Michigan Democrats want to ensure school libraries are accessible to students across state - TAI News
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State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Keego Harbor, raises her hands after exclaiming “We did it!” before Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of gun bills, Thursday, April 13, 2023, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. (Al Goldis/Detroit News via AP)

Two Michigan state senators have introduced legislation to ensure school libraries are accessible to students across the state.

Sens. Rosemary Bayer and Darren Camilleri, both Democrats, submitted a package of three bills in March to address the lack of libraries in many public schools. Those three bills, S.B. 741, 742 and 743, were the subject of an April 16 hearing of the Senate’s Education Committee.

The three bills would require every school in the state to establish a library by the 2025-2026 school year, to employ at least one certified school librarian at each library, and to designate an individual to supervise students in a school library when a librarian is not present.

The legislation allows modification of the requirements depending on school and district size, allowing smaller sites to employ librarians part-time. 

In an interview with the Michigan Independent, Bayer said she and Camilleri are also working to include funding for school librarians in the upcoming state budget.

“We put $25 million in to start with for hiring librarians,” Bayer said. “We’re determined that we support that financially as well.”

Bayer said that for her the bills are a bit personal: She developed a love of reading early in her childhood. When she was growing up in the small town of Almont, Michigan, which did not have a library, Bayer said, her family would head to the closest “big city” that had a library every couple of weeks.

“We would all pile in the station wagon,” she said, “and drive to the big city of Romeo where my mom would buy groceries, and we would go to the library.”

Since Bayer knows firsthand the benefits of reading in childhood, she wants to make sure those benefits are available to the next generation of students.

“Once you learn to read, and you’re really good at reading, then everything else about education is easier and better, because you have the ability to understand the ideas and information,” she said. “You do better at school, school becomes easier, school becomes more fun.”

Bayer said the data on literacy and achievement backs her up.

According to the Center for American Progress, dozens of studies have shown for decades that strong school library programs are linked to increased academic achievement.

“The data show increases in standardized testing, increases in graduation rates, attendance, I mean, all kinds of things are impacted by that ability to read and access to libraries and books,” Bayer said.

But libraries and librarians, important as they are, were some of the easiest things for schools to cut during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. Some schools also cut library funding during the Great Recession a decade prior.

“A lot of them, you walk in and there’s hardly any books, they literally cleared it out. So that didn’t all happen during COVID. There was definitely things that started earlier when the recession was so painful for schools. And this is what happens, libraries are one of those things that gets cut,” Bayer said.

Bayer noted that one of the bills has a provision is especially important during an era where the scale of misinformation and disinformation seems to increase at a dizzying rate.

S.B. 742 includes a requirement that certified school librarians work with teachers and administrators to “integrate information, technology, and research skills” with literacy instruction.

“We all have trouble these days with understanding what’s real — what’s truth and what’s fiction,” Bayer said. “And it’s particularly harmful for kids online.”

In this fast-changing information environment, Bayer said, it’s crucial for schools to play a major role in teaching kids to figure out what information is real and what isn’t.

“There will always be another new app faster than we can prohibit them,” she said. “So we need to teach people how to use those things wisely.”

The three bills currently remain with the Senate Education Committee. Bayer said if all goes well, she expects them to be voted on and enacted prior to the start of the next school year.

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