Mr. & Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library and Environmental Learning Center is located in Wyandotte County Lake Park. There are only two such public library environmental learning centers in the United States.
The Schlagle Library sits on a hill above Wyandotte County Lake, with a wrap-around porch to enjoy the view. It’s a partnership between KCKPL, USD 500, and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County Parks and Recreation Department.
It also hosts various programming related to nature and the environment, including weekly nature storytimes on Wednesday mornings, crafts, hikes, and events like guided Forest Bathing (Nov. 18).
Homeschool programming, summer camps, school field trips and workshops are also available. Annual family-friendly events include a butterfly festival in September, and the 22nd annual Eagle Days is Jan. 20-21, 2024.
The collection at the Schlagle Library focuses on nature, too, and includes publications related to Kansas natural history, including wildflowers, reptiles, butterflies, and bird lists for Wyandotte County. The reading area is decorated with taxidermied animals and nature-inspired art.
Staff not only help patrons, but also set out bird feeders to attract local species, and care for the library’s reptiles like Harriet the red-eared slider (a turtle) and Oreo the California kingsnake.
Two of the park trails connect with the library, so if you are heading out on a hike, check out a pair of binoculars for the day at the front desk.
Schlagle Library is open Monday-Friday and third Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Spencer Art Reference Library
On the second floor of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Bloch Building is the Spencer Art Reference Library. The reading room includes shelves of intriguing books, large tables, displays related to current exhibits in the museum, library catalog computers, and various periodicals from around the world, all enjoyed through daylight that filters from the frosted glass that panels the building.
Only about 3-4% of the collection is on display. Researchers can peruse over 270,000 publications in the Library Catalog. Staff are available to assist researchers and in-person visitors have full access to the collection while in the reading room.
Particular to the collection are the Artists Files, documenting Kansas City-area artists, and Missouri Remembers, concerning historic artists in Missouri’s history, created in honor of the bicentennial.
Spencer Art Reference Library shares information about setting up an account, searching the catalog and other information pertinent to the researcher. The library is a free resource, open to all Monday, Thursday, Friday and the first Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
If you want to check out the Museum Archives, plan to make an appointment. The archives are open Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Linda Hall Library
The Linda Hall Library is an independent science research library, just southeast of the Country Club Plaza. It is surrounded by the UMKC Volker Campus, but not affiliated with the university.
The library is open to the public and free to use. Just walk in and ask to sign up for a library card. (And some of the books are available for check out.)
Linda Hall Library began in 1946 with a bequest from Linda and Herbert Hall (no relation to the Halls of Hallmark) to create a library on their estate, though they didn’t specify what type. The trustees chose science as the focus and the library — which was originally in the Halls’ home — has amassed a collection that touches on every aspect of science, technology and engineering.
Linda Hall Library is situated in a gorgeous building, apparent from the grounds of the arboretum that surrounds it. The library offers both physical exhibits (Chained to the Sky: The Science of Birds, Past & Future opens Nov. 10) and digital exhibits, talks with leading experts, learning resources for students and teachers, and reference assistance.
Linda Hall also hosts the Kansas City Invention Convention, a competition and outreach program for grades 5-12 in April. Registration is open until January 2024 and the next virtual information session is Nov. 16.
Linda Hall Library is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and second Saturdays during special exhibitions. And you can get regular doses of the history of science with their Scientist of the Day blog.
Disclosure: The Linda Hall Library is a financial supporter of KCUR.
Clendening History of Medicine Library & Museum
Located deep in the bowels of the University of Kansas Medical Center is the Clendening History of Medicine Library & Museum, part of the Department of History and Philosophy.
It’s a bit hard to find, located on the first floor of Robinson Building on the Kansas City, Kansas, campus, but worth seeking out. The foyer includes medical artifacts from the KU Med archives, including a replica stone plinth inscribed with the Code of Hammurabi (one of two in the U.S., out of six total replicas), portraits of prominent doctors, and exhibits from the archives.
The current display, “Beyond Angels of Mercy: Florence Nightingale and the Evolution of the Nursing Uniform,” features traditional nurse outfits.
The reading room is a well appointed space with wood paneled book cabinets, parlor-like furniture, medical displays spaced around the room, and a portrait of Logan Clendening hung over the fireplace. The library was started in 1939 with funds from Dorothy Hixon Clendening, in honor of her father, and her husband Dr. Logan Clendening, who donated his collection on the history of medicine.
The collection now includes over 45,000 monographs. You can drop in if you just want to look around the foyer and reading room, but researchers are encouraged to make an appointment, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Park in the Olathe II visitors garage at Cambridge St & Olathe Blvd, Kansas City, KS 66103. The Library can validate parking.
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum
Not every state boasts a presidential library — there are only 13 in existence. The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum, in Independence, Missouri, was dedicated on July 6, 1957, and includes papers, books, artifacts, and exhibits relating to the 33rd president.
The collection includes millions of papers, both personal and government, images, recordings, books and more. Check out the digital collection and an array of videos related to Truman, his family, and his presidency.
The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 12-5 p.m., closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Admission is $12 with discounts for seniors, students, veterans and active members of the U.S. military, and free for members and children 12 years and younger.
If you are interested in doing research in the library’s reading room, make an appointment two business days in advance: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and closed all federal holidays.
The Story Center
Sharing stories is not just the role of libraries — it’s how we live our lives. Learn about the art of storytelling at The Story Center, part of the Mid-Continent Public Library system in Kansas City’s Northland.
The Story Center is housed in the former Woodneath homestead, a registered historic building that is part of the Woodneath Library Center. The center offers a variety of programming for aspiring raconteurs and writers, including a storyteller certificate program.
The Story Center also publishes a variety of titles as Woodneath Press, although they are not currently accepting submissions. Or consider self-publishing with the center’s Espresso Book Machine: the cost of the service is based on what you want printed and is available by appointment only.
Writers and readers alike may want to check out the tenth annual Local Authors Fair on Nov. 18, with a keynote from Theodore Wheeler, author of “Kings of Broken Things” and “The War Begins in Paris.”
The Story Center’s regular hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.