FILE - School library

An experimental school library media specialist program that started this summer at Wayne State University will try to help fill Michigan’s school librarian shortage by recognizing certified teachers as school librarians after they’ve taken an additional 15 credits.

Some public libraries funded through local property taxes require their librarians to have only a G.E.D or high school diploma, while Michigan law requires all state-funded school librarians to have master’s degrees.

The Wayne State program coincided with legislation that would require every school in the state to have a library with a librarian to mend the 92 percent of Michigan schools that don’t employ full-time, certified school librarians, according to a Bridge article.

The Michigan Department of Education granted temporary permission to slash school librarian requirements to 15 credits from 36 credits, the amount required for a full Master of Library and Information Science degree. 

Wayne State’s School of Information Sciences Academic Service Officer Matthew Fredericks told The Center Square that Michigan public schools used the term  “school library media specialist” to reflect broadened responsibilities of school librarians.

The program hopes to attract more school librarians to Michigan schools, which Frederick said will ameliorate the state's literacy rate.

The low number of librarians in Michigan may stem from onerous occupational licensing, said Jarrett Skorup, director of marketing and communications for The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan education and research organization.

Skorup questioned the costs to become a school librarian, which requires a bachelor’s degree and a state teaching certificate that can take as long as five years and about $26,000 for an in-state bachelor and master’s degree.

“This is a very heavy licensing burden,” Skorup said. “Schools should determine how relevant it is for somebody to have a master’s degree to be a school librarian and if you want more, the easiest thing to do is to ease the barriers to entry.”

Skorup said overbearing licensing laws don't help Michigan raise its literacy scores. Currently, those scores are ranked last in the region.

“If you look at surrounding states, Michigan has the lowest literacy rate among its students in the Midwest and we have very strict standards for our school librarians,” he said. “So I don’t think that requiring these types of degrees in order to be a school librarian is going to help our children read.”

Skorup said that’s a hard decision for cash-strapped schools.

“Obviously, if you have a tight budget, schools are making calculations if they want a librarian or a teacher,” he said.

The number of school librarians in Michigan declined 73 percent between 2000 and 2016 compared to a national drop of 20 percent, Chalkbeat reported.

Skorup said he thinks easing licensing laws are a better solution than legislating librarians into every school.

“It’s like you’re paying [school librarians] the same as teachers, generally speaking, so why would they want to go on and get those extra degrees before they’re even allowed to work and they are probably going to end up being teachers?” Skorup said.

Schools have other financially feasible options, such as sharing librarians, Skorup said, adding that he didn’t know of any direct correlation between more librarians and a higher literacy rate.

“I think there's a lot of other solutions and ways to allow for that type of flexibility,” he said. "One is for the state to remove some of these really strict rules. I don’t think they should be pursuing even stricter rules like mandating specific school librarians in every school building when we have schools in Michigan that only have seven kids.”

Staff Writer

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.