Liesl Christman sits at a conference table inside the Kansas City Public Library’s downtown branch, surrounded by stacks of books with snappy titles such as “Choke,” “All Bets Are Off” and “Winning It All.”
Christman, the library’s social media manager, has been using this arsenal to craft baseball-themed “book spine poetry” — provocative poems made by stacking books so that their titles read like verses — and then posting photos of them on Twitter. As the Royals have stormed through the postseason, many of the poems have gone viral, racking up hundreds of retweets and responses.
“I have 3,820 unviewed notifications,” a sleep-deprived Christman said Thursday as she looked at her phone, which has been buzzing and beeping nonstop since Oct. 20.
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After the Royals crushed the Blue Jays 14-2 in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, Christman and Kaite Stover, the library’s director of reader’s services, combed the Central Library’s catalog and shelves to come up with this poem: “Canada.” “Sorry You Lost.” “What Bluebirds Do.”
Christman snapped a photo on her phone, tagged the Blue Jays and the Toronto Public Library, and tweeted it. The Canadian library responded the next day with its own book spine poem: “Warning.” “Kansas City.” “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over.”
The Twitter battle continued through the series and attracted the attention of BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post and NPR. An mlb.com writer called the war “delightful” and “endearing,” then declared the winner “all of us who get to watch it unfold.”
Christman has granted numerous interviews and appeared live via Skype on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News network.
“Here in Kansas City,” she said in her CBC interview, “everybody loves the Royals and loves the library. When you bring the two together, it’s just magic.”
The poems have definitely had a magical effect on the library’s Twitter account (@KCLibrary), which has gained more than 2,000 followers this month. That number will likely continue to grow during the Royals-Mets World Series, because the Kansas City Public Library is trading polite poetry barbs with two New York libraries.
On Thursday, the morning after the Mets lost 7-1, the New York Public Library tweeted this warning: “It’s Not Over.” “Game Plan.” “New York City.” “The Blue.” “Fall From Glory.”
Twitter feuds can get notoriously nasty, but the libraries’ tweets manage to be both competitive and civil.
“We don’t want this to turn into a flame war,” Christman says.
The Kansas City library’s most controversial tweet so far is a reading recommendation directed at the Blue Jays with a photo of the book “The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning.”
Christman thought the tweet was almost too harsh, so she softened it with the hashtags #MaybeWeWentTooFar, #LoveYouToronto and #MayTheBestTeamWin. Some still found it offensive.
“I have high regards for public libraries & its people,” responded a Twitter user who goes by the name @YesLouisse. “Now it has changed.”
Others understood the humor: “I’m a Jays fan,” tweeted @mary_lynn_k, “but I think the library book war of words is hilarious.”
Although Christman handles the social media, the poems are a group effort. Steve Wieberg, public affairs writer (and a former sports writer for USA Today), found “The Heart Does Break” book with a Google search.
“I might have typed in Canadian grieving, Canadian sorrow — something like that,” Wieberg says.
Eli Paul, manager of the Missouri Valley Special Collections, came up with this poetic gem, which hit Twitter when the ALCS returned to Kansas City: “Oh Canada.” “Say Goodnight to the Boys in Blue.” “Say Hello.” “Kansas City Barbecue.”
Paul says writing the rhyme took “15 minutes, pure dumb luck and a good card catalog.”
Christman, who is 35 and has been the library’s social media director for two and a half years, says the book spine poetry campaign “is all about getting the word out to people we normally wouldn’t reach.”
It’s also about challenging the notion that libraries are dusty, quiet places where fun and creativity are discouraged.
Some think librarians are there to “shush people all the time,” says Kansas City youth services librarian Elena McVicar, who has used the recent #bookspinepoetry phenomenon to get students interested in reading and writing poems.
Recently McVicar encouraged first- and second-graders from Hope Leadership Academy to make book spine poems using children’s books. She used her cellphone to snap a photo of her favorite: “Fearless.” “Rain Reign.” The Frogs and Toads All Sang.” “I’m Big.”
The library has also inspired adults to try poetry.
A Twitter user with the handle @im4kuhawks tweeted this Royals-inspired poem to the library on Wednesday: “Beware Beware.” “New York City.” “Moose on the Loose.” “End of Story.”
The library also name-checked Mets and Royals players before Wednesday’s game: “Murphy Meets Paris.” “On the Plains.” “The Only Problem.” “The Curse of Cain.”
The curse must have worked, because the Mets lost two in a row. After Game 2, Christman tweeted this poem: “A Win-Win Proposition.” “Two Times the Fun.” “New York.” “Here We Come!”