Your Community: Library and literary passion

Shawnee Mission Post Sponsor - February 15, 2020 10:00 am

When Cassandra Gillig was growing up in a suburb of Chicago, she had a lot of late fines from her local Library. But that turned out to be a good thing. Gillig became a teen volunteer at the Library to earn “fine forgiveness” and she really enjoyed the job. She continued to work in Libraries while she earned a college degree in English and Women’s Studies. She also gained experience in writing, editing, independent publishing, designing poetry books and running reading series.

Now she’s putting all those skills to use as an Information Specialist at Leawood Pioneer. Gillig devotes about half her time to helping Leawood patrons. The other half is devoted to two special projects: the annual Writers Conference and the teen literary arts magazine, elementia. They are ambitious initiatives that set Johnson County Library apart from other library systems. “I feel really lucky because I am on these two incredibly unique writing projects,” Gillig said.

Gillig is part of the core team organizing the multi-day Writers Conference that attracts about 300 participants each fall. She says it’s unusual for a Library system to sponsor an excellent series of workshops, free of charge to the public, focusing on the craft rather than the business of writing. “We’re a conference that focuses specifically on craft so we really want people to think about writing and the impact that words can have and how to become a better writer,” she said. “Our patrons are really eager to learn.”

Gillig assists Johnson County Reference Librarian Helen Hokanson with the planning and logistical details for the conference. “She works quietly and diligently and keeps me on track,” Hokanson said, adding that Gillig is an integral part of the Writers Conference’s success. Gillig is also excited to oversee the layout and design of elementia, a full-color 65-page literary magazine that features outstanding work from local teen writers and artists. Johnson County Library publishes the teen-produced magazine each spring.

Gillig is bowled over by the quality of the submissions and says the poetry is some of the best she’s ever read. “I think teenagers have this really unfiltered vulnerability that they’re so willing to share, and they’re so eager and desperate to share because that’s what they need to get out into the world,” she said. The magazine gets about 800 submissions and can only publish about 60, so the selection process is highly competitive. elementia also includes original artwork by area teens, that must be similarly juried. “There’s like knock-out arguments as part of the editorial process about what gets to go in,” she said.

In her spare time, Gillig does her own writing, does some translations from Spanish to English, and plays guitar in several bands, including an all-girl punk band called Jelly. She finds her Library work very rewarding. “People love the Libraries here and they are willing to increase our funding,” she said. “I think people really understand and appreciate the work that we do.”

To learn more about the staff at Johnson County Library, visit jocolibrary.org/about/staff.

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