next time, wipe the lipstick off your book jacket

my friend nikki is featured in this article (seen below in its entirety) on a supposed new kind of librarian, the ‘lipstick librarian,’ appearing back in april in the kansas city star.

On her way to being a ‘lipstick librarian’

Kansas City Star;
April 12, 2008
by Jeneé Osterheldt

When most kids get sent to their room, it’s not a welcome punishment. But as a child, Nikki Powell enjoyed her forced alone time.

Her grandmother would come to relieve her, but to her surprise Nikki would be reading a book.

“She always says it wasn’t really a punishment for me,” says Nikki, 27. “I was a bookworm. I would ask for more time to read one more chapter.”

The books of her childhood include the Strawberry Shortcake series, Sideways Stories From Wayside School, The Baby-sitters Club novels.

And then there was Little House on the Prairie. Nikki was about 9 years old when she got it, and she found herself up past her bedtime, hiding under the blanket with a flashlight, stealing away more time to read the book. Her real passion for reading started there.

By the time she was 15, she started working at the Mid-Continent Public Library’s Boardwalk branch in Kansas City, North, shelving books. At 19, she became the youngest person at that branch to work the checkout desk. It was then that she started to pursue a career as a librarian and
understand the value of the library.

“I realized that libraries are an institution like a college, but it is the kind of institution that connects the public at large with information,” she says. “And to do it for free, to do it without censorship, to offer that kind of information is cool. Public
libraries could be very censored and biased if it weren’t for librarians to
protect that access to information and freedom of speech.”

Becoming a librarian wouldn’t be easy. She’d not only have to go to college, she’d have to go to graduate school and get a master’s in library science.

Nikki, with her pale skin and long, coal black hair, looks more like a modern pin-up girl or grown-up Wednesday Addams than the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a tightly pulled bun. She’s used to people being shocked at her career choice.

“There is a whole new generation of librarians,” she says of her style. “Some people call it ‘lipstick librarians.’ When we were kids, librarians were old with a crabby look on their face. I was always scared to death to ask a librarian a question. But with the
new generation comes approachability. We’re flexible, open to change, embracing
technology and constantly changing and evolving instead of upholding the old-school ways.”

Now, just 10 hours away from getting her degree at the University of Missouri, Nikki is studying the art of storytelling and the world of children’s programs, such as puppet shows, music and more. She’s also a member of the Young Friends of the Library, and she blogs for The Star’s new weekly publication, Ink (

But her job is outreach assistant for the Kansas City Public Library. She helps pick books for the Books to Go program, which helps get books to preschools and HeadStart programs. She enjoys the opportunities to work with kids.

“I like that they know they can ask me questions, and I like the challenge of having a kid come in who has read everything,” she says. “I have to find something new for them to read.”

With the rise of technology, Nikki says it’s important for kids to read. Often, she sees children spending their visits to the library on the Internet. But today is Drop Everything and Read Day, an initiative to encourage families and kids to read for just 30 minutes.

“If a kid can really give a book a chance, and read for just 30 minutes, they would be
surprised and find themselves wanting to read more. That simple act could lead to someone becoming a lifelong reader.”

In summer 2009 she will study British children’s literature abroad in London. When she returns, she’ll graduate and hopes to become a librarian at an urban library and help libraries continue to evolve.

“I envision libraries becoming places you can come to get books, electronic resources, any type of information you need in any format. In my ideal world, my Libraryland, I want to see a 24-hour library with a coffee shop, a restaurant and even a playground,” she says.

“I want the library to be a destination place. I want them to become a community
center. I want libraries to keep growing and go beyond the boundaries.”

Jeneé Osterheldt’s column runs in FYI on Tuesday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or e-mail


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