Educator Spotlight: Improving Access to Books Worldwide

Susan Geidner’s kindergarten library class read nonfiction texts with the goal of raising awareness about access to books worldwide. This project led to a community-wide effort to help build a library in a town in Vietnam.

Susan Geidner is a librarian at Avoca West Elementary School in Glenview, Illinois. Photo courtesy Susan Geidner

What was the goal of your library awareness project, and how did you accomplish your goal?

I wanted the kindergarten students in my library class to understand that not everyone has access to libraries. We have a beautiful library at my school, and there are great libraries in every neighborhood in our community. In contrast, in some parts of the world, particularly in rural areas, there are mobile libraries that children may see only every few weeks. This was a completely foreign concept for my students.

To begin the project, we read the book My Librarian is a Camel by Margriet Ruurs. At first, students giggled at the title. Then, the idea of a drastically different type of library drew them in. There are a lot of photos of different types of libraries around the world, which naturally led to a lot of discussion about access to books.

Students identified places from My Librarian is a Camel on a map. Photo by Susan Geidner

Why is teaching kindergartners about global access to books important to you?

My students are used to having access to books everywhere—in their classrooms, the school library, public libraries, their homes. It was eye-opening for them to learn that this is not the case for all children everywhere. It acted as a catalyst for their curiosity about the greater world. For example, after we read My Librarian is a Camel, students identified locations in the book using National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here

Students read nonfiction texts about libraries and access to books around the world. Photo by Susan Geidner

Were there any impacts from this project that you hadn’t anticipated?

After learning about the limited access some children have to books, my students and I asked ourselves, “What’s wrong with this, and what can we do to help?”

Ultimately, students felt empowered to share books with those who have limited access. We partnered with Children’s Library International, a non-profit organization that builds libraries and learning centers in underprivileged communities throughout Southeast Asia.

We are raising money to build a library in Trang Bang, Vietnam. Trang Bang is the hometown of Kim Phuc, “the girl in the picture.” Kim Phuc was severely burned as a child during the Vietnam War. Currently, she works to spread a message of forgiveness while helping child victims of conflict through the Kim Foundation International.

Kim Phuc has been trying to have a library built in her hometown for years. My students realized kids can make this happen. We need to raise $62,000, and we’ve been raising money by hosting events like open-mic nights and teacher read-alouds at a local bookstores. We’re hoping to break ground on the library in June 2019 and complete the library by 2020.

Our partnership with Children’s Library International is very student-driven. It’s not just about building the library. It’s about empowering students to help others around the globe while building educational bridges. It has grown into a project that now extends beyond the original group of kindergarten students to include communities and schools both near and far.

Susan’s project introduced her kindergarten students to global perspectives. Photo by Susan Geidner

What advice do you have for other educators who would like to share global perspectives with young children?

The most important thing is to listen to the kids and allow your class to be student-driven. I’ve observed that some classroom projects don’t succeed because the intended outcomes are too adult-driven. I recommend turning the project over to the students as much as possible while being open to what they discover. Doing this makes the learning experience more impactful for students.

Do you have a quote that inspires your teaching?

A quote from Chuck Theusch of Children’s Library International inspires me: “Dream small. Accomplish big.” The quote reminds me that by everyone playing a small part, we have the power to achieve big goals. When I initially planned my library awareness project, I certainly never imagined that it would empower my students to join a global initiative that would lead to building a library in Southeast Asia! This project grew out of their natural curiosity and desire to take informed action.


This interview has been edited and condensed.

To contact Susan or follow her students’ initiatives, check out the Avoca West ITC Facebook page. To contribute to building a library in Trang Bang, Vietnam, click the donate button on the Children’s Library International homepage.

Interested in joining Susan as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at

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