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Opinion | A librarian in every Michigan school? Lawmakers make the case

The world as we know it is changing — technology is expanding, transportation is evolving and working people today need different skills and abilities than workers 50 years ago. If Michigan is going to be competitive in the 21st Century economy, then it’s time we make sure today’s students receive the education they need to be tomorrow’s builders, thinkers and leaders.

The best way to do that is by ensuring our schools have the resources and staff they need to provide Michigan’s kids with a world-class education.

The foundation on which that quality education is built is literacy, yet it is no secret that Michigan’s kids are facing a crisis. While that information is sadly not news, what may be shocking is that every prison in the state of Michigan is required to have a library with a certified librarian, yet we don’t set the same standard for our schools.

Support for school libraries in Michigan has been declining over the last decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of school librarians in Michigan declined by 54 percent. Michigan is now ranked 47th in the nation in our ratio of students to certified librarians and, as of 2012, less than 10 percent of Michigan public schools employ a full-time certified media specialist (the new school librarian). At the same time, however, the need for services provided by school libraries with certified media specialists is growing.

August 2019: Amid literacy crisis, Michigan’s school librarians have all but disappeared
Opinion: Want to improve literacy in Michigan? Restore school librarians
Opinion: Michigan school libraries are still in limbo. Why?

School libraries don’t just benefit students — they serve as essential resources for teachers, parents, administrators and community members as well. A school library impact study conducted in Idaho found that teachers were three times more likely to rate their literacy teaching as excellent when they collaborated with librarians.

Parents working two or three jobs to provide for their families also rely on their child’s school library to provide the resources and education they otherwise may be unable to provide themselves. Yet without more support for our libraries, these services will ultimately fall to the wayside — cutting short opportunity for our students in the process.

Our colleagues on both sides of the aisle spent all of March traveling throughout their districts sharing a love of reading with students for Reading Month. We, ourselves, have visited the schools in our three districts many times, and we have seen first-hand how much of a difference adequately-funded library services can make for students, parents, teachers and administrators alike.

Libraries function as an essential component of a well-rounded learning experience, providing space to combine literacy, creativity and curiosity — and we can no longer afford to ignore the consequences of overlooking this invaluable resource.

In response to our state’s staggering illiteracy rates and in honor of April as School Library Month, we recently introduced a critical package of bills that will require full-time staffed libraries in every public school throughout our state. (You can read the bills here, here and here.)

We are now calling on our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us and prove that our dedication to reading and improving our state’s literacy rates last longer than a month-long campaign, and work with us to pass meaningful legislation that will ensure students have equitable access to this vital resource.

Michigan students, and in turn our state economy, are facing a crisis. We cannot afford to continue to kick the can down the road. The time to take legislative action is now. Our students — and our state — deserve nothing less.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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