Building Kobe Bryant’s Bookshelf: Q&A with LA Public Library’s Keith Kesler

Keith Kesler, social media librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, was looking for a way for the library to commemorate the late Kobe Bryant and his legacy. The result was Kobe’s Bookshelf, a list of books that inspired Bryant, as well as works he wrote or created. LJ caught up with Kesler to find out more about compiling the list, and what he learned about Bryant in the process.

Kobe Bryant mural with Kobe Bryant played his entire basketball career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the city felt his loss sharply when Bryant was killed, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter crash on January 26.

Keith Kesler, social media librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, was looking for a way for the library to commemorate the man and his legacy—and recalled a story about the Nipsey Hussle Book List, compiled by @theSIMSITY from books the late rapper mentioned on social media and in interviews, which eventually became the basis of the four-city Marathon Book Club.

Kesler did a deep dive into titles Bryant spoke about, and the result was Kobe’s Bookshelf, a list of books that inspired Bryant, as well as works he wrote or created. The list went viral, picked up by national media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, New York Post, and NBC Los Angeles. As of press time, the LAPL blog post had received more than 24,000 views, as well as more than 86,000 on Twitter and 96,000 on Instagram.

LJ caught up with Kesler to find out more about compiling the list, and what he learned about Bryant in the process.

LJ : You mentioned that Kobe’s Bookshelf was inspired by the Nipsey Hussle Book List—how did you make the connection between that and how you wanted to pay tribute to Bryant?

Keith Kesler: That [article] came out about a month ago. I'd never really thought of piecing together what somebody said in interviews into [a list of] the books they recommend, but in this case, I knew Kobe's second act was in storytelling. I figured I could find some of the books that he read and recommended, and put together something that would inspire people.

Before I started I wasn't sure if somebody else had already embarked on this, so I was glad that we would be the first ones to put this out.

Did you have to get buy-in from library administration, or do you have free rein with what you write for the LAPL blog ?

It's not completely free rein. The city of Los Angeles was definitely grieving—[Bryant’s death] was huge here. In thinking about what content I could create that's unique and shows what the library has to offer, I ran it by the digital content team and they agreed it would be good to put together. So I ran with it.

Keith Kesler head shot
LA Public Library social media librarian Keith Kesler
 

How did you find the books to include?

It wasn't anything terribly crazy—primarily Googling “Kobe book recommendations.” I had to sift through the big news item, that he was working on a book with Paulo Coelho that’s never going to see the light of day. That filled up 90 percent of the results. But I kept searching, and went quite deep and found enough recommendations that I felt it was a substantial enough list.

Some were interviews with people where he mentioned books, and others where he was tapped to make recommendations—one of them was Goodreads . There were other books that he wrote the forewords to, and I would say that's a recommendation. One [source] was an interview with [L.A. Lakers head coach] Phil Jackson and the books he gave to Kobe. The story is that Phil Jackson would give all the team members books, and Kobe famously didn't read a bunch of them—but there were a few that he did.

After we posted, there were two suggestions. I added them to Instagram, and I'm going to have them added to the blog soon. One's for “Harry Potter” and another was Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, which was mentioned on a podcast as a book that really inspired Kobe.

What surprised you about Bryant’s reading?

Seeing some of the children's titles. I mean, you know that he had children, but I think he also genuinely enjoyed reading those. Some of the books that he published were children's books, so he definitely found them interesting. One of the most heartbreaking is a video on Facebook that he posted, a suggestion for the Jason Reynolds “Track” series that was recommended by his daughter Gianna—she's one of the other people who passed away in the helicopter crash.

There's [subject matter] way beyond basketball. He was really thinking about what he was going to do post-basketball in the business world, so there's a few of those types of titles.

Do you have any plans to create more book lists like this one?

Not off the top of my head, but I think there could be interest in others as well. It's tough because the list has to have some substance to it—if you only find four titles for somebody, that's probably not worth putting up.

Why do you think the list went viral?

I think people like learning about figures they look up to. People like that personal connection to the books they've read. In a way you feel like you're getting to know them and their thought process better by reading the books that inspired them.

I hate to talk about strategy with an event like this. But from a social media standpoint, you want to be writing about something that catches the public, and they're looking for unique content. Providing something of high value during these times on something so engaging is likely to get picked up.

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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