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19 Apr 2024

As an elementary school librarian, Melissa Snider inspires and empowers young minds in an ever-changing world

WORDS Melissa Thomasma | IMAGES Briley Pickerill

 

As the glow of screens gobbles up increasingly more of young peoples’ time, Melissa Snider strives to ensure that kids are able to sift out the truth from among lies, and to ignite their love for the unbridled magic of books. As a librarian and media specialist at Munger Mountain Elementary, her passion for language and stories — in both English and Spanish — drives her enthusiasm for helping a new generation navigate the priceless resources of the library and learn more about the worlds within and beyond themselves.

Melissa, a Jackson Hole native raised by two celebrated local teachers, earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Montana, followed by a master’s degree in Library and Information Science with an emphasis in school librarianship from Sim- mons College in Boston. “I was ready to go pretty much wherever I could find a job that I was excited about. And there happened to be a position that opened here in Jackson,” she recalls.

“It’s a job that is never boring, it’s always moving so fast. Now we’re talking about AI and new technologies,” Melissa muses as she explains how her job continues to evolve. “I think if anything, libraries have become more essential. People sometimes mistake a library for a museum for books. That’s definitely not what it is. It’s a living, breathing collection of items that should be dynamic and growing with a community of patrons. In my world, those patrons are in kindergarten through fifth grade.”

Melissa also works to ensure that the school’s library offers materials that support the work of teachers as well as the needs and interests of families.

One of the fundamental skills that Melissa seeks to impart across all her work? Teaching kids to find high-quality information both on the page and in the digital sphere. “I came to librarianship because of literature, but I stayed for the information literacy,” she says. “I can’t think of anything more important right now. In our current age of technology and innovation, students need to be able to think on their feet. They need to be able to evaluate, they need to think critically.” As the world becomes more swamped with dangerously faulty info, she strives to empower kids from kindergarten on to ask critical questions and be confident learners for life.

“Everything is always changing. So it’s always like, okay, I have to get myself educated again. Reeducated, reeducated, try to keep up. I learn from the kids a lot; I ask them how they’re using technology because many of our students have access to a device. That’s why I feel a deep sense of urgency. They need to know how to use that device in a really sophisticated way,” Melissa says. With no sign of technology slowing down, equipping kids with dynamic skills is more important than ever.

In addition to cultivating discerning and empowered denizens of the ever-expanding digital world, Melissa treasures the fact that her work shapes the future of the community around her. “The future is fueled by our children, and I’m really hoping that our community can be kind and inclusive and learn from one another. We are so fortunate to have families from around the world at Munger, and we get to see all of the newest-to-the-community families,” she says. The school has a newcomer program specifically for students who are new to the country and speak a language other than English at home. “For us that’s almost always Spanish speakers,” she adds. “So we welcome those kids to our community and our school, and I have the honor of providing them with dual language resources in our library.”

Melissa believes it’s the confluence of sharp awareness and genuine relationship building where hope for the brightest future lies — and she leads young hearts and minds in that direction every day. “Cultivating curiosity, kindness and inclusion is my goal for the future. I feel like if kids have critical thinking skills on top of those things, then we’re all set.”

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