Passionate About Reading in Kansas

Marie Pyko Talks About the Big Read in Topeka

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Firefighters participated in the Big Read Read-In in Topeka, Kansas. Photo courtesy of Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library

When Marie Pyko, public services director of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, was earning her master's degree in library science, she didn't study public speaking, politics, or Internet technology -- yet in the name of the Big Read, Pyko has tackled all these challenges. In 2006, during the Big Read pilot phase, Topeka celebrated Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. This spring the community read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The NEA spoke with Pyko just as Topeka launched its 2007 Big Read.

NEA: What are you doing to kick off the Big Read of Fahrenheit 451 in Topeka?

MARIE PYKO: We are hosting a Big Read Read-In, and we have invited people from all the Topeka/Shawnee County area. Especially firefighters. The firefighters are going to talk about what they do and read from their favorite books. We've also invited some National Guardsmen to do a demonstration.

NEA: It's sounds as though you've tried to create an event that appeals to a range of ages.

PYKO: The reading of this book can be a family event. Maybe your seven-year-old can't actually read the book, but they can understand who the good guys are in the real world.

NEA: Is there anything that you're deliberately doing differently, from last year, because you wanted to make a change?

PYKO: We've lined up an exclusive relationship with our local CBS station. This year, WIBW is a full-fledged partner. Their general manager made [Fahrenheit 451] required reading for everyone at the station. [The anchors] have been encouraged to banter about the book all month long. It's very cool. We're going to be on TV a lot. They're even doing the weather at the library. We've also partnered with our public radio station. They're going to tape our interview with Ray Bradbury and broadcast it several times.

The other thing we did was reach out to other, smaller libraries. We had such a successful program last year that we were very interested in encouraging other libraries to get involved.

NEA: You testified before Congress in March, Laura Bush mentions you when she speaks about the Big Read, and the New York Times article featuring quotes from you has been printed across the country. Do you feel like a spokesperson for librarians everywhere?

PYKO: I feel really honored, because I'm able to have some national recognition and really raise exposure of what librarians do. I represent Shawnee County. I can't be a spokesperson for librarians, but I really feel like I have the ability to be a spokesperson for my passion, and that's reading. When you really feel passionate about something, it's not hard to be an advocate.