October is Library Appreciation Month

During multiple rounds of budget cuts over the past years, some school districts made the difficult decision of cutting or reducing their school library staff. The historic increase in the education budget recently passed by the Michigan Legislature will allow schools to bring back programs previously reduced or eliminated. So, now may be the time to invest in your district’s school libraries. 

Eastpointe Community Schools is one district in Michigan that is doing just that. Patrick Taylor, the district’s librarian and EL coordinator, is currently working on a proposal to reestablish the libraries at Eastpointe Schools. His proposed stipend: $100,000 to $500,000.

“I am really pleased and fortunate to be in a position where I have that support from my administration,” Taylor said. “I think that comes from the various kinds of work that school librarians have to do on a day-to-day basis.”

A substantial amount of funds will be spent to update, replace, and grow the print collection in the library – the average copyright in one of the district’s libraries is 1995, Taylor said. He also hopes to invest in an e-book platform and more digital learning options.

But the funds will also help to re-frame what the school library is, and how it can be used. Taylor calls it a “dynamic workspace,” with plans to offer a space with flexible seating options that can be used as an instructional setting, an expanded makerspace, and a goal to repurpose a computer lab at the high school that is rarely used now that the district has a 1:1 program with Chromebooks. Taylor said he hopes to redesign the space as a recording studio where students and staff can create podcasts, music, and video content.

“The library is not a place where silence is demanded at all times,” Taylor said. “I work with marching bands – I actually like a little bit of chaos.”

He said the main goal out of this investment is to improve the academic lives of Eastpointe students by making the library better. 

The Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME) shared the following facts and resources to help districts build back their library programs:

  • Today’s School Libraries are dynamic learning centers that support the goals of administrators to ensure that students are literate and are prepared to succeed in college or career. 
  • Multiple studies show that school libraries staffed by certified school librarians increase student achievement and graduation rates, especially the achievement of at-risk students. New research shows that school libraries/librarians had the largest impact in closing the achievement gap in literacy levels due to poverty. This is especially important in Michigan as we work to raise literacy levels in order to have all students read on grade level by the Third Grade.
  • The allowable expenses of federal funds include school libraries/librarians (any activity authorized by ESEA of 1965) as clarified in this memorandum from the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). This includes Title I, Title IIA, Title IV which can be spent on personnel, resources, and professional development including training for teachers to become certified in library media.

Building up a library program also means investing in more staffing. Kathy Lester, MAME Board member and school librarian at East Middle School in Plymouth Canton Community Schools, said certified school librarians, also called Library Media Specialists in Michigan, are the staff at the heart of school libraries. 

“Certified school librarians are uniquely qualified to carry out the five roles of a school librarian: teacher, literacy and reading expert, information specialist, program administrator, and leader,” Lester said.

From reading instruction, to information specialists, developing programs and resources, and leading a reading culture – school librarians can help collaborate with educators and students across the district.

As the sole librarian for Eastpointe Schools, Taylor said he does his best to make himself available to all teachers for any planning needs they may have. Recently, he curated a collection of video content for the district’s health teacher that can be shared with other educators in the district. He also co-teaches a research unit with a 9th grade English teacher, where students learn about resource evaluation, how to use databases, and more. 

“There is just so much we have to offer, and school librarians are very collaborative in nature – it’s how we were trained to be,” Taylor said. 

Resources Available from MAME

If your district would like to reinstate school librarians, but cannot find certified staff, remember that at the Elementary level, teachers with all-subjects certification may teach in the Library/Media Center. In addition, Wayne State University has an online program where teachers can earn their Library Media (ND) certification with 15 credit hours.

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has published guidelines on staffing school libraries. The Visual Guideline to Staffing Choices in School Libraries document shows the areas of expertise and training of certified school librarians versus other staff using a green, yellow, and red light system. Note: It is important to only use the title of Librarian and/or Media Specialist for those who have teacher certification (elementary all subjects or Library Media K-12 (ND)). Paraprofessional staff working in a school library should never use the professional titles as outlined in the MDE guidelines.

The MDE Effective School Library Toolkit for Administrators explains the what, why, and how of school libraries including a sample job description for media specialists. The Library of Michigan has a Model School Library Program where each year a new library is selected. Interested administrators and staff can arrange to visit these libraries if interested. 

If you would like additional information or to speak with an excellent librarian who can help you consider steps toward bringing back your school’s library, Kathy Lester, from the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME) is an excellent resource: kathyL@mimame.org.