Foundation Stories

In Memory of Bert Berkley

written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

There are very few leaders in the Kansas City area who have had such a positive influence on our community as Bert Berkley. We want to take a moment to tell you about how Bert and his family have impacted the Johnson County Library.

Please take a moment to read his obituary which lists the amazing accomplishments of one man. Bert passed away in mid-July at 101 years young.

A black and white vintage photo of Bert Berkley and Joan Berkely as young adults. She is sitting on his lap and they are both smiling.

Bert and his wife Joan, who died in 2012, were committed to many, many non-profits and outstanding organizations in both Kansas City and Johnson County. Joan was a volunteer leader three times for the Library – for her service on the Library Board, Friends Board, and the Foundation Board. Only four other people have completed this volunteer accomplishment – the Triple Crown.

In the 1990s, in the early days of the Johnson County Library Foundation, Joan and Bert were encouraging and asked their friends and peers to donate to the Library’s fundraising campaigns. It was one of the boosts the Foundation needed to start an endowment and to support library programming with private funds.

After Joan passed away, Bert continued her legacy by establishing the Joan Berkley Writer’s Fund at the Library Foundation. This fund has assisted local writers by offering programming to further their creativity, including the Library’s Writer’s Conference.  This annual gathering engages hundreds every year in person and online. It continues to be free and open to the public thanks to the generosity of the Berkley family and friends. In 2023, the Writer’s Conference created their annual journal and anthology to highlight Bert’s love of fly fishing by using “fishing” as an artistic prompt.

On behalf of everyone at the Johnson County Library – patrons, staff, volunteers, donors – we thank Joan and Bert, and the entire Berkley family, for their love of lifelong learning and public service. Your dedication to the Johnson County Library is one of the reasons our library system is one of the best in the country.

written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

Summer reading is the busiest time of the year for public libraries. For example, one day this past week at the Central Resource Library, we had story time, the County Manager’s Office hosting an information session on the 2025 budget, and Catholic Charities feeding children – all in the same noontime hour and space. It was great to see so many people, even if I had to dodge a couple of strollers.

Later in the afternoon, the American Red Cross hosted a blood drive, people were in the Genealogy section digitizing their family photos, and teens were using public computers. One high school student asked me to help him print information on getting a Kansas driver’s license. **Jackson — good luck on the driving test. My fingers are crossed for you.

Screenshot of a post from @candicemillard on Instagram with a photo of the Quiet Reading Room in a library. Caption reads: "In Hutchinson, KS, today and of course found the perfect place to work at the public library. Lots of kids in the children’s section, happily picking out books. Outside they’re offering free lunches for kids all summer long. Tell me libraries don’t matter."

Public libraries are our community. They provide access to information and resources that people need and want. In short, they are amazing. Of course, I’m just a librarian and not always eloquent with my words. If you don’t believe me, how about this social media post from the wonderful author Candice Millard.

“Tell me libraries don’t matter.” Boy, that sums up my feelings, Candice.

Occasionally, someone will say to me, “Shelley, people don’t use libraries anymore. Not like when we were kids.”

Umm, what? Many people use public libraries, both in person and online. Johnson County Library had over 1.7 million physical visits last year. That’s more people than saw a Chiefs game at Arrowhead in the 2023-2024 Superbowl season.

Over 8.3 million ebooks and eaudiobooks were checked out online from Johnson County Library in 2023. Yes, you could buy a book from Amazon, but why are you giving Jeff Bezos your hard-earned money? It’s the exact same book. In fact, by using the Libby app, you get the book via Amazon.

If you don’t know that libraries matter and are very popular, you are missing out. Come by this summer and see everything we have to offer. I bet you will be pleasantly surprised.

**But do be careful dodging the strollers around story time. Some moms and dads are moving pretty fast.

written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

If you are like me, I spend more time in the summer with a good book in hand. Be that at the pool, in my backyard, or on vacation; I’m always reading in the summer. Adults should embrace summer reading just like when we were kids. Maybe we should even celebrate by ordering a pizza for every 5 books you read? Just a thought. So, place a pause on Netflix and check out my summer book recommendations.

Have a terrific summer and enjoy reading!

Fiction – The Women by Kristin Hannah

I believed nothing would be as great as Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale”. I just didn’t think she could outdo herself. Then came the book, “The Women”.  Vietnam War story of Frankie who enlists in the Army as a nurse to serve her country and please her father. This is an epic tale of her journey that tells the story of women’s roles in the war – during and after. A book I will never forget.

Non-Fiction – Burn Book: A Tech Love Story by Kara Swisher

My current journalist crush is on Kara Swisher. I regularly listen to her podcast “Pivot” on Vox Media, where she is smart, well-connected, and sassy. On the podcast she trades barbs and banter Scott Galloway (Prof G — NYU) for a humorous take on the daily news through the lens of tech. Swisher has creditability within Silicon Valley to get access and insider scoop. “Burn Book: A Tech Love Story” is part personal memoir, part 2000s-tech memoir. New stories and insights are shared; many funny stories about the tech-bro leaders.

Fiction – Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era by Laurence Learner

If you have not watched FX’s “Capote vs. The Swans” as part of the Ryan Murphy FEUD series, get to Hulu immediately. This show is captivating, and the casting is magnificent. There is only one thing better than the show – the book “Capote’s Women” by Laurence Learner. Many more stories and unique characters from Capote’s world in Manhattan.

After Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, Capote had writer’s block and an amazing social life with the rich and famous of New York. Relationships were damaged when he disclosed their personal secrets as thinly veiled fiction.

written by Steph Neu, Event Coordinator of the Johnson County Library Foundation

Fantabulistic is the word Foundation board member and Library Lets Loose DJ Stann Tate uses to describe our annual signature event. Now in its 9th year, Library Lets Loose is our one-night-only opportunity to “let loose” for an evening at the Johnson County Library. This includes enjoying local food and cocktails, interactive experiences, raffle drawings, and music and dancing.

Tray of colorful macarons at Library Lets Loose

This year takes on a new theme to weave through the night: Library Lets Loose – Top Secret: A Night of Espionage. What do spies need? Information of course. No better place to access information than a party at the Library. Just know you may need to take on a new identity, ask a lot of questions, and learn the secrets to access important information. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, will result in fun and rewards.

When asked what he’s looking forward to this year, Stann replied “I’m looking forward to seeing newbies who never thought a library party could be so hip, cool, and fun! I’m also looking forward to seeing what people wear for the spy-themed event.”

Tate added, “This event is important because it opens eyes to many of resources that our amazing libraries offer to the community. Our libraries are more than books, they are a foundational part of our community where people can meet, build, create, and dream through our diverse resources.”

Other event committee members expressed similar excitement. Words used to describe Library Lets Loose included: essential, community, celebration, and generosity. As this event is the largest fundraiser for the Library Foundation each year, every dollar donated makes a difference.

This event is the perfect opportunity for date night, book clubs, girls’ night out, or a solo guest to see the library in a new light. Library Lets Loose is a chance for people who love the library to come together and show their support for this valuable Johnson County agency.

Smiling attendees at Library Lets Loose

Funds raised enhance the Library’s programs, services, and lifelong learning resources. Honorary Hosts Anne and Bill Blessing shared their excitement for this year’s event using the word FUNraiser. The Blessings added their enthusiasm for supporting digital resources this year, like Libby and Brainfuse.

Ebooks and EAudiobooks are accessed on Libby like never before. In 2019, Johnson County Library cardholders downloaded over 956,000 digital materials. Last year, it was over 1,804,000. This year we are on pace to hit over 2,000,000.

Don’t miss it! Join us on Saturday, September 21, 6:30-10 pm at the Central Resource Library. What will your word be to describe this year’s event?

written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

The Johnson County Library Foundation makes a donation every year to the Johnson County Library. We like to call this the “Big Check” gift. This year the Foundation is able to donate $125,536. This will go to the purchasing of physical books for all of Johnson County Library’s 14 branch libraries.

The Foundation was founded in 1996 with the idea that we would support programming, the library collection, and build an endowment. We are very lucky that leaders from the 90s thought about the future.

In practical terms, what does this donation mean?

Good question, reader – it means about 5,000 books are being added to the collection, thanks to the Library Foundation. These materials will be a mix of children, teen and adult books, DVDs, CDs, and other printed material.

Great! Where did the money come from?

From the Johnson County Library Foundation’s endowment funds which are held at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. Over the past 20 years, donors have been giving to the Foundation and money has been saved. Some have been $20 donations all the way to planned gifts from a donor’s estate after they pass away. All the money together results in over $4 million in our accounts. For example, this year one person’s estate donated over $80,000 to the Library Foundation endowment. Truly a gift that will last forever.

What is an endowment?

An endowment is like a savings account where we don’t touch the principle or the invested dollars. Therefore, if you make a donation to the endowment, it stays there forever. We spend a portion of the profits.

Each year 3.75% of the endowment balance from the previous year is donated to the Library. Our endowments are invested in a wide variety of funds to decrease risk. Any additional funds made over the 3.75% are reinvested into the principle. It is a strategy that many non-profits and universities use to invest and spend their funds.  

Why don’t you spend all of the returns on investment?

Wow reader, you really do ask great questions. We like to stay with a consistent, fairly fiscally conservative average. If you are investing in pooled funds, you typically make 5% or a little more on average. There are good years and bad years. I’m old enough to remember the 90s dotcom bubble where my mutual funds were making 19% some quarters. And then the bubble burst where I lost money. It’s better to have a low average and save.

Who are the people in the photo?

Members of the Foundation Board and Library Board. From left to right: David Sims, Anne Blessing, Anna van Ophem, Kelly Kilgore, Mike Sherry, Bethenny Griffin, Tricia Suellentrop, Mitra Templin, Chuck Sipple, Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand, and Jeffrey Mendoza.

For any questions on the Foundation or the Foundation’s endowment, please drop me an email at [email protected]. Giving a gift to the endowment is a great way to invest in our library and our community.

    Meet Your Favorite Teacher: Matt Eicheldinger April 2024 Library Event

    written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

    One of the fun things about being a donor to the Johnson County Library Foundation is that we invite you to special events. On April 17, 2024, we hosted a private reception with author and middle school language arts teacher Matt Eicheldinger. According to Matt, you pronounce his last name “Eye-Coal-Ding-Rrrr”.

    Easy, right?

    Matt Eicheldinger, speaker, Phyllis and Erwin Abrams, donors and board member, Ben Sunds, Associate Director for the library

    Matt has multiple books coming out in 2024 and 2025 with Kansas City’s own Andrews McMeel Universal. This includes, “Matt Sprouts and the Curse of the Ten Broken Toes” for elementary school-aged students. Additionally, coming out in the fall will be “Sticky Notes: Memorable Lessons from Ordinary Moments” with stories about grief, joy, and compassion.

    Johnson County Library Foundation former board member Caroline McKnight has called Matt the “Modern Mr. Rogers” in his approach to writing and posting videos on his Instagram (you can follow him at @matteicheldinger). His positive outlook on children, our times, and personal challenges, reframes his approach to teaching, and inspires others. Not to mention, most of his stories are funny and charming – focusing on family, learning, and resiliency.

    Maybe more importantly, via storytelling, he connects with the audience. During his speech there was a lot of laughter, and a lot of “awwws” from the audience.

    Matt shared a “Sticky Notes” story with us. He was teaching an elementary school class with a student who had gone quiet. She had spoken in the past but had recently stopped speaking. Matt asked the other teachers for help, but they didn’t know what to do. He came up with the idea of leaving a sticky note on her desk before she arrived at school each day. Sometimes it was a drawing, or a memorable phrase, but something to connect with this one student. Years later she returned to Matt’s class to thank him, and she had saved all his encouraging sticky notes.

    Matt’s books and a thank you to sponsors Andrews McMeel Universal

    Eicheldinger’s career trajectory includes years of teaching elementary school, years of literary agent rejection letters, Instagram success with sharing stories via video, and now writing and hoping for literary success. Many in the audience were impressed with his tenacity and hustle.

    We thank Matt for sharing his special knack for storytelling with us. It was a wonderful evening. In addition, we thanked our newest members of the 1952 Society. A BIG thank you to Mel and Alice Hawk, Chris and Bonnie Limbird, and Leigh Anne and Bill Neal, who have all placed the library in their estate plans.

    For more information about donating now or in the future through your estate or will, give me a call at (202) 923-6458 (cell) or [email protected] via email. I’m happy to meet you for coffee and give you a copy of Matt’s book.

    1. Alonzo Fuller with Andrews McMeel Universal, Kelly Kilgore, Johnson County Library Board Chair, and Shelley R. O’Brien, Executive Director for the Johnson County Library Foundation
    2. Guest Chalen David and foundation board member Anne Blessing
    3. Christi and Ken Eaton
    4. Chuck Sipple, foundation board member, Julie Steiner, foundation president, and Tricia Suellentrop, County Librarian
    5. Guests Ian Donahoe and Jason Webb
    6. Deputy County Librarian Kinsley Riggs and former foundation board member Caroline McKnight watching speaker Matt Eicheldinger
    7. Guest Mel Haas and foundation past president Leigh Anne Neal
    8. Guest Shannon Skoglund and Lisa Larson-Bunnell, Johnson County Library Foundation Board Member

    Thank You, Volunteers!

    written by Amber Bourek Slater, Volunteer Services Coordinator

    Volunteers are an important part of the Johnson County Library. In 2023, there were 897 volunteers who provided 42,186 hours of service. To put these numbers into perspective, that is the equivalent of 21 full-time staff members. Absolutely amazing!

    Did you know that Johnson County Library volunteers helped with 87 different volunteer opportunities in 2023? Teen volunteers account for almost half of those volunteers. Here are just a few of those opportunities from 2023.

    • Tutored children through Homework Help, assisted with Storytimes, monitored rooms during the Writers Conference, helped set up and then clean up fundraising events, and taught English Language Learners.
    • Processed over 600,000 books and other materials from the Library or donated by the community at the Friends of Johnson County Library sorting center.
    • Reviewed over 1,130 books in the Johnson County Library collection, which assists patrons in selecting materials.

    Often, volunteers share their talents and special skill sets, such as the leaders serving on the three library boards or providing services like photography needed for special events. They bring a passion for libraries, and many consider it a privilege to give back to something that has been such a wonderful part of their lives.

    April 21st to 27th is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. If you see a volunteer with a yellow lanyard in one of our libraries, please introduce yourself and say, “Thank You.” The Library is very appreciative of their dedicated service that makes our community even better.

    Meet JCLF board member Kate Gasper

    Meet Kate Gasper, 2024 Johnson County Library Foundation board member, and learn why she loves the library!

    “The library is my happy place. The Johnson County Libraries have supported me in every stage of my life. Whether it was finding the perfect resources for my 2nd grade science report, needing a quiet place to study for the bar exam, or seeking a destination for my restless toddlers, I always found the Johnson County Library to be—above all else—welcoming. Libraries are a unique gathering place for the entire community, regardless of age, wealth, or politics. I am excited to offer my time and treasure to an institution that offers so much to so many.”

    Kate O’Hara Gasper is a partner in the law firm of Lathrop GPM, LLP.  She focuses her practice on business litigation and, wherever possible, helping her clients avoid business litigation.  Kate is a proud alumna of Kansas State University and the University of Kansas Law School.  Meaning, she’s an avid fan of Wildcats, Jayhawks, and in-state tuition.  Born and raised in Johnson County, Kate is honored to support the Johnson County Library Foundation.  Kate and her husband Adam reside in Prairie Village with their two sons.

    written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

    It must be spring because I’m thinking about baseball. If Johnson County Library had a baseball card, it might look like this infographic. Here are all of the major statistics the Library reports to the State Library of Kansas.

    The bottom line: Johnson County loves its library.

    Here are the highlights:

    • Physical materials – Over 1.7 million items are on our shelves. Of course, not at one time. A large percentage of our collection is always on the move. Items can be checked out, moving to another library, or being processed. This number is up since 2019. The library still purchases a lot of physical materials and keeps the stacks full.
    • Number of People with Library Cards – Almost 43% of people in Johnson County have a library card. That is amazing.
    • 8.3 million e-materials borrowed in 2023 – Johnson County Library made national news in January for having over 1 million Libby/Overdrive books checked out. Now we know the overall number for all digital resources being used. Whoa! That is a lot of access.

    If anyone ever says that libraries are a thing of the past – show them this card, let them know they are missing out. Johnson County Library and most libraries across the U.S. are being utilized now more than ever before. It just may look a little different.

    Celebrate Your Library on Library Giving Day

    written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

    This Wednesday, April 3rd is Library Giving Day. Library lovers from across the country will be making donations to their favorite public libraries to enhance services and support library collections.

    At the Johnson County Library, we are focusing this Library Giving Day on our 15th library branch – the e-Library. There are so many wonderful offerings on your home or library computer, including:

    • Libby for e-books and e-audiobooks.
    • Kanopy offers thousands of movie and documentary choices.
    • E-magazines with Flipster and e-newspapers like the KC Star and the Washington Post.
    • Udemy to learn about computer programs, project management and so much more.
    • Brainfuse for students taking standardized tests or in need of one-on-one tutoring.
    • Rosetta Stone and Mango to learn new languages.
    • The Great Courses, Kahn Academy, and Universal Express for lifelong learners.
    • And much, much more.

    Your support of the Johnson County Library makes a difference because these e-resources are amazing. Brainfuse is a great example. Students from Johnson County can get one-on-one tutoring to complete their homework or get ready for the ACT or SAT. Brainfuse is easy to access and a great way for families to get high-quality resources for no-additional costs.

    These digital programs, like Brainfuse, are often supported by community members like you. They are bonus items the Library is able to purchase for everyone in Johnson County thanks to donations from the community.

    Please consider making a donation to support the Johnson County Library Foundation this Wednesday during Library Giving Day to support the e-Library. All amounts are welcome!

    Your investment in Johnson County Library generates a 300% return.