Setting up an entirely new school from the ground up requires planning, forethought and help. Lots of good, reliable, tried-and-true help from sources you can trust.
That’s exactly what GEMS Academy-Chicago received in the summer of 2014, when their new school was coming together, getting ready to cut the ribbon and open the door for its inaugural school year. The floors were polished, the teachers were hired, and the students were soon to arrive. Yet their new library was empty, and as any librarian or administrator knows, that’s a huge hurdle to overcome. Libraries are rarely set up in a matter of days – but rather built over time through the living legacies of the history that went into creating them.
The time crunch school administrators were facing was not their only hurdle. The school also offers a unique program and curriculum, for which they had to prepare. As such, the GEMS Academy-Chicago offers a curriculum rich with culture and state-of-the-art technology as students learn and prepare for life. This added international focus – and the school’s International Baccalaureate program – added to the complexity of the library’s needs.
The GEMS Academy-Chicago is the first U.S. school in the worldwide GEMS-education network. With schools in Dubai, Malaysia, Switzerland, Singapore, India, Uganda, and Egypt, GEMS schools use established connections to classrooms around the globe to focus on academic excellence infused with an international perspective.
Geoffrey Jones, head of school for the GEMS Academy-Chicago, immediately knew where to go to ensure the school had a cutting-edge, comprehensive, standards-aligned library set up and running before students arrived.
"I've worked in schools for 40 years, and Follett is the only name I would turn to when it comes to libraries," said Jones. "Follett brings an expertise in knowing about the community, what schools like ours need and how we are different. In my opinion, they are the exclusive experts when setting up a new library."
The Follett team, as Jones explained, led by Craig Seeger, executive director of sales for Follett’s international division, helped staff at GEMS Academy-Chicago design and set up a library correlated to the school's unique international curriculum and IB program. "They helped us create a library that goes along with this school," said Jones. "We have something new, exciting; bursting with culture and diversity, and what we hope will be a model for schools in the future."
Follett was able to provide everything the school and staff needed in order to start their first year with an established, smooth-running library, explained Seeger. "Because we've worked with GEMS Education in other parts of the world, we could anticipate their needs. We were able to put together a total solution, including library and classroom content, print and digital content, as well as the Destiny® software suite, so all bases were covered," said Seeger. "Destiny Library Manager will take care of all of the content in the library itself, both physical and digital, while the rest of the school will rely upon Follett's Destiny resource management solutions to monitor laptops, Apple iPads® as well as other classroom resources. The two systems work together to manage all of the school's resources without a hitch."
Jessica Childers, senior inside sales representative with Follett, was also instrumental in helping the library at GEMS Academy-Chicago get up and running. As Childers pointed out, knowing what both staff and students would need from the library was key. "I've worked with GEMS Education for several years, especially their schools in the Middle East," said Childers. "When I heard we would be working with the new Academy in Chicago, our team met with them, discussed their collection, and learned what they already had and what new resources they felt they needed to improve upon their collection."
While the Follett team helped GEMS Academy-Chicago come up with a comprehensive plan to allow them to begin the school year with a fully functional library reflecting the school's curriculum and goals, there was more to be accomplished. The physical set up still had to be done, as the number of days before the first day of school dwindled.
With nothing but empty shelves in their beautiful new library, GEMS Academy-Chicago was staring down the barrel of thousands of new books and other resources—all of which needed to be unpacked, coded, scanned and organized on the shelves—and a lack of manpower to get it all done."We were looking at a job that would have been impossible for our staff to tackle alone," said Jones. "We would never have been able to have the library up and running by the first day of classes."
In this case, the Follett team was able to descend upon the GEMS Academy-Chicago's library, and help the school's staff conquer the enormous job of unpacking and setting up the library. "Hands-on service like that takes, as you know, so many hours. And it's pretty rare," said Jones. "Follett's help allowed our faculty and staff to focus on the program and the curriculum, and to really look at how we will use these materials with the children. Plus, we know everything has been cataloged correctly, and the resources are in the right place. What the Follett team did here in a few days is several months of work. So this is tremendous."
The Academy's Library Media Specialist, Karen Percak, is thrilled with the new library and all it has to offer students, parents and staff. She emphasized that the Follett team was instrumental in getting this 1:1 school up and running. "Without Follett in here, this would have been chaos," said Percak. "It would have been virtually impossible. To have people I don't even know come in here and help me—people who know what they're doing—was a life saver. There were challenges as we got rolling, but the Follett people were in control, and every time we hit a snag, everyone worked together and got it done in a really friendly colloquial way. It was just great."
"I'm excited for the kids to come in to see the library as an exploration of the whole building, but I’ll be really excited when they come in to actually check out books and see the collection, and spend some time in here," said Percak. "This library is going to be special to all of us for a long time. Follett has been amazing to deal with. The company is one-stop shopping as far as I’m concerned. They have a huge selection and great customer service."
Percak pointed out the print and digital resources are really just a portion of what makes the library truly '21st century.'
"We use Destiny’s resource management solutions to keep track of the iPads and other assets, but I'm really excited about the kinds of things Destiny® Library Manager™ offers to help students find what they need. If you’re an inquiry-based school like we are, you want kids to be able to do their own research and track down their own resources. We don't want to predict where their research will take them. One day a week the kids are going on a field study off campus, and they will have Destiny Library Manager as a really nice support of those field studies in independent exploration. We want our kids to be independent thinkers and learners, and Destiny is key."
Today, the first year of classes at GEMS Academy-Chicago is in full swing and the library is at the heart of all learning and sharing. Staff at GEMS Academy-Chicago continue to work hand in hand with the Follett team to keep the library running smoothly and meet the expectations of a globally focused curriculum.
"What Follett has done here is pretty remarkable," said Jones. "I’ve been in schools before where we have worked and worked to really build a library collection, and it's never gone this smoothly. What Follett did goes beyond helping us unpack boxes. They bring so much to the experience of what makes a great school library. Beyond this school, we've all benefitted from Follett's influence as well as the just plain hard work and labor. Our staff and students are thrilled."