LANSING, Mich. — Michigan has fallen behind other states when it comes to school libraries. Many are understaffed, under-resourced or have been abandoned to use as extra space.
A set of three bills in the Michigan House of Representatives is designed to fix that.
“The reason that we’re showing up for school librarians in Michigan is because Michigan has so very few of them right now and yet school librarians are extraordinarily effective and have a high impact for children from all different backgrounds for individualized learning," said John Chrastka who serves as the executive director of EveryLibrary. His non-profit organization works to support libraries in schools.
Chrastka explained that now is the right time to invest in school libraries and certified school librarians because they will help students recover from the learning loss caused by the pandemic.
The bills would require every public school in the state to have a library, to employ at least one certified librarian at each school and would require an administrator to supervise students if the librarian is not available.
Advocates say access to school libraries has a major impact on test scores and reading comprehension.
"It was the schools that have the lowest English language arts proficiency that have the least amount of access," said Kathy Lester who serves as the advocacy chair for the Michigan Association for Media in Education."There's multiple studies that show that having a school library staffed by a certified school librarian in your school correlates with higher reading performance, higher writing performance. You have a higher graduation rate at the schools that have school librarians.”
Kristy Sandel who is a certified school librarian at Mason High School explained that school libraries are one of the easiest ways to increase test scores and reading competence.
"It's a very easy way to do it, but it's expensive," she said. "We say it's the largest classroom in the school. It's a huge space."
Sandel's job is more than checking books in and out.
“I do a lot of technology stuff, I do a lot of resetting passwords…I love teaching lessons. We have classes that come in and I will work with the teacher to kind of figure out what they need, teach them lessons maybe on the databases or on finding materials or writing for papers," Sandel said.
She is also responsible for students who are taking online classes through Michigan's virtual learning classroom.
Michigan Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, sponsored one of the bills in the package and explained that funding for school libraries would come out of the school aid fund.
"Oftentimes what we hear from schools is the fear of an unfunded mandate which is totally understandable," he said. "We did just also pass a record amount of funding for schools and with that substantial per-pupil increase that’s something that could be used to high school librarians.
Koleszar explained that funding for school libraries took a real hit during the recession that began in 2008.
School librarians "were one of the positions that were eliminated first," he said.
In mid-Michigan, not all schools have certified librarians.
Lansing Public Schools, for instance, has five librarians for 24 schools. Williamston Public Schools has no certified school librarians, just two staffers who supervise their two libraries. St. Johns Public Schools do not have any certified school librarians but they do have libraries in all six of their schools.
Koleszar explained that there is less traction for these bills than he would like but he is hopeful that they will gain support.