April 23, 2018

Paul Smith | Movers & Shakers 2011 – Marketers

Library Journal March 15, 2011: Paul Smith , Mover & Shaker

Think Big, Read Big

When Paul Smith’s “literary hero,” author Tobias Wolff, visited Kansas City in 1999, Smith sat 20 feet away from him. Ten years later, as the communications specialist at the Kansas City Public Library, Smith got readers across the city and in two states hooked on Wolff’s novel Old School, taking a lead role in the city’s first Big Read initiative.

Big Read was a big operation, involving more than four library systems and partly funded by an NEA grant. It also meant a full recording of Old School for radio broadcast, read by local luminaries and media personalities; a televised book discussion; over 20 outreach book groups; plus, a film series and academic discussions. Smith brought Wolff to the library to speak to some 490 readers. The experience, he says, “was rewarding on a personal and professional level.”

No surprise that Smith, whose deep belief in public service led him to librarianship, was a lead coordinator on the second Big Read project, celebrating Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. He also coordinates annual Adult Winter Reading programs. And, under his leadership, the library’s annual Off the Wall film series tripled in attendance, from 250 to 770, over three years. An email correspondence with film critic Roger Ebert led to it being renamed EbertfestKC last year.

Smith’s promotional chops—from tweeting to pounding the pavement—get the word out to the masses, and his background in journalism helps. “The J-school tenets of accuracy, thoroughness, and speed are just as essential” in the library, he says.

“Paul…does everything from help with rock concerts on the roof of the garage to discussing literature while taking tea with Jane Austen lovers,” says Alicia Ahlvers, program planner and branch manager at the Waldo Community Library.

And the ideas keep coming. The library is planning to partner with the Kansas City Ballet on a reading initiative focused on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the inspiration for Tom Sawyer—A Ballet in Three Acts, a world premiere production at the city’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, opening this fall. Smith is laying the groundwork early for this project, noting that “the greater the preparation, the greater the success.”


Paul Smith, Kansas City Public Library, MO

CURRENT POSITION Communications Specialist

DEGREE Graduate courses in Library & Information Science, University of Missouri, August 2010-present; BA, American Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2002

GIVE BACK WITH The Pursuit of Justice by Robert F. Kennedy

FOLLOW @redpunker; Library blog: www.kclibrary.org/blogs

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