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Inspiring Students to Read, Explore and Discover

INSPIRING STUDENTS TO READ, EXPLORE AND DISCOVER

Emily Smith, the librarian at GEMS World Academy Chicago, makes sure that she and the library space adapt to meet students where they are in their education journeys.

On any given school day, Ms. Smith might visit the school's early-childhood classrooms to guide our youngest students as they explore books and reading for the first time. Back in the library, she'll create programming for older elementary students that gives them a sense of ownership over their literacy work. And she'll work with Upper School students on the digital research and critical-thinking skills they'll need as they progress through high school and prepare for college.

All of this work is part of Ms. Smith's effort to make the library a hub of learning and inspiration for the GEMS community.

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"This has to be a welcoming space for students," Ms. Smith said. "And it has to be a place that fires a student's imagination and makes them eager to use our print and digital resources for discovery."

The role of school libraries is changing. As a result, librarians like Ms. Smith devote more time to helping students at all grade levels become engaged, sharp and savvy thinkers.

"It starts with just getting students interested in books and reading," she said. "But then it becomes more about how the students are thinking, how they're processing information they get not just from books, but from multiple online sources, too. The library can be a place to learn how to evaluate what's true and what's not."

Ms. Smith instituted a number of changes to the library during the past school year. She created a self-checkout system for students in kindergarten and above, which she said helped instill a sense of ownership and accountability in the students. Starting in third grade, students can now access the school's online catalog via their iPads and place holds on books and write reviews of titles they've finished. Ms. Smith also started a daily newspaper subscription that allows students to read weekday print editions in the library; she plans to explore subscriptions to magazines and other relevant publications in the future.

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"The students seemed to like what we did here, which is great, because I want them to feel that this is their space," Ms. Smith said.

Lower School students visit the library once a week for regular literacy work. (Ms. Smith works with learners in preschool through kindergarten in their classrooms.) Upper School students use the space as needed, usually for independent reading or research. Ms. Smith works closely with GEMS teachers to make sure library programming aligns with the units students are current exploring.

The future for library programming at GEMS looks very bright. The GEMS Upper School building, which opens during the 2019-2020 school year, includes a two-level library space that promises to rival collegiate offerings.

"It's exciting, because it allows us to tailor our services even more closely to the needs of our different students," Ms. Smith said. "I'm happy to be working at a school that values the library so highly."

Previous GEMS staff profile:

Using Math to Help Students Think, Design and Innovate

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