Read. Return. Repeat.

A ReadICT podcast
Eric Norris

Season 1, Episode 6: Literature from the Heartland

Eric Norris, State Librarian for Kansas, joins Sara to talk about the Kansas Notable Books project, the State Library of Kansas, and library services offered to all Kansans.

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription. Some errors may occur. If you find a transcription error, please contact us with any corrections and we will make those corrections as quickly as possible.


SARA MCNEIL, VOICEOVER: Hello and welcome to episode 6 of Read. Return. Repeat. : A ReadICT Podcast. I'm your host Sara McNeil, adult programming librarian for the Wichita Public Library. In today's episode, titled Literature from the Heartland, we will explore category 12, a Kansas notable book, with State Librarian of Kansas Eric Norris. Mr. Norris is the 17th State Librarian of Kansas and leads his team in providing services and resources that meet the needs of libraries and residents throughout the state. Later in the episode, we will hear original works by local writers read aloud by library staff. Wichita is one of the four communities to receive Short Édition short story dispensers through the generosity of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the project is meant to encourage folks to read wherever you are: in a coffee shop, at a doctor's office, and even at the library. Eric, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the show.

ERIC NORRIS: Thank you very much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

SARA: We really do appreciate you making the time to join us today. We'll just go ahead and get started. So can you tell our listeners about yourself and how you came to hold the position of State Librarian of Kansas?

ERIC: Yes. As you stated before, my name is Eric Norris. I've been in public libraries for getting close to 15 years now. I do consider the State Library as very much a public library as well. I got my start in Hays, Kansas at the Hays Public Library where I started as the adult department librarian and did that job for a number of years before I was able to make the move into the director position at the Hays Public Library which I held close -- for close to six years.

You know, when you just jump into librarianship in the medium-sized Kansas town and they kind of hand you the key and say go for it, you've got some experience already going into it but you're really not sure what you're... what you're walking into and it's kind of... you know, you take your -- everything you learned in your library science program and you try to apply it the best you can. And quite honestly, when I saw the... when I saw the advertisement that went out for that they were looking for a State Librarian, I really did some soul searching about what it means to serve in that capacity. I talked to as many people as I could and I put my name in the ring and was lucky enough to be selected for that.

SARA: Yeah, I... you know, until library school I really didn't even know that position even existed. I really didn't even understand the breadth that the State Library has touching all of the libraries in Kansas or state libraries in general. And so you know, that... it's almost like it seems that this position, you are kind of Oz, you know. We have all these amazing resources and you're the person manipulating those to disseminate those to all of our... our libraries in Kansas.

ERIC: It can be a little bit like that. Sometimes it's... this past year doesn't really count all that much because there's been a lot of time spent in the office but you know I really look forward to getting back out on the road, meeting librarians, walking into all sorts of different libraries across the state. But I was very much in the same way that before I got into librarianship I wasn't really aware of the State Library. And then when I became... as I was moving through my position as the adult department librarian, I became very aware of it and that's how it... that's how it landed on my radar. But it is one of those challenges that we face to where you are so big that you kind of blend into the background quite a bit.

SARA: Right. And your library is at the Capitol, correct?

ERIC: Yeah.

SARA: So you're kind of embedded in all of that state government there.

ERIC: Yep. If you've never been here, we are on the third floor of the State Capitol right in between the floors of the House and the Senate.

SARA: Okay, great. Yeah, I haven't ever made it up to Topeka. I know that's terrible. I've lived in Kansas over a decade. I need to make it up there sometime. And I've seen pictures online and it looks magnanimous and just really beautiful.

ERIC: Yes.

SARA: Well, so for today's episode you know in our challenge we have category 12 which is a Kansas notable book and this differs from previous challenges where we've had the luxury of having authors come to the state and give author talks. And so generally category 12 is an author that visits Kansas. Well, we had to kind of be creative this year because there weren't a lot of author visits and we tried to do the virtual author visit. That counts last year. And it worked but it was like we're really stretching here. You know, we were even counting Elton John who like performed or was set to perform but couldn't perform but he wrote a... you know, a biography. So our team, when we came up with the categories, we thought you know, Kansas Notable Books, this has been around for a while. This is... it's really important that our customers get in touch with those stories just to familiarize themselves with not only the authors that write from Kansas but then stories that showcase Kansas in and of itself. And so can you explain to our customers a little bit about your project, what it is and how it was created?

ERIC: Absolutely. The Kansas Notable Book project itself, it's a project of the Kansas Center for the Book which is a State Library program that we serve as the affiliate to the Library of Congress Center for the Book. So we're the state affiliate for the Library of Congress Center for the Book and... and we are using that platform to sort of highlight the state's literary heritage, fostering interest in books and reading and libraries. And one of those projects that was created very early in this was the Kansas Notable Book. It started in 2006 so this is our 16th year. Every year we select 15 books to highlight and it... you know, we try to feature quality titles with a wide public appeal either written by Kansans or about Kansas-related topics. And they have to be published within the previous year so that's really one... the three parameters that kind of fall in there. They're either by a Kansas author, they're about a Kansas topic, and they must be published within the last year. So in the past 16 years, that puts us at highlighting about 240 books and it's... it's quite a collection.

SARA: Yeah and that was really appealing for us because it's like our customers can choose between 240 different titles instead of just limiting it to "this author came to the state."

ERIC: Yeah. And something I'd like to add with that is that we do every year when we release the Kansas Notable Book list, we do make a grant available through federal funds that we receive for libraries to purchase the titles that are on that list. If you've already purchased the... if the library's already purchased that title, they can be reimbursed for the cost of that and also pick up titles they don't have in their collections so that way it helps us to... it helps us to do a general collection development, if you will, across the state of Kansas with... with the Kansas Notable Books and make them more available to Kansas citizens all across the state.

SARA: That's great because, you know, I've looked at the list and some of them are published by big bigger publishing houses, others look like they're self-published and so that kind of creates equity for all of those authors and the libraries to get their hands on those books especially. I know with our library in particular, you know, we go through vendors and so we are limited in what books we can purchase directly because they have to... we have to have those agreements already with those vendors unless that author donates that book to us.

ERIC: Absolutely, absolutely. And we start talks with a lot of... with a lot of smaller publishers and the independent booksellers across the state. Our reference librarian, Cindy Roupe, does a good job of communicating out what these titles are going to be to some of those smaller Kansas independent booksellers so they can... they can reach out and provide those books if libraries need that service. Because you're right, some of these titles are very small runs, some of them are self-published and they're just not available in a lot of... a lot of those large book genre formats.

SARA: Right and you want to, like we were saying, create that equity because it's such an honor to be chosen. But then if you can't get your book out, then yeah, it becomes moot at that point.

Well, that's really great so... well, we're to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll be talking about the process of submitting a book to the Kansas Notable Book committee and recommendations from our own State Librarian so stay tuned.

Commercial break

VOICE: The Wichita Public Library's Library of Things offers a variety of equipment customers can borrow for at-home use. We have STEAM to GO! kits for children 4th grade and older, radon detectors, telescopes, and wireless hotspots. Visit to learn more.

SARA: Welcome back to the show. We're here with State Librarian Eric Norris and we've been talking about the Kansas Notable Book project and how the Kansas Notable Book lists are compiled each year.

How can an author submit their work or someone recommend a book for consideration or are there any tips, you know? Do you have any advantages or can you give us any advice when it comes to that process?

ERIC: By going to our website, there's a link that lists out the information about the Kansas Notable Books but you can... an author can either self-submit by reaching out to the State Library staff and there is a... there is an email link on there that would go to the person who is rounding those up for us throughout the year. You can also send books into... send books into the State Library. And as I said, you can either self-nominate, you can submit them yourself. If you're a librarian out there or even I believe just regular Kansans who... who, you know, know of a book that was published last year that they really enjoy and falls within those other two parameters, they can... they can recommend that a book be considered for the... for the Kansas Notable Books. So there's an email address. I believe that we're working on an online form for submissions to make it a little bit easier. And one thing that does help us out with it is if you can -- especially some of the... some of the smaller titles, if you would send us a copy of the book, that way we can at least get started with the committee and... and start that selection process. And then another function that we do is... is books that are out there, we -- to round them up for the committee we actually use interlibrary loan a lot.

SARA: Yeah.

ERIC: And request those books for our committee members and... and so they can kind of start that process. But it's just a matter of reaching out throughout the year so we really try to keep this information, you know, we really try to talk about the notable books so that way if you've come across a book that you've really enjoyed and it fits those criteria, you can let us know about it.

SARA: So if we have any local authors or writers in the audience and they want to submit a book, what... what's the deadline for that? Because I know they're usually chosen in the summer time so do you have a hard and fast deadline for those authors?

ERIC: You know, we don't have a hard and fast deadline for it but the first quarter of the year is when the committee is really, really hitting it, really hitting it hard and trying to make those decisions. We will receive upwards of 150 to 200 title suggestions and so it's usually a committee of about eight to twelve I believe is... is what we try to hit every year for that. So it's a lot of titles to get through. I know they start, that selection committee kind of starts their process as soon as they start getting titles in but by April is when the selection committee tries to dwindle it down to 25 books. And then that recommendation of 25 books will hit my desk and then I have a... you know, I have a tall order of going through and selecting 15 out of that list and it's... it's fun. It's very exciting, I really enjoy it. And it's also a little heartbreaking. I've made the suggestion of why can't we change it to 20? Thankfully they've kept it within the parameters of 15 just... just for, you know, continuity and all that but... but it's... it's a fun process to go through. I make a lot of discoveries of titles that I've... that I've never... that I've never heard and it's... it's a fun process but it's daunting.

SARA: So you mentioned that there's a committee that chooses these books and then sends them on to you. How do you select those committee members? Are they constantly changing or evolving every year or do you have veterans that come back?

ERIC: A little bit of both. We've got some veterans who do a really good job but we reach out and try to get a wide... you know, a wide selection of professionals from librarians, teachers, academics, authors themselves who don't... obviously the authors won't have any books that are in consideration for that. But you know, we have people that have come back and served for several years and then a lot of times we're looking for volunteers. And if there is somebody out there that would like to... that's either librarian -- excuse me, a librarian or an educator, you know, reach out to us and let us know that you'd like to volunteer on the committee because we're always looking for volunteers.

SARA: Oh, very cool. Yeah, you can be part of history here.


ERIC: Absolutely. That's a great way to think about.

SARA: Right. Do you -- so is one... one assumption that all of these authors or librarians or folks are in Kansas or living in Kansas? Or do you even cast your net wider and ask people from surrounding states to participate in that committee?

ERIC: We keep it to... we keep it to Kansas residents. We figure that the way the parameter is set up with the Kansas Notable Books that we really like for this to be... to be a homegrown project and so we... we generally keep it to Kansans.

SARA: Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. Well, you mentioned that, you know, people can submit books. Either the author themself or someone can submit on their behalf. Are there any book recommendations from the Kansas Notable Book project past or present that you personally have enjoyed or would recommend to our listeners? We're always looking for recommendations to share with our listeners.

ERIC: You know, it is... I will go back and share the stories that in... I'm trying to think of... of the position I was in. I was... I was the... the adult department librarian in Hays and this book came out by Albert Goldbarth. He is a creative writing instructor there at WSU. And I really enjoyed his poetry for several years and he published a book in 2007 that was called The Kitchen Sink. It's new and selected poetry from I think '72 up through 2007. And I just absolutely loved it and reached out to the State Library and made that recommendation and I was thrilled when that book was selected in 2008 for... for a Kansas Notable Book. But... so that happens to be one of my personal favorites in the... in the collection. But there's just so many of them. And I actually went through just yesterday and wrote down some of the titles that I've enjoyed from the Kansas Notable Books. From that point forward I started kind of looking at it -- the last couple years obviously I've been looking out a little bit closer -- but I really enjoy... and granted this doesn't weigh into my selection of the title because that takes... that takes a little bit of skill and a little bit of art. But the things that I'm interested in when I go back and look through the collection itself are those stories that talk about, you know, Kansas as not just a place but as an idea and also sort of talks about, you know, where Kansans come up with their identity and what makes us, whether it's our geography or whether it's our beliefs. Those are the... those are the stories that I like. And I tend to... tend to, you know, focus in on a little bit of the non-fiction. I like the personal essays. You know, some of the titles that really stood out to me are Last Wild places of Kansas -- I've written down the date of when these were on the notable book list. Wild Places of Kansas in 2017 I really enjoyed. Headlights on the Prairie in 2018, an essay book that came out of Dodge City. Elevations by Max McCoy was just fantastic. The Pizza Hut Story going way back. I really enjoyed the history of that franchise. No Place Like Home from 2020 was a fantastic book about... about how Kansas addresses... addresses social issues. Life on the Ground in a Rectangular State, the Flyover People. Life on the Ground is the... the subtitle for that but I just absolutely love that. But it really, you know, dives into... it dives into how we reflect upon our identity from an outward focus. Kansas explorer's guide by Marci Penner. You know, there's... there's titles like that that I'm really drawn to that actually open up parts of Kansas to me as a lifelong Kansas and... and introduced me to parts of... parts of my home state that I wasn't aware of.

SARA: Definitely. We recently had Marci Penner do a virtual talk on that her second edition of that book and it was really fascinating all the places that her and her co-author had visited and showing those and just kind of gave us... inspired us to get out there and want to travel and see these, you know, structures that that are so fascinating that you don't often see just in your everyday life.

ERIC: Did you happen to catch her KLA talk when she talked about libraries across Kansas?

SARA: I did not.

ERIC: A few years ago. It was fantastic. She... she's a fantastic presenter but had highlighted, you know, public libraries that are some of her favorites to visit across the state. She's... she's incredible.

SARA: Yeah, I often find myself doing that on vacation visiting libraries. I know my family gets tired of it but I'm like oh, did you see that beautiful library?

ERIC: I hear you there, I hear you there.

SARA: Yeah, no, that's wonderful.

Well yeah, we've... we've had a couple of different authors talk about local places in town and we try and showcase authors as much as we can but your project in particular really does get Kansans, residents of Kansas out there reading about Kansas or incorporating those stories which is phenomenal because, you know, there is this movement of heritage and pride that you can see a resurgence of people wanting to find out their histories. I remember the first time I read Willa Cather's My Antonia -- not taking place in Kansas but the way that she described the plains in such a bitterly beautiful landscape, it just really like was tugging at my heartstrings. I was like, oh my gosh, I didn't know that, you know, a place that I sort of took for granted growing up in the plains could be so beautiful to someone else.

ERIC: Oh, absolutely. And we could... we could talk thunderstorms and sunsets and sunrises for hours for sure. I happen to be a big fan of my... myself.

SARA: Yeah. No, definitely. Well hey, we're going to take another quick break. When we come back, we'll be talking about the State Library of Kansas and how it offers support to Kansas libraries and other projects that the State Library offers to Kansas residents beyond the Kansas Notable Book project so stay with us.

Commercial break

VOICE: Have you heard about our short story dispensers? We have three in Wichita for you to enjoy: one at Reverie Roasters, Hunter Health Clinic, and Ablah Library at Wichita State. The dispensers print out a short story for you to enjoy and now you can submit your own for consideration in the collection. Find out more at our website,

VOICE: Tired of buying ink for your printer? Your public library has you covered. Upload your print jobs to the Library website from the comfort of your home or use the PrinterOn app with your mobile device. Find out more by visiting

SARA: Welcome back to the show. We're here with Eric Norris and we've been talking about the process of submitting books to the Kansas Notable Book committee and recommendations of the Kansas Notable Books from our own State Librarian. So obviously the State Library of Kansas, you had mentioned, receives funding from the federal government. Can you talk to us a little bit about how your programs or your resources facilitate support for libraries in Kansas and how that kind of trickles down?

ERIC: Absolutely. We actually receive funding from two... from two sources. The major... the major component of our budget comes from the state general fund. We are a governor's agency meaning that the State Librarian, my position, is... is appointed by the governor and serves at the will of the governor. And the State Library itself is one of the... one of the 85 or 90 governor's agencies that are out there. And that means that we secure... we secure the majority of our funding through the state general fund as the... as the governor puts it together and submits it to the legislature. Along with that though, we are supplemented by the Institute of Museums and Library Services. We receive an annual federal grant that's called the... collectively it's called the grants to states program and I think people -- librarians out there may be familiar with it as the Library Service and Technology Act, LSTA funds that come out.

And between those two budget sources, our main purpose is to provide services and support to state agencies, to librarians and educators across the state as well as to any... any Kansan out there who is looking for services. So part of -- looking for library services. So part of that what we do is we push out a lot of statewide databases and... and collection opportunities are out there that are generally just open to the public that somebody can just go to our website and... and dig through our online resources and have access to as well as providing e-book content, e-book and digital audio content. And some of those programs do require a verification so we offer what's called the State Library eCard. Any Kansan, Kansas resident is able to receive an eCard and you can either call us and we can get you set up or email us and we can get you set up. But I prefer to have people go to their public library and ask for the State Library eCard because they can issue you one there as well. And if you've never been to your public library, it's a... it's a great opportunity to to walk through the doors and... and be able to get set up and and hopefully you have a librarian that can step you through the resources that we have. And if not, we have staff that's that's ready to help you as well. So what it comes down to is that... that, you know, our budget is set up to serve the 2.9 million people of Kansas every year.

SARA: Yeah, we... we definitely encourage our customers when they come in and get their first card to get an eCard through the State Library of Kansas and all you need is your driver's license. And it's wonderful because, you know, we can only lease or purchase so many e-books with our material funds so we can off obviously refer folks to use cloudLibrary now or like you said those databases and a lot of the databases that we have here at the Library we get from the State Library of Kansas. There are very few that we actually purchase ourselves. We use a lot of the ones that you and your... your team secure for us.

ERIC: You know, that is fantastic to hear because, you know, we see the stats that come through. We... the more that those resources are being used, the more justification we have for being able to ask for the budget to pay for them every year. And so it's... it's wonderful to hear that. You see the stats that come in on it sometimes but what's even more rewarding is when you talk to somebody who... you know, I'll talk to a professor at a community college that says we set our curriculums up by using EBSCO databases. Or one of the resources that we recently re-offered -- because we used to offer it several years ago -- was Tumble Books. We set up a contract with TumbleBooks which is... it is stories and picture books and interactive games for pre-K through sixth grade students. And when we set up the contract here this year that just was released in 2021, we were able to include elementary schools as users for that so any... any teacher who obviously gets the okay from their administration can go in and use that resource in the classroom.

SARA: Definitely. I think especially in the wake of 2020 and everything that happened, places being shut down, those resources have really been utilized. You know, we started issuing e-cards over the phone or customers had regular full access cards, we would issue them eCards over the phone for the State Library of Kansas just to get folks connected with those resources if they couldn't come to the library or weren't able to. So it is so valuable to have to... to have those resources available to our customers.

ERIC: Absolutely. And... and part of our e-book collection, digital audio through... through cloudLibrary -- jeez, it slipped my mind there for a second -- is to help supplement, you know, those collections that are out there already. And like you said, you know, even a library the size of Wichita may not have the resources to put into everything that... that the people of Wichita need. You know, you can use the State Library to build that base first and then really fine-tune the collection if you're... you know, if you're needing to do that. But to be able to use the State Library's resources to... to build upon, that's... that's ultimately what our goal is. Because there are plenty of small libraries out there across Kansas who can't afford those resources. We have a lot of really small libraries that, you know, they work really hard to keep the doors open and so we just try to provide as many resources that we can push out to them that they can make available as well so that way they can keep their... you know, keep their local dollars focused in on where they need to be and still have... still have online collections or interlibrary loan, you know, for... for physical items that would be available for them. So that's ultimately the goal is to... is to help supplement communities' resources across the state.

SARA: Now, one thing I was just thinking about is in the state of Kansas we have regional offices for different library systems. Does the State Library have a relationship with those offices? I know when I worked in interlibrary loan briefly, we would send out our book sets to those regional offices and they would loan those out to other libraries. I know that you can also, like you mentioned, interlibrary loan books for your committee members. Does the State Library kind of coordinate those offices or how does that play into getting books to different parts of the state?

ERIC: So there are seven regional library systems across the state and the State Library works in coordination with them individually as well as a group. We... the state... I myself meet with the... with the regional directors monthly. We discuss things that are going on in each one of the systems. We talk about ways that we can create partnerships. Those regional systems are created by statutes and they're their own entity, they have their own board. They make their own decisions, their own -- they are their own organization and we just coordinate our efforts in a way to try to help them, you know, serve their member libraries as well. And then we do reach out... you know, we're kind of an umbrella that reaches out across the entire state to help, as we were kind of talking about, provide some of those services. But we work in coordination with those regional assistants to make sure that... that we have library services saturated across the state of Kansas so that way there's nobody that's going to be, you know, without services if they... if they need them or choose to come find them.

So I kind of lost track of the question there.

SARA: That's okay. I was just kind of -- I didn't know your connection with those regional offices and... and so I was curious like how much how much your office touched those, if it like you said you were just kind of coordinating them together but they sound... sounds like they work autonomously as well.

ERIC: Absolutely, absolutely. It's a spirit of cooperation that works between all the regional systems and the State Library.

SARA: That's fascinating. Yeah and Wichita just happens to be in the South Central Kansas library system so SCKLS [sickles] is where we... where we... that's our home base.

ERIC: Yep yep yep. And you brought up the idea of interlibrary loan. I know we're drifting away from notable books here a little bit.

SARA: It happens.

ERIC: I just... I get excited talking about library -- libraries and librarians and library issues. So yeah, the interlibrary loan program is set up through the Kansas library network and or Kansas Library Express, excuse me. The State Library supplements the... the basically the catalog to where interlibrary loan items are shared and tracked between each individual library. And then one of the regional systems oversees the Kansas Library Express and works to contract out to make sure that that courier system functions either three to five day stops depending on... depending on what what a library would want or need. So we helped supplement the... the software to... to make the exchanges possible and to track those titles and then we also do contribute into the costs to secure the... to secure the courier to make sure those books physically move across the state.

SARA: Which is really important for our listeners to understand the nuances of sending books out. Wichita being such a large library, we get lots of requests from small libraries for either book sets or individual books and we do use KLE, the Kansas Learning Express, to send those books out because we can get them out quick. We use a couple of different courier services but that one in particular, it seems to be the fastest and it's just because the relationships we have with those... those different libraries and also the courier that we're using. So it's a secure way for us to get our materials out to the greater community in Kansas.

ERIC: Absolutely. Absolutely.

SARA: Well, we've got one final question for you. So what are some of the other reading initiatives or projects that the State Library of Kansas has to offer? Obviously we've talked about Kansas Notable Books. We've talked about how you support libraries with their online databases but there are some other things that maybe our listeners aren't aware of that they could share with their family members or community members and I'd like for you to touch on those with us.

ERIC: One that... that comes to mind -- [CLEARS THROAT] -- excuse me. One that comes to mind first is another Kansas Center for the Book program that we put out. It's called Kansas Reads Preschoolers and every year there's a committee of librarians that are put that come together to select a pre-K title that we can... that we can push out and highlight in the month of November. We select a week that we highlight this title and... and that book is actually just selected as a pre-K title. I don't think that there's any... any real parameters that are put into the selection of that title, like it doesn't have to be about Kansas, it doesn't have to focus on state stuff. It just has to be a quality book. And we have a coordinator on staff, of one of our reference librarians, Nicole Hansen, that works with that... works with that selection committee as well to come up with a with a title that that we feel it would be a fun read for the for the pre-K students every year. And... and we're starting to work through some of the nuances and challenges. Last year we selected a title that was available online and we were not... let me backtrack just a second here because when we make that selection of that title, then any library that would like that book, we will purchase them a copy of that book and send it to them.

And then hopefully then they can set up programs during the month of November and share with us kind of... kind of story times of what they're doing. So going back to last year, we didn't have that option necessarily available because, you know, the courier was slowing down, people didn't know about sharing items, physical items were in question about how you would handle them. So we did select a title that was available online exclusively so that way we could just push this link out and make it available and we did open it up for the month of November and December for unlimited use at that point. You know, but as... as we're moving forward, we're really trying to pay more attention to a title that would be very inclusive. One that would, you know, reach across all sorts of... of children's ways that they see their families, the way that they see themselves, how they interact with their communities. We try to be as inclusive as we can. This year we... we selected the title unfortunately that the... the Spanish language runs were out of print and I first initially looked at the title, I thought to myself, you know, that's always in the back of my mind if we can find that title, if you find that title I did a quick search. I thought it was available and so I said perfect. Here, we can... we can run these out because in 2019 we actually had if you wanted to purchase an English and/or a Spanish language version of the book, you could do that as well so I was excited to do that this year. Unfortunately realized that selected a title that didn't have a Spanish language title in print. And so we've worked with the publisher, Scholastic, to come up with an agreement to... to film the book being read by a... by a children's librarian and be able to push that video out and... and also with a little bit of brainstorming we're looking for somebody to do the story in American Sign Language and record that one as well and push out in an effort to be more inclusive and we're... we're continuing with ways to do that.

But so Kansas Reads to Preschoolers is one of the... you know, one of the other projects that we've got going on out there as well as the e-books, TumbleBooks. BookFlix is another one for children, younger children, there's more story time and... and image-related stories that children can watch with their parents. We also offer a resource called NoveList where you can explore book reviews. There's... there's professional book reviews and I think actually readers can rate books as they go through as well. You get all the publishing information about all sorts of titles that you're looking for. It's very handy for, you know, collection development in a library setting if you don't have the time to flip through the pages every month of the Library Journal. But it also works if there are, you know, people out there that are looking for read-alikes or looking for other genre titles out there that haven't explored before. So the two main ones that we have that go through the Kansas Center for the Book right now are the notable book and the reads to preschoolers.

SARA: That's great. Yeah, we... we use NoveList a lot for reader's advisory here. As a library school student, I used it a lot when I had to make infographics or if I had to... yeah, build websites, anything. It's so great because like you said, it gives you read-alikes, title read-alikes, author read-alikes, you can compile lists. You know, you can snag those pictures. It's nice. I do like to use Goodreads but it is nice to go to an authoritative source like NoveList where the publishers are writing these reviews and it's not crowdsourced.

ERIC: Absolutely, that's... I do like the crowdsource. I do like... I do like hearing other people's opinions about books, you know, readers that I think I have... may have something in common with. But... but you're right, that authoritative source to where professional reviews are coming through and they're being weighed out against criteria that's already been set up there. It makes it... it makes it easier for, you know, more stable collection development to be... as a process to go through and to be able to justify why you're purchasing certain titles.

SARA: Definitely. And one project I wanted you to touch on that creates equity is your Talking Book project. I believe that that also falls under your umbrella. We used to have that facility here in Wichita eons ago before my time but I know now it's up at the State Library. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that project?

ERIC: Yeah. And sorry I didn't bring that up earlier. I think of the Talking Books as actually a division of the... of the State Library as one of our three services, one of our general free services that we that we provide. But the Kansas Talking Books is... is an affiliate for the National Library Service for the Blind and the Print Disabled which is also a Library of Congress affiliate as well. And so we are the state center, the Kansas Talking Books is the state affiliate for... for the NLS. And it does just that: it provides services and resources and materials to Kansans who are either blind or print disabled. They changed some of the wording at the federal level to be a little bit more inclusive because it was just the National Library Services for the Blind. However, a lot of the materials that they do provide, the specific playback devices that they have are set up for people with maybe mobility issues that are disabled in terms of you can't turn the page of a book very easily or maybe you are unable to... to manipulate an iPhone or maybe, you know, because of your situation you can't afford the iPhone to get some of these services or, you know, a smartphone. You can get signed up to the program and have those materials sent to your house directly for free.

SARA: That's wonderful. And it... so like you said, it's like a player almost like an... it's not an 8-track or a cassette player but it looks like it where you... you insert an actually pre-recorded book and then it plays it for you.

ERIC: Absolutely and it does. It looks like an old... it looks like how I remember the cassette recorders, the real ones that would kind of come through. The... you know, the the information, the book, the story, the newspaper article, the magazine that you're wanting shows up on... on a basically a flash drive but it is designed in a way that it's easy to grab, it's easy to manipulate. It's not really like a fine little flash drive, it's a larger physical object that's easier for some some folks to handle and manage and, you know, you... you slide it into the you slide it into the player and it... and it's... tracks where you're at. I mean, it does a lot of these utilitarian things that keep you on track for either the book you're reading or the newspaper article. And the service though is adapting. Within the last couple of years they've made some major changes in their in their service platforms and it really used to be that there would be, you know, the titles floating around out there at each one of the state affiliates to where, you know, maybe there would be some sci-fi book that... that you would be wanting but it would be housed in Georgia so they would pull them all out, these would be moved through the system and mailed to that particular patron here in Kansas. And it was, you know, one book per... you know, per flash drive. And I call them flash drives. Michael Lang, our director down at Talking Books is probably wincing because there's a better name for that than flash drive. It's not necessarily flash drive. But... but so it used to be the system that would go through the mail and they are changing it to a downloadable... downloadable type of service to where a Kansas patron would put a request in for a specific title and the staff at our Talking Book services which is located in the basement of the union in Emporia, they're able to get onto... you know, get into a closed database and download that particular title for a patron. So it is much quicker turnaround time. It actually makes the availability of the... of the national collection out there much more immediate and... and places were able to locally upload information as well. So if you're looking for information that may be in another part of the country and it's created there locally, you may have a harder time finding it, you know, through the old system but now it may be uploaded and easier to find. So and another good feature about that is instead of just one book per cartridge -- what's called cartridges --

SARA: We'll call them cartridges.

ERIC: You can now fit I think it's about 15 titles, 15 or 20 titles on a cartridge now so you're able to make -- as a patron of Talking Book services, you're able to, you know, get a lot more material in a way that's much easier to handle than dealing with 20 cartridges.

SARA: Right. Yeah, that's a lot more convenient than having to be mailed individual cartridges like you said or, you know, waiting on libraries from other states to send this information over to you.

ERIC: Absolutely. And if I... if I could make a plug for it too?

SARA: Yeah.

ERIC: They used to require a doctor's signature to say that you had a... had a visual disability, that you were blind. And now they are... Library of Congress is allowing educators and librarians to sign off for a patron to say that they're eligible for the service. So they've relaxed some of those requirements to become a patron. And if you or if -- you know, talking directly to your listeners -- if you or a family member is having difficulty seeing or difficulty with regular print, jump online, reach out to... reach out to our Talking Book services or go into your local library and ask questions about it and they'll get you directed to us because now you don't have to go to a doctor, you don't have to go to an eye specialist to... to get this diagnosis. You can just be deemed eligible for the service by either an educator or librarian.

SARA: That's wonderful, yeah. And for our listeners that are curious or interested in and acquiring these services for yourself or someone in your family, someone that you know, you know you can come into one of your local library branches and we can get online and go to the... the State Library of Kansas website and get that information for you, print off any forms we need to do. I'm not entirely sure who in the organization can approve that, it might be at the director level or it might be at the branch manager level depending on that relationship they have with that customer. But we can certainly get you that information and get that routed to the State Library of Kansas.

ERIC: Yep. And the Talking Books group can help anybody out with that as well.

SARA: Oh, for sure, for sure. Well, thank you so much Eric Norris for joining us today. This has been so fascinating and really enlightening sharing all of these resources and connections with our customers. We do appreciate everything that you all do for us and keeping us informed because like we had said earlier, this past year's been really hard to stay connected especially and finding reliable information so thank you again.

ERIC: Thank you so much for having me. This was a... this was an absolute pleasure and hopefully I didn't drift too far away from the notable books but like I said, I just I enjoy talking with librarians about library stuff so thank you very much.

SARA: Most definitely. It was just an appetizer. We had to enjoy our whole meal. Have a wonderful day.

ERIC: All right, perfect. Thank you.

SARA, VOICEOVER: Today we are joined by three librarians who will share noteworthy short stories from local writers who submitted their works to our Short Édition web page.

MR. BILL: This is Mr. Bill from the children's room and today I'll be reading Bruce the Obtuse Goose by Emily Lucille Millspaugh.

"Bruce the goose was quite obtuse. His brain was split pea small. And most of his friends at Fitzner's farm didn't care for him at all. Morton mouse in his swiss cheese house would say, 'That Bruce is a pain! He's so dumb I saw him once try to swim through heavy rain.'

Henrietta hen in the chicken pen agreed that Bruce was dense. She concluded as such after Bruce got stuck in a goat-sized hole in the fence.

Phyllis the filly thought Bruce was quite silly but not in a laughable way. She'd say with a snort, 'That goose couldn't find the sun on a cloudless day!

Now it happened one night when the moon was bright that a wolf found his way to the farm. He was wily and wooly sneaking up to the hen house reaching in with his long wolfy arm. Fitzner's farm was asleep, from the hens not a peep while this wolf began planning his dinner. But our Bruce was out walking and saw this wolf stalking and did something that made him a winner. He honked and he shouted and he ran all about, rousing his friends from their slumber. The wolf heard the din and ran far, far away with no hen as his dark type of hunger. Sure Bruce the goose was quite obtuse but he was also very brave. And now his friends on Fitzner's farm whose lives he helped to save, they call him Bruce the Courageous Goose and ''Bruce my bestest friend.'

They all respect their friend the goose and his noisy HONK! The end."

DANIEL PEWEWARDY: I'm Not Going to Send This by Sierra Powers, read by Daniel Pewewardy.

"My bestie,

I was terrified of the three-lane highways the first time you brought me here. Your car was dented and scratched to oblivion, the scars of living here. But this just meant that one more mark would merely enhance the natural pattern. Now I drive them like a native with the appropriate amount of disdain yet appreciation, peppered with profanities of probable parentage and propensity. I calmed down when we found the massive chicken perched on top of bright red brick. But peace came with a six pack of donuts in a spectrum of colors under the watchful bright green eyes of the tiger. We were good to go after that. Everything only a mildly inconvenient 10 to 20 away. This block has changed though since you left and now it's a strange triangle that has attracted more wonderful things. The truly dedicated can go soup, beer, pizza, beer, donut, and coffee then back home before the dark gets too dark.

We ate truffles by the pond, enjoying the geese as they lazily drifted by and running away from them when they demanded their share. Now I have to keep my son from ponying them up and my husband from devouring them all. I moved here. I became one of you, even though you had to leave which of course you did. You'd been here forever and all of you was already here. You needed to go create more bits of you to bring back because this town, I do so declare, is a collection of everyone's favorite things. There's space in the 10 to 20 to just keep tacking it on. Airplanes fly too low over the capital so to pretend that you either stay or you stay gone is nonsense.

I'm raising my family here, for now for until it's better for me to not. Maybe the time is never but I don't have to decide that. I can just watch and wait and maybe I'll keep watching the planes and maybe I'll be on one. That'd be harder to do if you came back though. So far, here has become a collection of my favorite things but there is one very specific gap left. So every time you mention nostalgia, I bite my tongue and simply say I have plenty of space if you give in. Of course, I do because the housing is cheap and like I said, I've been keeping a spot for you.

I promise it's not a sign of giving up, it's not taking the easy way out, it's slowly becoming a new place every day. I'll be able to show you it this time around. Perhaps we'll start under those tiger eyes, perhaps they'll be gone. Honestly, the eyes are more symbolic than essential. But you already know this and you don't need anyone telling you what to do.


Not your keeper, me."

NOELLE BARRICK: Hi, I'm Noelle Barrick. I'm in the adult programming department at the Wichita Public Library. This story is called At My Mother's Breast by Rae Wright.

"My mom didn't die of breast cancer. She was 50 when she felt the lump and she lived another 20 years or so after the mastectomy. Dad told me, a kid starting her second decade of life, that the lump was gone. When mom got out of the shower the first time, I saw the ragged scar going down one side of her torso and I cried because I didn't realize that a huge chunk of my mom would go with the lump. She didn't have to go through chemo because the cancer was gone but at what cost? There was pain and darkness and she had a young kid and a not-supportive husband and then she had to start living. If she was going to live, she wanted a comedy, not a weepy soap opera.

We lived a lower middle class life with few luxuries and I don't know how we didn't slide lower, but I assume it was mom who kept us afloat and had aspirations for a better life for me. And she hustled. She drove school buses, cooked in a nightclub that was owned by my dad's crony, and then in a misguided attempted entrepreneurship my dad bought a liquor store and we owned a business. Mom didn't have money for a fancy prosthesis. She did go to the fabric store where she bought a hunk of foam rubber. Dad customized his fans himself and mom would upholster them with cushions she sewed and stuffed with foam rubber sheets. They were kids of the depression and do-it-yourself was the way they always did it. Mom used the electric turkey carver she bought at deep discount from Kmart and started shaping the foam rubber into her new lefty. Success was achieved as she now had a serviceable new left bosom. Before her handiwork, people failed to notice the blank spot. It was something wrong that they failed to discern. It was the door handle that was three inches off the standard height, the line at the store that snaked the wrong way. It was the Southern Baptist preacher who forgot to say good morning before starting a church service. It was not completely right.

If you know materials, you know that most foam rubber is feather light. Mom's boob would rise up from her bra so she needed ballast for the errant tit. Personally, I would think of fishing weights or marbles but mom had a roll of quarters that she carried in her purse for emergencies. Don't ask me what kind of emergencies a roll of quarters would get you out of. I'm assuming that it was harder to spend than cash so that's why they were handy.

The time that we were at the dime store and three dollars short is an example of why we needed the roll of coins. Mom reached in her shirt and pulled out her counterfeit mammary gland. The 16-year-old -- mom harshly described him as a kid -- ringing up the purchases was a ginger and his blush was so bright that he was a vision of crimson and safety orange. I was probably just as brightly colored from embarrassment. It was the reaction of any embarrassed 13-year-old who felt the need for the earth to open and pull me away from what was happening. Mom had a really good laugh later on with my older sisters and her friends.

Mom sewed for me. I was involved in music and needed skirts for stage. She would pin patterns and material at the liquor store while she worked. Since she had the foam orb, she had a built-in pincushion. I doubt many noticed pins sticking out of her shirt in not a good way because no customers said anything. One customer did notice and said something. He was a tall, large, weathered biker. Mom said that he was the kind of customer who raised her hackles. He looked at the pins sticking straight out of her and seemingly into her bust. His comment was, 'Gee lady, you're one tough stick.' One more opportunity for mom to laugh. Freaking out a biker with such a delicious treat. Her response to the story is, 'I don't know what a tough stick is but I'll take it as a compliment.'

My mom really was a gentle, introverted person. She had many kids and was no stranger to human sexuality but she always carried herself as more of a June Cleaver than a 'real housewife of insert American city name here' but the counterfeit can brought out a devilishness in her that I had never witnessed. By the time dad had a decent job at an aircraft company, a real for-true prosthesis was affordable to her with the new insurance. She had a beautiful pink silicone knocker that matched the size of the other one on her chest. It was so expensive, $200, and it was like winning the lottery that she was able to get the brassieres that went with the knockers for the copay. With a delighted giggle, this 50-something woman would prompt her friends, her grown sons, her macho nephew from Texas to feel her rack to figure out which one was the imposter. It was a test most shirked. And with the Texas nephew it led to laughter as he and his masculinity had to immediately leave the vicinity.

Did my mom cover up the pain of losing a body part? On occasion I would find her crying and she would say that it was a story on the news or a song she heard that reminded her something sad. She never admitted to crying over the lobbed breast. I hope that I loved her enough to make up for some of that missing flesh."

SARA MCNEIL, VOICEOVER: Thank you for sharing those awesome short story submissions and thank you to the listeners of today's episode. Listeners can submit their own original works to be placed on our short story dispensers by visiting To participate in the ReadICT reading challenge, please visit And to find a full list of books mentioned in this episode, please visit As always, stay connected with other ReadICT participants on the ReadICT Challenge Facebook page. Find out what's trending near you, post book reviews, look for local and virtual events, and share book humor with like-minded folks.

You can follow this podcast through the Anchor app or stream episodes wherever you get your podcast. If you like what you heard today, be sure to leave us a 5-star review. This has been a production of the Wichita Public Library and a big thanks goes out to those staff members who helped produce this episode. I'm your host, Sara McNeil. Join us next time when we will be discussing category 5, an illustrated book, with local cartoonist, comic strip artist, writer, and orthodontist Grant Snider.

Books Mentioned in This Episode

© Wichita Public Library. All rights reserved.