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

Adam Zemke is a Democratic state representative from Ann Arbor. Darrin Camilleri is a Democratic state representative from Brownstown Township. Christine Greig is a Democratic representative from Farmington Hills.

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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Rhoda Proper
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 8:44am

I notice all these supporters are from urban areas which can support this idea. Our town of 1,700 (our entire county only has 22,000 approximately for a population) cannot afford this. However, we have a wonderful Public Library/Museum supported by our City and two adjoining townships which fulfill our needs, including the school's, quite nicely, thank you very much! So, do what you want for your town, but leave ours alone! This should NOT be State mandated!!

William C. Plumpe
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 9:15am

OK. Make exception for areas that have a functioning local, school or county library system. Mandate that reading and literacy are stressed at all levels of education and that a functioning and proper library system is available to all Michigan students in some way shape or form. The ability to read is critical and lack of literacy is not confined to just urban areas.

Sherry A Wells
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 9:24am

Yes and. . . half of Detroit's libraries are closed, and many pairs of the rest share a librarian, with each open only three days a week. Lansing has about 20% more population than Flint yet it has 3 libraries and Flint only the one. Corporations pulled out of these "urban areas" and left them unable to keep up the libraries. However, the state mandated prisons in rural areas--your new "industry" --and requires them to have libraries and certified librarians. Sounds fair to me.

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 10:08am

As a librarian, I respectfully disagree. Media specialists/school librarians receive specialized training in child development and collections targeted toward younger readers, plus additional training (whether internships or on the job) in kid-centric literacy tools such as flannel boards, story hour and age-appropriate hands-on activities. I work in an academic library, which has its own specializations and peculiarities that are mostly unrelated to K-12 librarianship. While I could provide services to a younger audience, I wouldn't be nearly as effective as someone who's specially trained to help school-age children. I applaud your community's efforts to promote history and provide library services, but I'll bet even the sternest, most stalwart of the bunch would love some help in working specifically with young readers and learners.

jane thomas
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 4:06pm

I totally agree with you.

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 8:03pm

Public librarians are not also certified teachers. School librarians are. Don't tell me your kids are worth it just because your town is small.

Fri, 06/08/2018 - 9:07am

I also respectfully disagree. A small school district can afford one certified media specialist. Teachers are mandated....and a school media specialist IS a teacher. We have a small school in our area whose school media specialist doubles as a classroom teacher part of each day. Not the best solution, but a workable one.

William C. Plumpe
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 9:09am

I hope this plan gets widespread bipartisan support.
Reading is essential to any type of education whether college,
professional or trade and is an enjoyable and inexpensive
pastime that opens up the doors of imagination and makes people think.
I fully support any program that encourages reading and
literacy for school age kids and adults.

Sherry A Wells
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 9:18am

I asked a retired Detroit Public Schools teacher which students did not have problems reading by third grade. "Those whose parents read to them, there were books in the home and the child had his or her own library card." Having a library card in your own school library would be next best. IF your school has a library. I can't imagine one that doesn't.

Missing MI's Me...
Wed, 06/06/2018 - 8:12am

It's interesting that the MI Legislature had no trouble getting a third-grade Reading Retention Bill passed for ALL MI schools.... (both urban and rural), yet HB Bills meant to support and fund literacy programs, led by certified School Library professionals with the sole purpose of increasing the % of MI students reading at grade level, is rejected? Doesn't make sense. If Michigan continues as is, one
of only a few states in the country with declining literacy scores from 2015-16 to 2016-17, I guess we could always tap into our prison populations instead of schools for the future workforce. All you have to do to see what matters to Michigan lawmakers is follow the money.

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 8:21am

So what's stopping communities from hiring librarians other than their voters not wanting to pay for it? So some Democrat's answer is to pass a law forcing it? How novel.

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 9:01am

I work in a rural community library. Our public school's library is staffed by a hard-working volunteer who is a retired teacher. She does what she can, but she doesn't have much of a budget and she has no training in 21st century media.

At the community library, we work to provide new materials and programs for preK-12 students; however, it's been a struggle to collaborate with the teachers. They don't have enough hours to bring their classes to us. And sadly, most parents never come into the library at all. Some teens visit regularly, but they don't rely on adult transportation.

I heartily applaud your effort to bring back school librarians in Michigan. In-school resources are the most likely to be utilized by teachers and students. They fill a very important niche in our educational landscape.

Fri, 06/08/2018 - 8:53am

As a retired school media specialist whose position was eliminated a year before my retirement (requiring me to work as a para-pro for a year, doing the same job but for much less pay) I wholeheartedly support this measure. Administrators, at least in this case, indicated that they didn't need me and that the teachers would all have libraries in their classrooms. What shortsightedness! Clearly these administrators had no idea what my job entailed....reading programs for all grade levels, making sure the collection met curriculum needs, special support for non-readers, helping students looking for reading materials, technology support, etc. The library IS the heart of a school and without a certified librarian cannot fulfill that role! Kudos to you all!

Sat, 06/09/2018 - 2:36pm

I am a college librarian who sees daily the effects of having fewer media specialists at the K-12 level. At the college level, we are supposed to teach advanced research skills such as finding peer-reviewed journal articles. In the last ten years, however, we've had to start at stage zero with basic tasks like how to find a book in a library or why we don't list facebook as a research source. Students tell me there was no certified media specialist in their high school. Instead, the library was used as a staging area for test taking, school photos, etc. The staff members who were there didn't know about the free research databases offered through the state and instead pointed to students to social media and non-credible websites for research. Media specialists and the skills they teach are crucial to our democracy.