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Kids are more successful when they have a library—here’s how former teachers plan to bring more to Michigan

Kids are more successful when they have a library—here’s how former teachers plan to bring more to Michigan

Photo via Canva

By Lucas Henkel

July 10, 2024

Local librarians rejoice as Michigan Democrats make a plan to put libraries in more public schools. 

For Michiganders like Melissa Cole, having a library in her school was a game-changer.

“My parents didn’t take me to the library. I learned to love books when I was young because I had a school library,” said the DeWitt native in an interview with The ‘Gander.

As an elementary school student, Cole volunteered at her school’s library and assisted her school librarian. She said having regular access to a library while at school inspired her passion for reading and learning—leading her to pursue a master’s degree in library and information science from Wayne State University when she got older. 

“I became a librarian because I’ve spent a lifetime reading and learning, and it’s become my passion, but that’s not the main thing I love about my job—it’s the people that I get to serve,” she said. 

Cole has worked as a librarian for the Capital Area District Library for nearly 17 years and has seen first-hand how having regular access to a library makes an impact on Michigan students and their families. 

But the number of school libraries and librarians in Michigan has declined over the past two decades, causing  a disproportionate ratio of students to school librarians. With only 567 full-time librarians available for the state’s million-plus students, school districts—and their students—are suffering.

For decades, studies have shown a positive correlation between strong school library programs and student achievement. 

“Having a library right at school and having a librarian there who’s going to help them and guide them is so important,” said Cole. 

That’s why Cole and other education advocates are rejoicing over legislation proposed by former educators-turned Michigan legislators that would put libraries—and certified librarians—in every one of Michigan’s public schools. 

Senate Bills 741, 742, and 743—otherwise known as the “Library in Every School” legislation—were introduced by state Senators Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) and Rosemary Bayer (D-West Bloomfield) earlier this year to help boost literacy rates among public school students. 

Sen. Camilleri, who also serves as chair of the Senate Pre-K12 Appropriations Subcommittee, said in an interview earlier this year that the bills spell out different requirements for different-sized schools to ensure that smaller, rural school districts will not be disproportionately burdened with the new library law—this includes an allowance for part-time librarians at schools with fewer than 300 students. 

“Literacy skills are critical skills. Media literacy, evaluating resources, sorting fact from fiction, understanding how to analyze informational texts—these are arguably some of the most important skills that our kids are leaving our schools with,” said Rachel Goldberg, a librarian at Wines Elementary and department chair for the elementary libraries in Ann Arbor. 

When there’s a professional librarian in the school, Goldberg says, those skills are baked into the curriculum—which has led to improved academic outcomes, especially in low-income schools and schools with a higher population of students with special needs. Evolving technology makes those librarians even more essential. 

“We have access to resources beyond the walls of the library,” Goldberg said. She added that helping students differentiate fact from fiction is crucial in an increasingly digital world. 

“I’ll teach them how to find reliable sources. It’s more of how we interweave all of these different sources of information recognizing that our kids are getting information from more places than ever before.”

The library bills were introduced in April before the Senate Education Committee and were met with a mostly positive reception. The bill package will need to pass through both the state Senate and state House of Representatives before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will be able to sign them into law. 

“Libraries are places where all young people can be successful,” said Goldberg.

“Every single person should be able to walk in and feel good about themselves, feel connected, see stories where their lives are reflected, and be able to explore their own interests.”

Author

  • Lucas Henkel

    Lucas Henkel is a multimedia reporter who strives to inform and inspire local communities. Before joining The 'Gander, Lucas served as a journalist for the Lansing City Pulse.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION
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