Libraries aren’t just for reading anymore.
The Johnson County Library is instead trying to become something much more: a mecca for arts, culture and entertainment for residents of all ages.
“I know that there’s sometimes a notion that libraries are buildings full of books and the reality is that not only are we buildings that are full of books, we’re also providing e-books, and providing art and culture experiences, providing high-quality art displays,” said Kasey Riley, director of communications for the Johnson County Library. “We’re very ,very in tune with what’s going on in the here and now in contemporary culture.”
To highlight art and culture, the library has began hosting Second Saturdays, a day once a month where fun, interactive activities take place at various locations throughout the library system.
“There’s a vibrancy here in the county. There are a lot of things that are happening, it’s just that they are often scattered throughout the month,” said Joseph Keehn, the event producer for the library, about the library’s decision to choose one day to offer many different activities and events.
These Second Saturdays began in June, and they drew more than 700 people to the events that first month.
Library patrons can take part in any number of various activities planned for the day, whether its live theatrical performances, film screenings, artist talks, story tellers or interactive art demonstrations and workshops.
“You can kind of make an afternoon out of it,” Keehn said.
Riley said the free activities are targeted to all ages and take place throughout the county’s library locations.
In July at the Central Resource Library, 9875 W 87th St. in Overland Park, library patrons learned how to make steampunk-inspired brass goggles. Steampunk is a type of art that mixes 19th-century style with science fiction, inspiring pieces often seen in movies such as “Hugo” and “Wild, Wild West.”
Artist Kat Kaufman demonstrated how to make the goggles from a mix of leather and metal as library patrons asked questions and watched the artist at work.
“With the workshops (it’s) helping people realize you can turn something that you would normally throw away into a piece of art or something useful,” she said.
Kaufman and fellow artist Bob Spangler also led a workshop in June where they taught children and adults how to make their own eye patch out of foam and brass brads.
“Several people made two or three different eye patches,” she said. “It was a lot of fun and people really seemed to enjoy it.”
Liberty resident Michael Luczak was one of the library visitors who stopped to admire Kaufman’s work as she created the goggles in July.
He said he enjoyed learning more about crafting and using your hands to create something new. He didn’t know about Second Saturdays before arriving at the library, but said it’s an event he hopes continues.
“If this is the direction that it goes, then that’s excellent,” he said.
While Luczak said he’s heard a lot about libraries losing their function, he thinks offering workshops and opportunities to learn things in person that can’t be learned online is one way libraries can remain a vibrant and useful part of the community.
“This is the new function of libraries,” he said.
Riley said the Johnson County Library plans to continue Second Saturdays throughout the year.
“I would hope that anyone who attends a program will walk away with a concrete understanding that the Johnson County Library has their finger on the pulse of not only what’s going on in this community in terms of art and culture, but what’s going on nationally in art and culture” she said.