If you’re like most adults in the United States, you attended a school that employed a full-time librarian. Not just someone who stocked the shelves and kept the records, but an actual librarian, whose field of study was research and teaching and who was there to pass that on to students.
Many students today don’t have that resource.
In the state of Michigan, 92 percent of schools don’t employ a full-time librarian or even a dedicated part-timer. In fact, the ratio of librarians to schools is among the worst in the country—47th out of 50. And Michigan considers itself now to be in a literacy crisis. Beginning in 2019, many districts have opted to begin holding back third graders who don’t measure up in reading. Since 2003, Michigan has been sliding down the scales of national literacy rates to its current position at 35th, the lowest in all the Midwest.
Now, Michigan state legislators are considering a bill which would require schools to have both a library and a librarian. Darrin Camilleri, the Michigan House of Representatives Democrat minority whip, is backing three bills addressing this issue.
“Schools that have librarians and libraries have better reading scores than schools that do not,” Camilleri said. “There is no clearer data than that.” He pointed to several studies—like this one and this one—that show a link between school librarians and improved reading scores, even when accounting for differences in school funding and student income. Library advocates say that under Michigan law, even prisons need to have a library and a librarian—so why not schools?
But it’s not just Michigan. Many American schools are dealing with not only the loss of librarians, but in some cases, the public belief that there’s even a need for them.
Some of the decline in librarian numbers can be explained by cost cutting: school districts across the country, whose funding foundered as the economy foundered, have been forced to reduce their costs wherever possible, and in many cases that means cutting librarians out of the budget.
Many blame the rise in technology for the decline of school libraries and librarians. When every student has Google in their pocket, it’s hard for them to see the value in dead-tree research, and plenty of people believe that the need for a technological education has supplanted the need for a research-based one. But the two go hand in hand. Librarians are research specialists, and never has that been needed more than in this day of constant information overload. Who better to teach us how to evaluate the data for ourselves?