Michigan needs more school librarians to improve student literacy

By Chandra Madafferi

Certified school librarians across Michigan are doing amazing work to help increase literacy rates and spark a love of reading among students. As a state, we must work to ensure every student has access to a certified librarian in their school.

Certified school librarians run vibrant programs that allow students to learn more about the world around them and delve deeper into their interests. It’s in the school library where students can learn more about space exploration, Triassic-period dinosaurs, the Civil Rights Movement or the Renaissance.

These great school libraries are overseen by a professional librarian — one with a master’s level education in teaching and library science who’s been certified by the state of Michigan — who helps individual students chart their journey.

On top of curating books and helping connect students with resources, certified school librarians also work closely with classroom teachers to support reading curriculum. They also teach students critical research and online literacy skills so they can better sift through mountains of information (and misinformation) available online, collaborate with other educators to integrate technology into the classroom, and so much more.

Throughout my teaching career, I relied on expert help from my school’s certified librarian to find age-appropriate reading materials and other resources to supplement my classroom teaching. Having a certified librarian was invaluable for our students and educators.

Research shows that schools with certified librarians enjoy higher standardized test scores and better graduation rates — even when controlling for socioeconomic factors and funding levels. Schools with certified librarians help build intellectually curious and passionate lifelong learners.

The positive impacts of strong school libraries run by certified librarians are particularly felt in low-income schools in urban and rural areas, as well as schools with higher numbers of students with special needs. Students attending these schools benefit even more than other schools from having certified school librarians. A 2015 study out of Washington state concluded that a “key factor distinguishing high-performing high-poverty schools from low-performing high-poverty schools is a quality library program.”

However, the students who would benefit most from having a certified librarian at their school are those who are least likely to have one. A research project called “School Librarian Investigations — Decline or Evolution?” (SLIDE) found that 7.5 million students nationwide are in school districts where none of the buildings have librarians. Of those students, SLIDE found that 58.7% are in high-poverty communities and 64% are in majority nonwhite districts.

It’s a sad irony, and it’s one we must fix.

The challenge is especially daunting here in Michigan, as we rank near the bottom of the nation when it comes to the number of certified school librarians. According to recent federal data compiled by SLIDE, Michigan ranks 46th in librarians per school with 0.14 and 47th in students per librarian, with 2,988 students for every school librarian.

The educators across our state who comprise the Michigan Education Association are committed to improving literacy rates among students. Every student deserves a great education that prepares them for college or the workplace — and it’s nearly impossible to land a great job after graduation without solid literacy skills.

State leaders must replicate what’s working in other states that are outperforming Michigan when it comes to operating strong school libraries — like Tennessee and Maryland, where there is nearly one certified librarian for every school building and where there are fewer than 800 students per librarian.

This “March is Reading Month,” let’s take time to honor our hardworking, knowledgeable and committed school librarians — and work together to increase their ranks so we can expose many more students to the joy of reading.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.

(Posted as submitted to Detroit News)

For News Media Home-Sidebar Labor Voices Newsroom

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