Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Alumni Voices with Bill Kennedy: The Library's Leadership Role

How is the library's role measured?

Is it a number? The James River Valley Library System ranks very well in the categories tracked by the North Dakota State Library. Jamestown is #10 in population in North Dakota and is ranked #8 library in the state in number of visits in 2015. This is a good number.

Or is it learning opportunities that change lives? A story that makes a connection?

Over the past few months, I have collected stories from a cross section of past and present community members and friends that illustrate the role the library plays in the community. Here are a few of those stories based on interviews and my own reading.

English Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, Stout

Libraries have always been important to me. They were especially important for the year and a half after college. I took a year off before grad school to work as a caddy in Chicago and on the Oregon coast, and travel through Australia. Because I never stayed in one place very long, I depended on public libraries for internet so I could stay in touch with friends and family, keep up with current events, research graduate programs, and communicate with the graduate programs I was considering. As an aspiring writer, I depended on libraries as my source for books and films and was able to continue educating myself during that time between college and graduate school.

Elementary Faith Formation Coordinator, St. James Basilica
L-R Annie, age 8, Isaac, age 10, Seth, age 6, Katie and Jacob, age 12

As a parent of four kids, I know that children's literacy is of utmost importance.  I also know that it is not easy in our modern world of screens everywhere.

I know genetically my kids are not all made up exactly the same and therefore reading comes easy to some and not as easy to others.  That is where the community library comes to the forefront in our family.

My children don't always love to read, and sometimes they do not want to go to the library, but when I get them there they almost always find something of interest.

I have made it our weekly habit, since they were babies, to go to the library in the name of literacy for my kids. The library is a place children of any age or economic level can come and experience books beyond their imagination.


Louis L’Amour was born in Jamestown, ND in 1908. By the time of his death in 1988, he had written 89 novels, a book of poetry, 14 short-story collections and two full length works of non-fiction. There are more than 200 million copies of his books in print. 45 of his novels have been adapted for Hollywood and TV.

Quotes from Education of a Wandering Man, Bantam Books, 1938

"Education is available to anyone within reach of a library." Page 2.

"All of us had library cards and they were always in use. Reading was as natural to us as breathing." Page 6.

 “The first (non-fiction book) was, I believe, a book called The Genius of Solitude, which I found in our Alfred Dickey library in my hometown.” Pages 13-14.

North Dakota State Representative, District 12
Anthony, Alyse, Jessica, Kenlee, at the ND State Legislature

I have many fond memories of Alfred Dickey library and the bookmobile growing up. Now I take my step daughters there often in the summer and they love it. The library has always been a special place for me. It was summer reading programs, being able to rent a movie after reaching a goal, and spending time with my mom during the summers.

It is a great equalizer. Everyone could come, check out books and explore their interests, a true place of community. I remember when I reached my first achievement at a young age in the summer program, I swear my mother still has my treasure chest toy yo-yo somewhere. I was so proud of that, I worked hard and earned something.

I want that for my girls and luckily they both love going to our local library. They are also part of the summer reading program and we go to Lego club once every two weeks. It's a wonderful experience I feel blessed to share with them, and libraries make it possible.

Homeschool Mom

I began using the children’s library on a weekly basis when my oldest children were three and five years old. All of my children became avid readers, and most of them were reading by age five. My local library made homeschooling my five children much easier because I was able to find a multitude of books to interest all of them. Once a child loves books, all of education opens up to them and they are able to learn rapidly. I am thankful to my library for providing these books for us, and for ordering books that I could not afford to purchase myself.

Several of my children love to write, and as part of our homeschool curriculum they write their own stories. Steven has a strong desire to publish his work. He completed a rough draft of a comic book. My local librarian, Jennifer, offered to help us self-publish it. She took an interest in Stephen’s book Chet Chetterson’s Adventures, and her enthusiasm propelled us toward completing our immense project of rewriting and self-publishing a book. She brought books into the library on how to draw comics, as well as current examples of comic book stories. Once we had created the comic book, Jennifer helped to organize a book-signing event and publicity in the newspaper. I am amazed and thankful for all her help. This experience has helped my son go deeper into the creative process and gain a new appreciation for his education as a means to get where he is going in life.

Retired 2nd grade Teacher, Reading Specialist/Read180 Teacher
Currently Coaching 7th Grade Girls Basketball, Elementary Track & Field
Deb and Students

The James River Valley Library plays a very important role in the elementary classroom.  I have taught children for 30 years, and have depended on and worked closely with the library throughout each school year, at all levels of teaching. I have used the library for thematic teaching units, to find as many resources as possible in order to pique a student's interest on a topic. I have borrowed books on a monthly basis to use for oral reading when studying heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Ruby Bridges.                      

I love calling the librarian and upon communicating the need, she gathers the books of interest for me. When I arrive, the books are ready. Many teachers in our district use the library in the same way. We encourage our students to get involved in the library programs throughout the school year and the summer.  We have a direct connection with the librarians. I can't put enough emphasis on the importance of a great relationship between our elementary schools and JRVLS.

Community Activist:  Little Libraries, Community Gardens, Seed Library
Laura Miller Today, Donald Kershaw Age 7

There comes a time when all the king's horses and all the king's men can never fix Humpty Dumpty again. My brother Donald, at the age of 77, had come to that point after
a number of medical diagnoses had chipped away at his robust health.  The final diagnosis was male breast cancer. He gave up his beloved Volvo, his apartment and his independence and moved into a nursing home in Normal, Illinois. Soon he was too frail for more surgeries. Powerful prescriptions had lost the power to heal him. Donald was face to face with a point of no return. I brought him to Jamestown.

It was now time for me to help him prepare his last life and death decisions. We had not grown up together. We were a family of five children born during and shortly after the depression, growing up separately in foster care and in children’s homes. Nevertheless, we were close.

In these last years he was no longer my mentor. I was his mentor and I was his friend. Most of all, I was his sister. In October, 2015 the Friends of the James River Library System kicked off a series of programs aimed at helping the public understand how to prepare for the final days of life. I attended each of these programs and at the end of each session felt more prepared to help my brother and myself.

During the second session led by Michael Williams, owner and funeral director at Williams-Lisko Funeral Home, I learned that the University of North Dakota Medical School had a deeded body program where my brother could donate his body after death to the study of medical students. This had been Donald’s long time wish even in his young and healthy days.

My brother passed on June 11, 2016. Thanks to the James River Valley Library System I had in short order learned to navigate the paths to making final preparations. I can now take comfort in knowing he was able to complete a final wish and I have gained knowledge in making my own preparations.

*Bill Kennedy grew up in a library, his house. He spent many years in the apparel industry traveling the world looking for trends. Bill received his MFA in Creative Writing for Kids & YA at Hamline U in 2009, the second graduating class.  He and his wife teach creative writing to students from elementary school to long term care facilities. He is the author of three books.

Bill’s day job is raising awareness and money for a renovated and expanded library as the Development Director for the James River Valley Library System (JRVLS) in Jamestown, ND.

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