These Michigan lawmakers want every school to have a library

These Michigan lawmakers want every school to have a library

By Kyle Kaminski

March 7, 2024

Legislation introduced by Sens. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) and Rosemary Bayer (D-West Bloomfield) would require libraries—and librarians—for every Michigan school.

MICHIGAN—Three bills introduced this week in the state Senate aim to ensure that every public school student in Michigan has access to a school library that’s staffed by a certified librarian.

State Sens. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) and Rosemary Bayer (D-West Bloomfield) on Wednesday introduced Senate Bills 741, 742, and 743, which have been collectively dubbed as the “Library in Every School” legislation. Together, they would require every public school in Michigan to operate a library, as well as hire state-certified librarians to look after them.

In an interview with The ‘Gander, Camilleri said that he introduced the bills to help boost literacy rates among students at public schools, which have lagged behind in recent years in tandem with a sharply declining number of librarians employed by public school districts statewide.

“We’re hoping to fix that,” Camilleri said. “With this legislation, we would not only increase the amount of librarians in our schools, we’d also shift the culture around access to school libraries.”

Michigan’s reading scores have tumbled in national rankings in recent decades and the number of school librarians declined by 73% between 2000 and 2016, Chalkbeat Detroit reports. Officials at the Michigan Education Association have long pointed to a direct link between schools with certified librarians and higher standardized test scores and better graduation rates.

In 2019, 92% of schools statewide didn’t employ a full-time, certified librarian. And this year, Camilleri said there are a number of school districts across Michigan without libraries at all. 

“I think during the recession we saw a huge decline in those resources available to our students because schools often felt that with the digital age, there’s no need for those spaces or to prioritize those types of positions when you’re making staffing cuts,” Camilleri said. “I believe that the exact opposite is true. Libraries are more important now than ever before.”

As a former teacher, Camilleri dealt with the issue first-hand while working at a school in Detroit. 

“We did not have a school library at all. I had to fundraise to get classroom textbooks for kids to have a small classroom library, and that was my only access point to books for my students,” he told The ‘Gander. “They had a space that was a media center, but it was just for computers and there was not a single book in that space at all. And so this is not uncommon.”

Senate Bill 741 and 742, which Camilleri sponsored, would require every school to maintain a library that offers both print and electronic resources, as well as employs a state-certified librarian. Senate Bill 743, which Bayer sponsored, would also require every school to designate a librarian—or another school administrator—to supervise students while they’re at the library.

Michigan Education Association officials say the positive impacts of strong school libraries that are run by certified librarians are much more noticeable in low-income schools (in both urban and rural areas) and in schools with a higher proportion of students with special needs

In a statement, Bayer said evolving technology makes those librarians even more essential.

“Librarians play a vital role in our education system,” Bayer said. “In today’s age of digital misinformation, our librarians help students ascertain fact from fiction and the importance of checking sources. They are providing our students with skills they will use every day.” 

Camilleri said the bills spell out different requirements for different-sized schools, to help ensure that smaller, rural school districts will not be disproportionately burdened by the new library law—including an allowance for part-time librarians at schools with fewer than 300 students.

The legislation does not include any additional funding for school districts to help meet the proposed requirements. But as the chair of the Senate Pre-K12 Appropriations Subcommittee, Camilleri said he plans to work out funding in this year’s state budget to support school libraries.

“It is going to be a component of the budget that I propose going forward,” he said. 

The bills now advance to the Senate Committee on Education, and will need to pass through both the state Senate and state House of Representatives—which is currently stuck in a partisan deadlock—before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will be able to sign them into law.

“School libraries and access to information should not be a partisan question,” Camilleri said. “It’s simply about helping our students learn to read and become better readers, which therefore helps our school systems be stronger as well as any future prospects for our students.”

READ MORE: 7 ways Whitmer’s new budget plan invests in Michigan kids and schools

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION
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