March 16, 2018

Kathy McLellan & Tricia Suellentrop | Movers & Shakers 2005

Partners in Anticrime


Kathy McLellan and Tricia Suellentrop share a love of reading and a deep empathy for troubled teens, but they bring different strengths to their partnership. Suellentrop, according to McLellan, is the risk taker, the one who’s “always willing to try something new and doesn’t hesitate to step out there on the precipice.” McLellan is the designated sensible person, the one who, Suellentrop says, “always sees the just solution and asks the good questions.”

When their director, Jean Hatfield, assigned them to serve teens in the juvenile justice system, and gave them freedom to experiment, the programs they came up with went on to win national recognition. Read To Succeed, a collaboration among the library, district court, school district, and department of corrections, reaches incarcerated teens at Johnson County’s Detention Center. Using book talks and read-aloud sessions, they stimulate discussion on the challenges and choices confronted by the stories’ characters.

When the Department of Corrections was about to disband an alternative sentencing program called Changing Lives Through Literature, Suellentrop and McLellan took it over, developing a reading list to prompt talk about choice, consequences, community, and empathy. In lieu of jail time, juvenile offenders meet weekly for two hours with Suellentrop or McLellan and discuss the books and issues; a judge and probation officer participate in every session. Suellentrop’s favorite memory from the program is “seeing a teen who was not confident find his way in volunteering with younger children; he’s decided to be a teacher now that he’s in college.”

McLellan was drawn to youth services because “introducing young people to all the ideas and learning available in a library is an extraordinary way to spend a life.” What interested her about serving society’s “throwaway kids” was “the knowledge that it could so easily have been us as teens, could be our nieces, nephews, friends’ children.”

Suellentrop wanted to serve troubled teens because “I had adults in my life who respected me, stood up for me, liked me for the silly, smart-mouth kid I was (OK, still am). It kills me to think that teens are growing up without those people in their lives.”

If they have a bone to pick with the profession, it’s the way some librarians treat young adults. They want librarians to remember what it felt like to be a teen. Suellentrop likes to quote Patrick Jones, with whom she wrote Connecting Young Adults and Libraries (Neal-Schuman, 2004): “Kids want two things from libraries: solutions to their problems and good feelings.”

Solutions and good feelings are their stock in trade.


Kathy McLellan

Current Position Youth Outreach Librarian, Johnson County Library, Overland Park, KS

Degree B.A. in Communications, Ottawa University, Kansas City, KS, 1997

Tricia Suellentrop

Current Position Teen Services Librarian, Johnson County Library, Overland Park, KS

Degree MLS, Emporia State University, 1995


Winners Mountain Plains Library Association Youth Services Award, 2002; National Association of Counties Award, 1999

Astrological Sign Aquarius, which, Suellentrop says, “Should explain it all”