Staff and Leadership Shortages? Grow Your Own: A Florida System Looks Inward to Address the Looming Librarian Shortage

Article excerpt

As the chronic national shortage of qualified job candidates continues, Broward County Library continues to need additional professional staff. Our library system, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has 270 librarian positions and currently has 40 vacancies. By the end of fiscal year 2004-05, we will need an additional 45 librarians to staff the new and expanded libraries that we will be opening.

When we examine our staff as a whole, we see a looming shortage at all levels. Many of the current staff joined the library 30 years ago when the library system began operating as a division of county government, and they are planning to retire in the next three to five years. Out of over 900 employees, 122 have 20 years or more of service. Many other agencies in the county are facing similar problems, and officials have been urging them to be involved in recruitment and succession planning. Broward County Library examined the problem and together with the County Human Resources office and the Broward Public Library Foundation developed a program of incentives that helps us recruit and "grow our own." Part of our solution was to create a program to recruit college graduates from our own support staff or from the outside, and then to support their library school education and let them earn while they learn. We call this our Graduate Intern Program.

Graduate intern is a new position for college graduates who wish to pursue a career as a professional librarian. They receive on-the-job-training by providing reference, children's, or young adult services. Generally, graduate interns are placed in regional or large community libraries where they learn under the supervision of seasoned librarians. Graduate interns are hired with the understanding that they will enroll in a master's-level library program by the next semester and complete their degrees within five years. Most students take one class each semester (three credit hours). Some students choose to take two to four classes per semester to accelerate their graduation. Once they graduate, they are eligible to apply for a regular librarian position.

Upon being hired, graduate interns sign a Conditions of Employment (COE) form that states when they will begin their program of study and the expected graduation date. At the completion of the third year of the COE period, any student who has not completed at least half the number of credits required for the degree may be required to vacate the graduate intern position. Extensions may be granted under extraordinary circumstances, such as a documented medical condition. This third-year check ensures that graduate interns are committed to their courses of study.

During this training period, the graduate intern has the advantage of being able to participate in in-house training, from basic reference-interview sessions to searching specialized reference databases. Salaries are comparable to other entry-level college graduate positions, but approximately $10,000 less than that of a first-year librarian, which requires an MLS degree.

The graduate interns, as well as all other staff in our library system, receive an additional incentive through county-sponsored tuition reimbursement and additional scholarship opportunities supported by the Broward Public Library Foundation. Currently, $2,150 per year can be reimbursed per student. At current tuition rates, that amount reimburses those in graduate programs for three to four courses per year. The benefit is even sweeter now that courses offered online by schools with regional accreditation are eligible for reimbursement. We have also worked with representatives of the two library schools in Florida, the University of Southern Florida and Florida State University, to offer some instructor-led classes right in our own main library.

A firm foundation

Broward County Library is also fortunate to have a group of citizens who are passionate about our library and staff. …