For at least four years, Pontiac’s Will Rogers Elementary School had no librarian, so the books sat on the shelves, largely unopened and unread.
That is, until a group of retired teachers and school librarians heard about the problem and sprang into action.
Sharon Postnieks, for 30 years a librarian with the Van Dyke Public Schools in Warren, caught wind of the situation through a contact in the American Association of University Women.
Her first thought, she admits, was, “Do I really need one more thing to do?”
But once an educator always an educator, and the thought of children not being introduced to good books was simply unacceptable.
“I loved being a librarian,” Postnieks says. “I love reading. I love books and I love kids. So I had a hard time saying no to getting this library up and going again.”
The upshot is that she and an enthusiastic group of volunteers — virtually all former educators — pitched in to open the Rogers School library all day every Tuesday.
Libraries usually get closed for lack of a professional librarian, mostly a result of tight budget. The situation is in no sense unique to Pontiac, where none of the elementary schools have full-time, certified librarians.
In Boston last year, 73 schools out of a total of 126 didn’t have functioning libraries, according to a report on Boston public radio.
Nationwide, the number of librarians in U.S. public schools shrank by 17 percent from 2004-2014, according to the nonprofit Michigan Association for Media in Education. By contrast, the drop in this state was 62 percent.
Michigan now ranks 47th nationwide in the ratio of students to certified school librarians.
Barb Linnenbrink, a teacher and librarian in Colorado schools for 25 years, assembled a group of volunteers from Birmingham’s First Presbyterian Church to reopen the library at Pontiac’s Louisa May Alcott Elementary School a couple years ago.
“Michigan schools at one time were known for their library system,” she says. “Fifteen years ago, the state had an outstanding reputation among school librarians as being one of the best places in the country. Now,” she adds, “that’s pretty much gone.”
Trying to fill that gap at the Rogers School library on a recent chilly Tuesday, Claire Rewold, with a doctorate in early-childhood education, read a chapter from Margaret Peterson Haddix’s “Among the Hidden” to a class of rapt sixth-graders.
The kids’ teacher, Ban Francess, said you might think 12-year-olds would resist being read to, but you would be wrong.
“They love it because Claire really gets them going,” she says, “and then they want to read everything by that author.”
Francess calls the library volunteers a small miracle.
“These ladies are a gift from God,” she says. “They’re all retired, but they take it so seriously. They even bring the kids books from their own libraries.”
Postnieks, Rewold and other volunteers have also scoured book sales and giveaways in their free time to bulk up the Rogers School collection.
“I just had a problem every time a kid checked out the ‘Guinness Book of World Records — 2009,’” Rewold says with a laugh. “I mean, come on.”
The women’s efforts are not lost on Rogers’ principal.
“They’re lovely ladies,” says Arlee M. Ewing, who’s run the tidy,360-student school the past seven years. “They’ve brought life back to that library. I love having them here. The kids do too. You see the excitement on their faces.”
One very satisfied customer is sixth-grader Carley Carpenter, who calls reading her “No. 1 priority,” and who loves it when Rewold reads aloud to them.
“It gives you greater understanding of how the characters in the book feel,” she says. “It takes you on an adventure.”
And what does Carpenter want to be when she grows up?
“Either an author or a librarian,” she says.