This is the moment when we should have more positions for school librarians and media specialists who can meet the growing needs of our students. Social media thrives on misinformation, and students have few tools to discern between fact, opinion, and manipulation. At the same time, Michigan school libraries are going extinct. The Michigan Department of Education statistics from December 2019 show that only 8% of Michigan schools have a full-time librarian on staff.
There is no world in which this statistic isn’t alarming. Students cannot become media literate, learn valuable research skills, or understand how to engage responsibly with the vast amount of information they have access to if no one is available to support them in those endeavors.
And fewer libraries and librarians create even more work for Michigan teachers. At a time of teacher shortages, putting the burden of creating, curating, and organizing a school library on the teaching staff of our schools might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. In every teaching job I’ve had, I’ve spent time reading books to recommend to my students and scouring garage sales and used book sales at my local libraries. At one job, we got a grant to get a “library” on carts, which were kept in a storage closet and brought out by us English teachers. We, teachers, had to manage the entire project, from the digital catalog to the app-based check-out system.
I’ve been heartened by some recent attempts by Michigan lawmakers to force change, including a bill that would require a certified media specialist for each school library and another that would ensure every school has a useful and functional library to begin with — even though those bills are unlikely to pass. We need something to change at schools like mine, where the absence of a library and librarian hurts students and strains educators.
Michigan students should have a place to go to research new topics, explore their passions, process the information they constantly receive, and sometimes just escape into the wonderful world of a book. We must continue to call on our lawmakers and districts to fund libraries for all Michigan schools. Our students should be able to rely on a phrase from one of my favorite childhood book series, Harry Potter: “When in doubt, go to the library.”
Chalkbeat (chalkbeat.org) is a nonprofit news organization covering public education.
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