The Mid-Continent Public Library’s fourth annual Legacy Luncheon Friday at Stoney Creek Hotel highlighted many themes, but one stood out as its clear focus: looking toward the future.
This includes $86 million in enhancement construction scheduled for all 31 branches and the addition of two new branches by 2022. In 2016, 62.3 percent of citizens voted to fund these improvements with an 8-cent property tax increase.
With remodeling already underway at the Blue Springs South and Excelsior Springs branches, the luncheon provided an opportunity for library staff and supporters to slow down and celebrate.
“To borrow a lyric from Tom Petty, now we’re ‘in the great wide open,’” library CEO Steven Potter said. “Does anyone else feel like we might break into song?”
Instead, the crowd broke into applause for attendees Emery Uhlig and Lisa Campbell, who both received awards for their service and commitment to the library.
Uhlig, a 15-year-old library regular, united 16 bestselling authors and illustrators this May for LitUp, a young adult literature festival in Independence. After seeing a need to increase local teens’ interest in reading, Uhlig took it upon herself. She planned for more than a year, even traveling to Washington, D.C., to visit the senior adviser to the Library of Congress. As part of Friday’s luncheon, Uhlig watched a video of her favorite authors congratulating and thanking her.
Library employee Lisa Campbell has served as a similarly innovative force. She’s played a key role in children’s programming and the leader behind the Reading Rocket, a mobile library unit for kids with limited access to literacy resources.
These award winners exemplified the larger message of responding to community needs, one of the main goals for the library. Going forward, renovations will stress digital tools, job literacy classes and business workshops. According to Potter, the point is for libraries not to isolate themselves.
After honoring local supporters, organizers welcomed Will Schwalbe, a New York Times bestselling author. Like those in attendance, Schwalbe reflected on how books and libraries have transformed his life, starting in childhood.
“I am who I am now thanks to ‘Harold in the Purple Crayon,’” Schwalbe said.
In fact, Schwalbe wrote about his childhood favorite book and other titles in “The End of Your Life Book Club,” about how he and his mother started a book club in the last two years of her life, reading together as she underwent chemotherapy.
Similarly, in the follow-up “Books for Living,” which he read from at the event, Schwalbe recalled how Charles Dickens’s “David Copperfield” helped him cope with the death of his best friend.
Along with these books, local libraries such as Mid-Continent have a strong pull for Schwalbe. During his mother’s cancer treatments, she fundraised to build a library in Afghanistan.
“Reading isn’t just a strike against narrowness, mind control and domination,” Schwalbe asserted as the event concluded. “It’s one of the world’s great joys.”