In 2014, I got my first teaching job at a brand new high school in Detroit. The building had once been an elementary school with a fully functioning library. There was even a built-in card catalog. Now, though, it was empty, and the position of librarian didn’t exist. When we held a community book drive to fill the shelves, we ended up with a ramshackle collection of old, random, age-inappropriate books, some print encyclopedias, and an eclectic mix of cookbooks.
Two years later, that room had become a dumping ground for unused supplies, and the school football team frequently used it as a meeting space. The bookshelves were disorganized, their alphabetization long ago destroyed. In fact, not a single area school I have worked at in the past nine years has had a functioning library.
When I was growing up, I spent much of my free time in my metro Detroit school library. It’s where, in the 1990s and aughts, I discovered my love for historical fiction. I remember fondly the book recommendations that my elementary and middle school librarians would give me. I sought to bring that same joy of reading to my high school history and English students. But how could I inspire them if the room was dusty and the books old, tattered, and mostly irrelevant?
Study after study has shown that effective library programs can increase student literacy and test scores and create more equitable student outcomes. Having access to the skills needed to decode text and other media impacts our students now and forever. Literacy can make or break their school performance and enhance their career and civic participation. All our students should have access to a school library and a certified librarian to help improve reading levels and foster critical thinking and source analysis.