Throughout the year, Dick and Julie Conn take cider and doughnuts, ice cream bars, and popcorn to the librarians at the North Kansas City Public Library.
“It’s our way of saying thank you to them,” Julie said. “We know the librarians by name and they know us.”
The Conns live in Gladstone. They are among 13,713 library cardholders — most of whom don’t live in North Kansas City, where the population is 4,200 within the 4- 1/2 -square-mile city limits.
Although the library serves a five-county metro area, it is not part of a system. It is a free-standing library located across from North Kansas City High School and supported by a North Kansas City property tax levy.
“A hidden gem in the Northland” is how the Conns describe the library.
There are other libraries closer to them, but they’re loyal to the one in North Kansas City as longtime cardholders.
When Julie Conn was in her 40s, she said she spent every Saturday for six years — from 1982 to 1988 — studying at the library. That’s how long it took her to finish night classes for a bachelor’s degree.
They’ve been cardholders long enough for Dick to check out and listen to more than 2,000 audiobooks.
“It’s the personal attention that makes the library different,” Lauri Smith of Avondale said.
Smith started checking books out from the library when she was a student in the mid-1950s at Cooley Elementary School.
When visitors walk through the doors of the library, they are greeted by librarians at a large front desk — not a kiosk, but an old-fashioned circulation desk.
It’s part of what Julie Conn describes as the “warmth and charm” of the library.
Patrons still have library cards and still pay fines if books are overdue: a dime a day, maximum of a dollar — except this month.
“Every November we have Food for Fines,” NKC Public Library Director Vickie Lewis said. “For every nonperishable food item, we take a dollar off a fine.”
Proceeds are donated to a local emergency-assistance center and food pantry.
From card catalogues to computers, much has changed at the library since it opened in 1939.
Besides books, library shelves are filled with DVDs, compact discs, audiobooks, and reading material for all ages and interests — from graphic novels that look like comic books for young adult readers to large-print books for those with older eyes.
“We offer so much more than just books, computers and free Wi-Fi at our library,” Lewis said.
Whether trendy or traditional, patrons can find a program or service that suits them.
Do-it-yourself check-out is available, for example, but many patrons prefer interacting face-to-face with a librarian.
This spring the library parlayed a high-tech trend, makerspace, into old-fashioned fun. Also called creative literacy, makerspace brings people together in a public place for the purpose of creating something.
“Common Threads,” the library’s makerspace, brings people together to make something with needles, bobbins, thread, and fabric — sewing, in other words.
But these 12 machines aren’t your grandmother’s Singer, and Lisa Ronning isn’t your high school home economics teacher.
“There are no sewing police here,” Ronning told the attendees during a class in October. “You can do anything you want to. This is your apron.”
The machines have high-tech features such as icon buttons, speed control, stitch-style selection, and other automatic features.
Lauri Smith persuaded her longtime friend, Stephanie Dodd from Gladstone, to take the class with her.
“I haven’t sewn a thing since junior high,” Dodd said. “I don’t even sew buttons on.”
Machines are already threaded when participants arrive. The library supplies the fabric, patterns, pins, thread, instructor, and instructions. It’s all free and some say even easy eventually.
“Very empowering” is how Donna Wadley of North Kansas City described the way she felt about the class.
“If you’ve never been able to sew, you learn how to here,” Wadley said
Participants chose the fabric they liked then followed seven-step instructions for creating a short waist apron with two large pockets.
Earlier “Meet Your Machine” classes covered basic sewing, but the class isn’t a prerequisite.
With Ronning’s help and encouragement by classmates, first-time participants catch on quickly.
The Thursday class started at 6:30 p.m. and by 7:40 p.m., the first apron was finished — by one of the younger students. Several mothers brought their daughters with them.
Susan Taylor brought Esther, 8, with her because she aspires to grow up and be a fashion designer.
“I like that we can pick different colors and we can add things,” Esther said.
For Taylor, taking the sewing class was a way to “reconnect with something I enjoyed a long time ago.”
Grant funding made it possible to purchase 12 sewing machines and materials. The North Kansas City Rotary Club, for example, contributed $6,000 for the makerspace.
The Rotary promotes service projects internationally and locally and, because the club meets every Friday in the library’s public meeting room, club members wanted to do something to help the library.
Makerspace appealed to North Kansas City Rotary Club members as a way to support their community and help those who take the sewing classes acquire useful skills, said Russell Fries, the Rotary’s immediate past president.
Other community groups and businesses also are involved in the library. The Northland Art League, for example, judges a children’s drawing contest every summer.
The North Kansas City Kiwanis Club started the contest in 2005 for artists from 5 to 12 years old. Prizes are awarded in four age groups and all artwork is displayed in the children’s section of the library.
Entries have come from as far away as Smithville and Liberty, said Dick Hinderliter, past club president.
Although the club’s charter expired this year, Hinderliter said club members plan to continue the drawing contest and the children’s summer picnic in Macken Park, perhaps through another Kiwanis Club.
There’s no need to be a member of any club or organization to enjoy the ambiance and amenities of the library.
From time to time folks wander in and work on a jigsaw puzzle on a table by the circulation desk. It’s a random effort of puzzle enthusiasts who enjoy piecing puzzles together but don’t want to be tied to a schedule.
The Lego club is a bit more organized. It meets from 6 to 8 p.m. every third Thursday.
“For a place to hang out, there couldn’t be any better,” said Gus Leimkuhler, head librarian at North Kansas City High School for 33 years.
Leimkuhler, who retired in 1995, said he regularly meets with friends at the library to check out murder mysteries and visit with one another and staff.
Stuffy and still it’s not. The library is a lively learning center.
On Saturday mornings, children’s voices can be heard talking excitedly about pirates, mermaids, Dr. Seuss books, and other subjects they’re exploring during Storytime. Sometimes there’s singing, too.
Cheerful murals covering the walls of the children’s section let the young participants know that this is their special place.
During a recent Saturday Storytime, parents and children learned about dinosaurs from Tim Shaban of the Museum at Prairiefire, a natural history museum in Overland Park.
“Eighty million years ago, western Kansas was covered by a warm shallow sea,” Shaban told the audience.
He showed the kids a fossil tooth from that period along with a leg bone from a woolly mammoth and a foot bone from a dinosaur.
After the presentation, it was time for a craft and the kids made dinosaur masks, a story about dinosaurs was read aloud next, and Storytime hour ended with singing.
“We live a block away,” said Anastasia Geer, who brings her 5-year-old daughter, Selena, to Storytime Tuesday nights.
The Storytime hour, from 7 to 8 p.m., “helps get Selena ready for bed,” Geer said.
Geer said she started taking Selena to Storytime to give her experience interacting with other kids before she starts kindergarten.
Christine Kennish and her son Henry, 8, also live within walking distance of the library.
“This is our library,” Kennish said. “We come every week.”
While the library has many regulars the staff sees every week, there are also those occasional visitors who they see only once or twice a year for special events.
On Saturday, for example, a crowd is expected for the library’s Annual Veterans Day Celebration.
Started in 2014, the observance honoring veterans proved so popular that the library has continued to sponsor the event in a small park just north of the library.
Up next at North Kansas City Public Library
What: Veterans Day Celebration
When: 11 a.m., Nov. 4
Where: Memorial Park, 716 E. 23rd Ave.
Order of ceremonies
▪ Flag ceremony and the laying of a wreath by members of the North Kansas City Fire Department
▪ Welcome by Mayor Don Stielow
▪ ”Freedom Isn’t Free” by retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st class Twyla Smith
▪ Performance by the Brad Allen Trio
▪ Concluding remarks by NKC Police Chief Steven E. Beamer
▪ Refreshments served afterward at NKC Public Library, 2251 Howell Street.
There is no cost and the event is open to the public. For more information, call 816-221-3360 or visit www.nkcpl.org.