Graphic by Morgaine Ford-Workman Graphic by Morgaine Ford-Workman

Despite studies showing their importance, school librarians and libraries are largely a thing of the past in Michigan. This state Rep. is working to change that.

BROWNSTOWN, Mich.—Darrin Camilleri is the son of an immigrant from Malta. He grew up in Michigan, and wanted to give back to a state that had given him so much. He was an avid bowler, an intern for the late Congressman John Dingell (D-Dearborn), and a proud metro Detroiter.

“My family’s story is the typical American story,” Camilleri told The ‘Gander. “We have come to this country and been able to create a good, prosperous life, and had done so through the auto industry specifically. But for me, I knew I could not go into that field and find the same level of stability or success.”

So, Camilleri became a teacher. That would be his way of giving back. He went to Kalamazoo College, got a degree, and through Teach for America started teaching in 2014 at Consortium College Preparatory High School in southwest Detroit. But on his first day, he discovered he had no textbooks, no curriculum, and he was made chair of his department on his first day teaching at just 22 years old.

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“I thought that showed how broken our system was for our kids,” he recalled. “In that moment I decided I was going to do the best I could for my students, give them everything I could, but that maybe I needed to do a little bit more to create change for our community.” 

A few years later, Camilleri ran for the Michigan House of Representatives, and won highly competitive races. While he’s worked on a number of legislative efforts from increasing government transparency to workers’ rights to broadband access, Rep. Camilleri’s (D-Brownstown) work as a teacher has never been far from his mind. 

For instance, at Consortium Prep Camilleri’s students lacked a school library, which was a major motivating factor for his foray into politics. Students need reading material, he says, and they need it now more than ever. After experiencing the isolation and cultural strangeness of a global health emergency, providing students something to read through school libraries feels more important to Camilleri than ever. 

As a teacher, Camilleri fundraised to get a classroom library for his students. But as a legislator, he can help students statewide.

“My bill, that I’m working on with some of my colleagues, would make it so every school has a library, and every school has a librarian,” he explained. “Right now, that is not the case. It is something that’s actually required in our corrections institutes but is not something that is required for our school buildings.”

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That isn’t just to help students through global pandemics, either. A growing body of research in the last twenty years has shown the direct correlation between school libraries and student success, measuring the idata multiple ways and in multiple states and all pointing to the conclusion that a school library is a major component of a strong education. 

The same research also showed that losing full-time, qualified school librarians resulted in worse student performance. That’s been happening regularly in Michigan reports Bridge: As of 2019, 92% of schools statewide didn’t have a full-time, certified librarian. Even counting part-time librarians, the numbers hardly budge.

“That’s something I want to change,” said Camilleri. “We can improve literacy rates and create that love of learning that every student needs.”