The North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 6000 Wilson Ave., is a gathering place, a resource hub and a cornerstone of community in historic Northeast.
The Northeast Branch opened in 1914 in Northeast High School with 6,000 books. In 1986 the Northeast, East, and Blue Valley branches were combined into the North-East branch.
The library building at 6000 Wilson Road opened in 1989, and completed a $4.5 million renovation in 2021. The branch now contains approximately 65,000 items, including a wide variety of materials in Spanish and other languages often heard in the Northeast.
“We’re in a really good position, I feel like, because it seems like the pandemic highlighted the lack of resources in so many different ways, not just in one facet of how we’re not meeting our community’s needs – and I’m thinking about this in government, business, not just library – but specifically to libraries, what we’re finding is that our location has needed support in lots of other areas,” said Branch Manager Amanda Rodriguez.
Some of the ways the North-East Branch has improved its service since the libraries reopened their facilities in the summer of 2021 include adding an Assistant Branch Manager and other staff.
“We revised a position, we restructured it, to include a full-time Bilingual Services Associate to ensure that we’re, in some way, dedicating more resources to our community members whose first language is Spanish,” Rodriguez said.
They’re also in the final interview phases of hiring another full-time association position to begin at the end of February.
“I feel like this is a time of significant change for the North-East Branch that’s going to be more knowledgeable, more focused, more intentional in the work that we do to better serve our community members,” Rodriguez said. “Our community is so diverse, but I feel like in the past we’ve just kind of held things together, generally speaking, to create programs or to create whatever it is that we’re doing.”
Now, she feels like with a growing staff, they can bring more ideas and intentionally focus on individual groups that are in the Northeast community and figuring out how they can serve them more effectively.
“How can we better provide services and resources to really guarantee the cohesion that’s already existing in the Northeast?” Rodriguez asks. “Because community members are so welcoming, how can we highlight all the strengths that we have here?”
The library hosts Kids Cafe, a free meal program available four days a week, and continued to provide modified services during COVID-19 closures.
“We do offer Chromebooks and hotspots checkouts,” Rodriguez said. “We do offer those lending devices. We also have these power meters so you can check to see how much your devices are using, electricity wise. So if you wanted to monitor your finances or improve use, unplug things or something like that, then you would be able.”
Neighborhood groups benefit from the library’s renovated, state-of-the-art spaces and technology. The Indian Mound Neighborhood Association meets at the North-East Branch monthly on the third Monday. Kansas City Public Schools hosted a Community Chat during the planning phases of Blueprint 2030, the district’s master plan, at the Branch. In February, Jerusalem Farm will utilize the meeting space to host discussions around creating a Community Land Trust.
“I would say that there are study groups that use this space on a regular basis,” Rodriguez said. “I know that Global FC has come out and they’ve used space for some of their tutoring programs.”
RISE, the Kansas City Public Library’s Refugee & Immigrant Services & Empowerment, is located at the North-East Branch. Its mission is to connect immigrant populations with the quality services, resources and lifelong learning opportunities of the Library through outreach, education, and advocacy.
“I feel like the proximity of RISE has allowed us to translate materials into both English and Spanish that support the work that they’re doing, whether it’s creating promotional materials in Spanish through our Bilingual Associate’s work or that we’re better able to meet the needs, at least as far as informing our Spanish speaking population of the services we provide,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like RISE has been able to bring these classes that have traditionally been held at Central down to the Northeast location so that folks can – perhaps their bus trip to the classes is shorter than what has been in the past.”
The program offers English classes for Spanish speakers, Citizenship Interview Practice, and a Conversation Club focused on increasing fluency, vocabulary, grammar, and confidence. Other resources, like Money Smart Kansas City, offer information on several area resources for immigrants and refugees.
“I feel like finding information has become a collaborative effort, so if there’s a patron in the facility asking a specific question about how to get access to something more specific, then having RISE here enables us to communicate those needs that we see and find information or resources for that individual at a faster pace,” Rodriguez said.
The North-East Branch’s Messy Space breaks the mold on the traditional quiet, still library setting. The space is built for youth – from the easily cleaned surfaces to the perfect size chairs – to create freely and learn. Looking out over the Northeast, the space has floor to ceiling windows, access to a patio, and is the ideal space for youth programming, cooking classes, crafting and more.
“It’s allowed us to create without worrying about the mess that they create,” Rodriguez said. “They can focus on their painting and not worry about things like, ‘Oh, I’ve spilled paint on the ground.’”
Rodriguez said adding another space that’s specifically just for youth is another demonstration of their commitment to serving the neighborhood’s children.
“Every aspect of it has been kept with young people in mind,” Rodriguez said. “The tables, the chairs are all young people appropriately sized. Everything has been included in there, so if they need to wash their hands, they don’t have to run to the bathroom and get on the step stool. Everything’s there, made with them in mind so we don’t have to compete with meeting room access or a different group. They are prioritized, you’re always going to have a space to create.”
The dedicated space has created a greater number of opportunities for young people and their families to come together to create, just hang out or to get to know each other.
Upcoming events at the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library can be found at kclibrary.org/events-activities-calendar.
“We’re getting new energy and we’re getting people from the community – also people not from the community – on our team, further diversifying our staff here,” Rodriguez said. “I think these are things that are going to set us up for success.”
Assistant Branch Manager Sher Mirador began her new role in July 2022, but worked at the library as the Evening and Weekend Supervisor before that, beginning in March 2021. She’s lived in Historic Northeast for the past 18 years.
“I love that it is a safe place for our patrons to come who are maybe dealing with difficult environments outside of this building in this community,” Mirador said of the Branch.
Now that the library is close to running at full capacity, she’s most looking forward to providing programs for patrons that assist with financial literacy and other programming that fills a need for the neighborhood.
“Just being able to come in here and provide resources that will assist them in getting a leg up in life,” Mirador added. “I feel like a lot of people in this community don’t really know how to navigate through systems and attain these resources, and I don’t think that there’s enough education on financial literacy. I feel like sometimes maybe some people in this community also feel stuck because they don’t have that education piece or the resources to know what it means to be financially stable.”
Mirador has noticed in the last month, foot traffic at the North-East Branch has picked up immensely.
“We have more patrons coming in, utilizing the computers, we do have a tech person that comes in Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. who’s able to sit with people at the computer and assist them with technical needs,” Mirador said. “So they’ve been utilizing his services while he’s here.”
The library also provides job resource kits, which come with flash drives with resume templates on it.
“We do have a lot of patrons that are going through the application process, looking for a job, creating resumes, so the library has this job resource kit that we’ve put together that we’ve been able to hand off to patrons and utilize,” Mirador said.
The North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library means different things to different people, but there’s no doubt that the library is an integral part of the diverse Northeast neighborhoods.