A letter from the Interim Dean of Libraries

Change is constant, but we've been through a lot over this last year! Just like the rest of the world, the UMKC Libraries looked vastly different this year, with new leadership (congratulations on your retirement, Dean Emerita Postlethwaite!) and going from completely virtual services to all the way back to fully open. The pandemic, financial challenges, and racial injustice forced us to look even more closely at everything we do, and I know that we're emerging as a library that is better in just about every way. One key value that has helped us to grow through challenging and uncertain times has been our commitment to care, which grounded decisions every step of the way. From ensuring that those who were most vulnerable were able to receive support, to challenging our ways of working, to ensuring transparency and honesty even when information was uncertain – caring about our students, our community, and each other has been central.

And even with all this disruption, our team has done incredible things – action, awards, exhibits, grants, and programming. I am so proud of the accomplishments of my colleagues on the Libraries’ team, grateful for the support of our amazing community and supporters, and honored to be a part of it.

Cindy Thompson, Interim Dean of Libraries

Living and working through a global pandemic

The UMKC campus closed down in March and the Libraries immediately began providing all of our services online. Like many other businesses and libraries, we began offering door-side pickup for books and materials. We also launched our Video with a Librarian service, so that Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm, library users did not need an appointment to get help from a librarian on Zoom.

Our library workers pivoted to working remotely, taking home their computers and office plants, setting up desks and workspaces, and adjusting to life with officemates like cats and children, spouses and housemates.


We learned how to host a Zoom retirement party, created a virtual water cooler to share hot goss, and got to know which coworkers had the most attention-hungry pets.

We taught library instruction classes online, began recording library tours and orientations, and figured out how to assist clinical rounding without setting foot in a hospital. Some projects that had been moving forward slowly - like the implementation of a new system to provide better access to special collections and archives - suddenly progressed quickly.

For the staff whose work is place-centered, they took materials home and many were assigned work on audio recording transcriptions for our Marr Sound Archives and indexing the Kansas City Star clipping file. Everyone, including our student workers, was able to do productive work and received compensation without interruption.


A crowd gathers at the
J.C. Nichols Fountain on
the Country Club Plaza,
Kansas City, MO. May 31,

Call to Action & Equity Plan

In June of 2020 the UMKC University Libraries issued an invitation to the world to join us in actions supporting racial justice. In that call to action, we noted that we had work to do internally, and this was reinforced when a courageous group of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who work in the Libraries shared a letter.

They outlined many of the ways that the Libraries as an organization are upholding systems of oppression and made concrete recommendations for moving forward. Many library workers began challenging and critiquing their own work in pursuit of anti-racist actions they could take as individuals and departments in the context of their everyday tasks, and our Equity Committee and the Libraries Administration team coordinated a number of projects in response. The UMKC Libraries' new Equity Action Plan was developed in response to the statement from our BIPOC workers and largely formed from the information and recommendations they provided.

The Equity Action Plan sets goals for organizational change in the following areas:

  • Salary disparities
  • Hiring and retention of BIPOC workers
  • Providing BIPOC equitable support for career development and access to advancement
  • Acknowledging and compensating invisible labor
  • Anti-oppressive structures to guide our daily work interactions
  • De-escalation training
  • Policing and incident procedures in the Libraries
  • Requiring Libraries employees to regularly engage with anti-racism work
  • Development of anti-racist action plans for each Library department
  • A Diversity Liaison role in the Libraries
  • Enhancing support for the Equity Committee
  • Inclusivity in Libraries spaces
  • Inclusivity in Libraries spaces
  • Participating in the Roos Advocate for Community Change Task Force on Building and Scholarship Naming

Specific to the COVID-19 global pandemic, our Equity Action Plan also addressed prioritizing remote work for Library employees disproportionately impacted by both COVID and healthcare disparities.

Tracey Hughes, the Libraries' Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Teaching & Learning Librarian was featured in a video publicized by the UMKC Twitter account in June of 2020.

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  • Gail Williams
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  • Fu Zhuo

COVID-19 shows us what UMKC's culture of care looks like in the libraries

The Libraries have always prioritized people in our organizational approach, and the pandemic amplified our commitment. We prioritized internal communication to ensure that our team members were always informed about campus policies, health guidance, and all of their options for support. An informed staff also served our users who turned to us for answers. A group of library employees launched a mutual aid program, our supervisors updated and broadened our flexible work arrangement policies. We focused on mental and physical health, promoting projects by our Health Equity Fellows and offering resources to students. Our leadership encouraged employees to take mental health days or otherwise tend to their mental health when we experienced repeated occurrences of social injustices. In a time of uncertainty we worked to anticipate people's needs - both library users and employees - and immediately charted a course to respond quickly and communicate transparently. We prepared multiple plans so that we could be responsive to the continuously changing conditions instead of reactive.

Students return to the UMKC campus and the libraries open our doors

Our Health Sciences Library was the first of our physical locations to reopen, responding to the needs of the UMKC medical community. When students returned to the main campus in August 2020 the library was ready to welcome them back with health and safety protocols in place.

Even as employees and users returned in person we knew that some of our changes would be lasting. We improved employee access to benefits like flexible work arrangements and laptops; provided new virtual services like video consultations, synchronous online teaching, and developed a process to provide quick-turnaround digitization of materials; and revamped out approach to our diversity, equity, and inclusion with a re-focused Equity Committee, an organizational Equity Plan, and a constellation of task forces and project groups to provide continuity for the momentum we gained in June.

Masked students study in the Miller Nichols Learning Center hallway

Health Equity Fellows join the team

Thanks to a generous gift from the Starr Field of Interest Fund, the UMKC Libraries were able to fund a Health Equity Initiative, including Health Equity Fellows Timmia King and Casey Phillips. The fellows supported the Libraries' efforts to improve health outcomes for families, assist in providing analysis of faculty resource needs concerning health equity, as well as coordinate and direct support to students, faculty, and librarians. The fellows, under supervision of Head of Clinical Support Kristy Steigerwalt, completed projects ranging in focus from providing COVID related resources to the Kansas City community at the beginning of the pandemic, to developing mental health resources for the UMKC and KC communities, to providing resources on healthy eating to students at the Health Sciences district.

New ways to welcome library users behind the scenes

When the library had to close its doors we needed new ways to show our users what we are all about and give them a look at some of our collections that are tied to the physical realm. Being unable to welcome new UMKC users to our library locations in person encouraged us to create video tours that now bring many more viewers behind the scenes of LaBudde Special Collections and the Marr Sound Archives, and welcome our online and distance students to the spaces, services, and resources of the UMKC Libraries.

A Focus on Social Justice Programming

In the fall semester the UMKC Libraries focused on social justice, specifically antiracism and practices that can improve academic experiences, and how the library serves students, faculty, and staff. Following our Join Us In Action initiative from the summer, the Libraries focused on building a discussion around Ibram X. Kendi’s "How to be an Antiracist."

How to be an Anti-Racist Book Discussion flyer

Chosen by the UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion, Kendi’s book acted as a guide toward antiracist thinking and behavior. Associated programming from the Libraries included our month-long Anti-Racist Reading List book display, an anti-racist reading list of 38 recommendations from Kendi, and a live, virtual book discussion of “How to be an Antiracist.” In response to a call to action from our Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color (BIPOC) colleagues, every library worker read "How to be an Antiracist" and engaged in discussion about the book.

Mental Health display in library
Mental Health Mobile Display in the library

Mental Health is Health

As we entered the winter with shortening days and dropping temperatures, we all began to realize that the winter was likely to bring increased isolation, so we increased our focus on mental wellness.

Pictured: Mental Health is Health display in the main campus library, January 2021.

We asked our students to share the biggest challenges that they faced. We used the survey responses to guide our decision-making in the library, and to let our users know that even when we couldn't address every challenge, we were listening. 

Recognizing the Threads that Connect Us

Beauty and joy can spring from adversity. This past year provided enough adversity for everyone, some far more than others. As a way of recognizing the threads that knit us together, library employees created and presented artwork featured in this winter 2020 message of hope and solidarity.

1968 uprising in Kansas City

Connecting with the community for Black History Month

One of the Libraries' most beloved and longest-running programs is held in February: the UMKC Libraries African American Read-In. We bookended this year's virtual Read-In with the launch of a new digital exhibit and Eight Days in April: Race, Rebellion, and Reconciliation, a panel discussion about the eight days surrounding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 and how the impact of those days continues to shape Kansas City today.

Pictured: Crowds run from tear gas at City Hall, April 1968. From the exhibit Eight Days in April. Photo 108.

The digital exhibit, Eight Days in April: The Story of the 1968 Uprising in Kansas City, draws upon historical materials from LaBudde Special Collections and Marr Sound Archives, bringing them to online viewers for the first time and drawing connections to illustrate the impact of those eight days.

Though Dr. King's assassination is often identified as the sole cause of the 1968 Uprising, this exhibit argues that the groundwork had been laid by years of racist policies long before the tragedy of that Thursday evening in Memphis. These events have left a permanent mark on the history and landscape of Kansas City, MO and reverberate through the ongoing fight for racial justice.

See exhibit
Presenters during the virtual 2021 AARI

Attendees present readings during the virtual African American Read-In. February 15, 2021.

Rescuing historic radio shows...and also a cat

The UMKC Libraries' Marr Sound Archives was awarded $33,323 from the Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant for the project Preserving 1940s Radio Broadcasts on Severely Damaged Lacquer Discs.

The Marr Sound Archives holds over 400,000 audiovisual items, with a focus on the American experience as reflected in recorded sound. Included in the collection are 62,000 radio broadcasts, many of which are currently being digitized in-house for preservation. A small portion, however, reside on lacquer discs that are too severely damaged to be digitized with conventional audio equipment. This project will use the IRENE audio preservation technology, a non-contact imaging method, located at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). This technology is currently the only solution to obtain the content from these damaged discs.

The broadcasts on these damaged discs were recorded in the 1940s and include world news, news commentary, radio dramas, and performances by the Kansas City Philharmonic. These unique primary resources hold a piece of history and reflect the culture of the period, which will prove fruitful to researchers in the fields of history and media.

Charles Collingwood, CBS News Radio

Photo: CBS News Radio correspondent Charles Collingwood | Audio: KMBC Shipwreck and Cat Rescue, Marr Sound Archives. Audio Transcription available here.

Tracey Bass Tracey Hughes Zoom participant Liz Johnson Grace Nicholas

The award goes to...everyone

At UMKC we have the opportunity every year to nominate our coworkers for staff awards. In a turbulent and challenging year, a number of nominations were submitted for the Libraries' team of staff members as a whole, showing that our colleagues wanted to recognize everyone as well as to honor the teamwork required to maintain our services through the logistical barriers of operating a library during a contagious global pandemic, and the hurdles we overcame in finding ways to continue supporting student success through it all.

Emily Reeb

Photo: Living the Values Award recipient, Emily Reeb

Staff Awards 2021

UMKC Libraries Living the Values Award: Emily Reeb

The Living the Values Award recognizes a staff employee who exemplifies excellence in one or more of the University’s key values: Learning, Diversity, Integrity, Accountability, Respect and Collaboration. Nominees must have shown extraordinary adoption of one or more of the key values in a work-related situation and each unit at UMKC has one person receive the award each year.

The strength of Emily’s nomination rested on their commitment to all of the University’s key values, especially diversity, respect, and collaboration. Emily’s work on advocating for mental health with their colleagues and the students they supervise came up many times in nominations. One nominee talked about how Emily was often the first to volunteer during the difficult return to onsite operations, while another talked about the sense of belonging they foster with the students in Circulation. We concur with one nomination that said, “the library and university are lucky to have them and I consider myself to have won the lottery to get to work with them each and every day.”


  • Liz Johnson: 10 years
  • Linda J. Fox: 25 years
  • Linda L. Fox: 30 years

Supervisory Development Series Graduates

  • Anne Allen
  • Libby Hanssen
  • Lindy Smith
  • Robin Sommer

Series on Leadership Essentials Program Graduates

  • Libby Hanssen
  • Jon Hern
  • Myisha Sims
  • Paul Wagner
Leona Noel
Leona Noel

Introducing the Rainbow Read-In

Following in the footsteps of our annual UMKC Libraries African American Read-In, the Libraries started a new event with a crowd-sourced program: the Rainbow Read-In. The Read-In invited the UMKC and Kansas City communities to attend as listeners, or to attend as presenters to read, perform or share the work of historic and contemporary LGBTQIA+ creators.

Pictured: Leona Noel presents to the Zoom gathering, June 14 2021.

GLAMA logo

Securing the future of GLAMA, an archive of the past

UMKC proudly houses the Gay and Lesbian Archives of Mid-America, better known as GLAMA, a substantial collection of documents and artifacts that reflect the histories of the LGBT communities in the Kansas City region. Co-founded in 2009 and curated by Stuart Hinds of the Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives division, GLAMA materials reveal completely hidden aspects of Kansas City’s culture and history through the work of UMKC students, faculty, and Kansas City community members.

A donation from Dr. Linda Mitchell, the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Missouri Distinguished Endowed Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UMKC, provided the collection with an endowment that will ensure GLAMA carries out its mission well into the future.

“Kansas City is lucky to have GLAMA,” Mitchell said. “The archives improve the national perception of the city. It’s not only barbecue and football. We live in one of the most culturally rich and complex cities in the country. GLAMA is a great component of that diversity.”

Looking forward to new library spaces

Construction began in January 2021 on two exciting new spaces coming to the third floor of the main campus library. The State Historical Society of Missouri Kansas City Research Center could move from Newcomb Hall to a new spot on the third floor of the library, bringing our collections and archives staffs together in the same building for the first time. The Digital Collaboration Studio, generously funded by the Sunderland Foundation, offers space for people to collaborate and access digital technologies. It will feature a seminar room, video and audio recording studio, digital imaging and production room, enclosed collaboration rooms, and an open collaboration space, outfitted with movable furniture and wall-mounted displays.

Digital Collaboration Studio and State Historical Society

The Digital Collaboration Studio presents opportunities for the growth of the Digital and Public Humanities initiative at UMKC, as well as for the UMKC Student Library Fee to fund new technology and equipment that students need to support imaginative new forms of scholarship.

Events and Exhibits

In-person events were simply not an option this year. But despite the significant obstacle of the global pandemic, the library managed to host many events throughout the year, primarily via exhibits and Zoom events.

Pictured: Featured events and exhibits. Click an image to read more.

Retirements, Scholarships, & Awards


  • Bonnie PostlethwaiteBonnie Postlethwaite, Dean of Libraries After 14 years with UMKC, Dean Postlethwaite retired July 10, 2020. Dean Postlethwaite oversaw many important changes at the UMKC Libraries, and we continue to benefit from her leadership and guidance.
  • Gloria TibbsGloria Tibbs, Organizational Development Coordinator Gloria retired in February 2020, but her mark on the UMKC Libraries will be felt for years to come. Gloria founded the UMKC Libraries African American Read-In, and brought a clear vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion to the libraries.
  • Wendy SistrunkWendy Sistrunk, Head of Cataloging & Metadata Management Wendy retired from UMKC in April of 2021. After a dedicated tenure as the head of metadata and cataloging, Wendy’s contributions and insight will be missed.


Tim Dennison2021 Friends of the Library Scholarship Winner Tim Dennison, undergraduate UMKC Conservatory student, won the 2021 scholarship with his essay detailing how the UMKC Libraries and resources helped him craft his essay “Mozart’s Theory of Conformity”.

Ashley PendletonAshley Pendleton is the recipient of the 2021 Martha Jane Starr Library Research Award, a graduate research award granted to graduate students whose work features a focus on women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. The title of her work is “From ‘I Want’ to ‘I Am Going To’: the Patricia Stevens Modeling Agency as a Feminist Literacy Sponsor for Girls.”


  • Isadore Gilbert Mudge Award Chris LeBeau, Librarian Emeritus retired from UMKC Libraries, was awarded the RUSA (Reference and Users Service Association) Isadore Gilbert Mudge Award, RUSA’s highest honor. Established in 1958, the award is presented to an individual who has made a distinguished contribution to reference librarianship.
  • CLIR Recordings at Risk Grant The UMKC Libraries' Marr Sound Archives was awarded $33,323 from the Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant for the project Preserving 1940s Radio Broadcasts on Severely Damaged Lacquer Discs.
  • Missouri Humanities Council Mini Grant LaBudde Special Collections, in partnership with the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center and Prospect Business Association, was awarded a Missouri Humanities Council Mini Grant for $2,020 to support an opening event for the exhibit Eight Days in April: The Story of the 1968 Kansas City Uprising.
A kind exchange between a library chat user and a librarian