#MNPSVoices: Stephanie Ham, Director of Library Services

It is the year of literacy across Metro Nashville Public Schools and Stephanie Ham, director of library services, is a key player in the efforts. This charge, however, is not a new one for Ham who has successfully advocated for literacy in the district for years.

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Ham started her career with MNPS as a classroom teacher, but quickly moved out of the classroom and into the library — a change inspired by her love of reading and her understanding of the importance of sharing that with students. But she wanted to expand access to reading on a much larger scale and, through an opportunity to work for Nashville Public Library (NPL), she got to do just that.

Ham worked with NPL to launch Limitless Libraries, a program providing students access to high-quality literature by tapping into the resources available through the Nashville Public Libraries network. Limitless Libraries gives all MNPS students a public library card, provides a courier system that delivers the books and allows for the purchase of materials for school libraries. The program has been successful in removing barriers some students might face in becoming stronger readers: access to a wide range of books. What started in four pilot schools many years ago is now available to all 86,000 students across the district.

“MNPS has some of the best school library collections,” Ham said. “The access for our students is tremendous. We are doing everything we can to get books into the hands of children.”

When Ham transitioned back to a role in the district, she was able to even more tacitly combine the efforts of public and school libraries with students from her experiences. Over those years she has seen positive change.

“The biggest change I have seen over the years is that publishers are making an effort to have diverse and inclusive characters,” Ham said. “Books should be sliding glass doors, windows and mirrors—taking them to another world or acting as a reflection of their own lives.”

Ham’s job calls for the use of multimedia, whether it is encouraging students to read through a tablet or phone, a physical book or podcast. She is passionate about combating illiteracy and her department is also working to launch two new efforts to encourage adult reading - an educator book club and a professional development podcast for librarians.

“We felt like in order to talk to kids about this, we have to read ourselves and learn about literature,” Ham said, who says she loves to read.

Ham's favorite book is Raold Dahl’s “Matilda,” a book with a strong female lead—and her daughter is even named after a spunky female book character.

For parents who may not know where to start with their child’s reading efforts, Ham encourages them to start with simple questions—asking them what they are reading and if the answer is nothing—encourage a visit to their school library.

“Literacy is the stepping stone to everything,” Ham said.