“Once I’m attached to the book, I’m attached to the book. You can’t take me away from the book,” Geil third-grader Jace Johnson told youth librarian Christie Clarke at the Gering Public Library Thursday, April 1.
When children get this excited about a book, Clarke, known as Miss Christie to the youth, can’t help but smile, which is why she loves doing the SMILE program at the library every year.
SMILE stands for “See Me In the Library Event,” and the Gering library has done it for 31 years. The event brings second graders on a field trip to the library where they can get their own library card and check out two books while they are there.
Last year, SMILE got canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Clarke said she was devastated.
“I was really mindful about those kids being the only ones not to get their library cards,” she said. “Can you believe that? In 31 years, how could we let a group of kids not get their library cards? So we were bound and determined to make it happen.”
So, she decided she would catch the spring 2020 second graders as fall 2020 third graders, and then, hopefully, get back on track with the 2021 second graders. However, a second COVID-19 surge in the fall caused her to go to plan B.
“We got one school, and we got Lincoln. They came for their visit … and right after that, the other two schools were scheduled, but everything shut down,” Clarke said. “So, it has not been until now that I could schedule them, and the school district gave the all-clear for us to be able to have them come visit, and I was so very happy.”
Geil visited on Thursday. The students’ visit included a chapter reading from a “Hank the Cow Dog” book by librarian Sherry Preston, an explanation of how to use the library and their new library cards and a fun activity with staff from Riverside Discovery Zoo outside. The activity was about camouflage, and the students got to pet a snake and a cockroach — if they wanted to.
“The zoo, they are so awesome to partner with,” Clarke said. “Alex and her team, they really know how to work with kids.”
Once the library finishes up with the third-grade classes, they’ll move on to the second-grade classes.
Clarke said they prefer to do the program for second graders because it’s the age they are allowed into the library without a guardian.
“Our policy here is that kids can be here on their own without a guardian at 8 years old,” she said. “We were thinking that by that time, they’re more able to keep up with their library card, because it’s a little bit more meaningful to them. … If they live close enough, they can walk to the library with their library card and use it all by themselves, if they want to.”
Clarke said the program not only introduces the students to the library, but it invites them to be readers and shows them that there is always a book out there for everyone.
“Even kids who are reluctant readers, when you get them in this kind of environment, in this atmosphere, where they’re surrounded by all the different kinds of books, it opens up their eyes to what might be out there,” she said. “That’s really cool to get kids exposed to all that’s available, and to let them know, there’s way more out there than they ever could have imagined.
The Gering Public Library will be celebrating National Library Week with some different raffle prizes. The Friends of the Gering Library is also hosting a book and vinyl record sale which began on Monday, April 5, in the basement of the library.
The youth summer reading program is scheduled to kick off Wednesday, June 2, and will run for the month.