Wayne State to Offer Experimental School Librarian Certification Program

Created to address Michigan’s low literacy rates, Wayne State University’s School of Information Sciences is launching an experimental program for spring/summer 2019 aimed at increasing the number of professional school librarians in the state.

Kafi Kumasi head shot
Kafi Kumasi
Photo courtesy of Wayne State University

Created to address Michigan’s low literacy rates, Wayne State University’s School of Information Sciences (WSU SIS), Detroit, is launching an experimental program for spring/summer 2019 aimed at increasing the number of professional school librarians in the state. Kafi Kumasi, associate SIS professor and lead developer of the program, says the time is right to act on “new synergy” in the state’s educational system and legislative bodies.

Michigan educators who already hold a teaching certificate can enroll in the Experimental Graduate Certificate in Library and Information Sciences; the 15-credit online program confers the state’s ND (library media) professional endorsement, a prerequisite for work in a school media center. The curriculum includes classes in core LIS and school media topics and also includes a three-credit practicum. However, it is truncated to leave out formal instruction on subjects such as cataloging. To address content that has been left out of the certificate curriculum, the school will bring in guest lecturers who can inform and train students, for example on integrated library system (ILS) software such as Follett, which is used by the majority of schools in the state. Students who complete the graduate certificate may continue coursework to earn the full MLIS degree.

In order to face the concerns about the certificate program, “it was crucial to get buy in from school library professionals right away,” said Kumasi. “We first went to MAME (Michigan Association for Media in Education), who were critical stakeholders; we needed them to champion it.” While there was some initial reticence about the perceived deprofessionalization of the certificate program and its reduced coursework, “enough people understood what we were trying to do.”

Kumasi thinks this short-term certificate is a great approach for schools who might like to “grow their own” school librarian; a candidate could be identified from a school’s current set of educators and sent through the program. Another outcome might be a teacher earning the certificate and then advocating at the school—or school district—level to bring the position back to the school library, having gained the appropriate training. This was the case for Patti Shayne, who heard about the WSU program through MAME’s advertising. Shayne, a high school media manager, hopes that the ND endorsement will result in a promotion in her school to the level of professional media specialist. “My goal is to...become a visionary in the future of libraries [and] technology and curriculum integration, support the school community, enhance digital and print literacy, and take a lead on technology needs for the school,” Shayne told LJ.

Jonna Vanwienen, currently a fourth grade teacher, recently applied to the SIS school library media program to earn her certification and was flagged by Wayne State administration for entry into the experimental program. “As a full time teacher, the timeline of the program was extremely interesting to me,” said Vanwienen. “When I went to the [program’s] meet and greet in January, I felt that great planning went in to design the program and make it applicable for educators who are ready for a change.” Amanda Davies, a high school English teacher, had been prepared to start classes at WSU to work toward a full MLIS degree. “I can complete the experimental program more quickly, and I hope to be hired as a school librarian in the next year instead of six years down the road when I finally finish the MLIS. I was willing to do this, but when you can start living your dream sooner than later, who wouldn’t want to do that?” Davies, who does plan to complete the full MLIS curriculum over time, noted that “for a lot of people the cost of the full MLIS was prohibitive. Teachers who want to become librarians have a hard time justifying the cost of a master’s when they know that they’ll be making a lateral move financially.”

For Beth Shaum, former English teacher turned K–8 librarian at a Michigan Catholic school, her three years of library experience thus far has been “so fulfilling that I'd prefer not to go back to teaching English if I ever had to leave my current job.” Earning the ND certificate means Shaum will have the marketable skills she’d need to apply for a school media position in other schools.

School librarian numbers were already on the decline in Michigan when staffing guidelines related to school libraries were removed from the state’s educational accrediting process in the 2006–07 school year. As a result only 8 percent of schools in Michigan have a certified school librarian on staff. “We are dealing with a bit of a chicken or egg situation,” Kumasi said, referring to the fact that while school library jobs are in short supply, this program seeks to increase viable candidates for these positions. A three-bill legislative package introduced by Michigan house Democrats would see the following drastic improvements for school libraries, if passed:

● House Bill 4392: Requires every public school in Michigan to offer a library, which must meet certain criteria, beginning in the 2019–20 school year.

● HB 4393: Requires a school district board to employ at least one certified media specialist for each school library operated by that district beginning in the 2019–20 school year.

● HB 4394: Requires a principal or other appropriate administrator to designate an individual to supervise students in a school library when a certified media specialist is not present.

Working with school administrators has also been key to moving this program forward. “We know money is tight in schools, but we need principals to see that [school librarians] are not just an add-on position,” said Kumasi. The timing of the loss of accreditation resulted in “many principals coming into schools without school librarians, and they feel the school is doing just fine” without them. However, the American Association of School Libraries has compiled various sources of data that demonstrate that school librarians significantly impact student achievement. MAME’s advocacy efforts and the resulting legislative action offer additional validation for the experimental certificate. The Michigan Department of Education issued a waiver for the program to allow students to fill the certificate requirements with less than the 20 hours of coursework previously established for this type of program.

“We really are stressing the ‘experimental’ portion of this program,” noted Kumasi. It is currently scheduled to run for a three-year term, with annual reports highlighting student outcomes submitted to the Michigan Department of Education as well as to SIS administrators.

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