Rachel Novotny, Octavia Vonderheyde and Liz Wilson are all information specialists for Johnson County Library. As colleagues, they share a love of serving patrons, reading and being lifelong learners. But they have forged an even deeper friendship and bond because of another passion: K-pop, or Korean popular music, which combines musical influences from hip hop to exuberant dance, jazz and rock.
“It hits a nerve, in a good way,” Vonderheyde explains. “It’s very positive music overall. It makes you happy. It’s just encouraging.”
Almost every Friday, they get together after work, usually via Zoom, to watch new releases and learn more about their favorite bands. They also enjoy and discuss K-dramas, Korean television programs that have gained global popularity through streaming services with subtitles.
It all started with their Library connections. Wilson and Vonderheyde are both information specialists at the Leawood Pioneer branch. Vonderheyde has been there for 22 years, most recently as a youth services specialist. Wilson started as a page at Leawood five years ago and became an adult information specialist in 2018.
Novotny has been with Johnson County Library for 10 years, including the past eight years as an adult services specialist at the Blue Valley branch. She and Vonderheyde worked together on the Library’s Local Arts committee several years ago and enjoyed that collaboration.
Novotny stumbled across K-dramas through Netflix about nine years ago and became a fan of those one-season serial melodramas, which explore romances and interesting family dynamics. That led her to K-pop. In 2019, she did two Johnson County Library podcasts, one on K-dramas and one on K-pop.
Wilson had separately gotten interested years ago in Asian movies, through her stepdad. That spurred her interest in K-dramas, and then she got hooked on K-pop in 2017.
“I happened onto this drama called Heart Strings,” Wilson said. That drama featured two members of the Korean band CNBLUE. “I checked out their music and really liked their band.”
Wilson shared her enthusiasm with Vonderheyde, who knew about the hugely popular K-pop band BTS through her daughter Arielle. Then Wilson heard Novotny’s podcast and emailed her to arrange a meeting.
The trio vividly recall getting together on Oct. 27, 2019, to watch a movie at AMC in Leawood featuring a Korean concert by BTS. The movie theater was packed, and they had a great time.
After that outing, the trio started meeting on Friday evenings, first at Novotny’s house and then via Zoom. They’ve dubbed themselves the “K-pop Librarians.”
Wilson and Vonderheyde traveled to Chicago in January 2020 to see Seventeen, another K-pop boy group. And Novotny and Vonderheyde went to Lawrence on March 3 of this year to see ONEUS perform at Liberty Hall. It was a rare K-pop live show in this area and the 1,000-seat concert hall was sold out.
Seeing bands in person has been amazing and wonderful, but watching videos is also fun. They are fans of the whole production, from makeup to outfits to distinctive dance choreography to a wide range of musical moods.
“There’s a lot of good energy,” Wilson said. “Lots of fun songs. Some of the more dramatic songs, they make your heart swell.”
Novotny enjoys following the bands’ evolution, “Oh, they are doing something darker now, or they are doing something cute.”
They are all passionate about working for Johnson County Library and serving the community. That career connection also fuels their K-pop friendship.
“We all have something in common,” Vonderheyde said. “We all have the same Library background. We’re always learning new stuff. It’s the same with K-pop or K-dramas. There’s always something new coming out. There’s always something to share and get excited about.”
Explore the world of K-pop and K-dramas at Johnson County Library with these recommended titles:
Johnson County Library – Nurturing the Community’s Collective Wisdom