EAST LANSING — As School Library Month draws to a close, Michigan Education Association member and veteran media specialist Kathy Lester is working tirelessly to advocate for Michigan’s certified school librarians, who play a pivotal role in preparing students for success but whose numbers have drastically declined in the state.
Lester, a media specialist in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, will take over this summer as president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a role she was elected to one year ago and plans to use to draw greater attention to a lack of equity in media services for public school students across Michigan and the U.S.
A recent national study revealed schools in areas with higher poverty and more students of color and English language learners have the least access to properly staffed libraries. Additionally, Michigan was one of 10 states highlighted in the study for having “extraordinarily high” losses of school librarians over the last decade at 49.5%. In the latest figures, our state ranks 48th in the nation, measured by the ratio of certified librarians to students, at 1:3,110. That compares to a national average of 1:1,425.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that school libraries staffed by a certified librarian have a positive effect on literacy achievement and graduation rates, yet 2021 data shows nearly 20% of school librarian full-time equivalent positions have been eliminated, leaving 4.4 million students in high-poverty school districts with no librarians.
“The data speaks for itself — Michigan has a big school librarian shortage, and it’s negatively impacting our students,” said MEA President Paula Herbart. “Certified librarians and media specialists provide critical resources in our schools, including handling book challenges, teaching media literacy and advancing classroom curriculum. All students deserve access to resources and education experiences that help them thrive in and outside the classroom, and the MEA commends Lester for her dedication to making this a reality in Michigan and beyond.”
Lester will continue her full-time job as a media specialist while serving in the volunteer role for AASL for one year starting in July. In her new capacity, Lester will continue tackling major issues impacting education in the state and across the country.
“Media specialists and certified school librarians aren’t often recognized as educators, yet every day we teach in the largest classroom in our schools — the library,” Lester said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to advance recognition for the librarian community and I look forward to helping AASL members serve as a resource to the communities that need us most.”
Media specialists like Lester offer a wide array of valuable services and lead students to the resources they need to learn and grow. They also help ensure these resources engage students, are easily accessible to teachers and support classrooms at a deep level.
From students’ low reading performance to community debates over which books should be allowed in schools, librarians play a vital role in addressing issues in public education in Michigan. Learn more in the April edition of the MEA Voice magazine.