By Low, Kathleen
American Libraries , Vol. 35, No. 9
If you had the resources to encourage and help your coworkers or staff members get their master's in library and information science, wouldn't you? California public library directors and librarians have resoundingly answered yes by actively helping over 100 public library employees obtain their MLIS degrees and then assisting them in getting promoted or hired into librarian positions. How did this happen?
Back in the mid-1990s, public library directors in the state voiced concern to the California State Library over the difficulty they were having in filling vacant entry-level librarian positions. Some jobs were reportedly unfilled for up to a year due to a lack of applicants. The growing shortage of librarians, especially those serving in public libraries, was an emerging problem statewide. Public library directors asked for the state library's help in resolving this problem.
In the spring of 1998, the problem of how to help the library community in their efforts to recruit and develop future librarians at the local level was discussed at the annual meeting of California public library directors convened by the state library. After the meeting, a survey was distributed to directors seeking their input on such issues as their prioritization of individuals to be targeted by the program, the type of assistance to be provided, and what educational level should be supported. The survey results showed that the directors overwhelmingly wanted a new program that would encourage existing public library employees to pursue their MLIS degree, as opposed to individuals who were not currently working in libraries.
The state library appointed a committee to advise on development of the new program. The committee was comprised of library directors, library managers, and library staff because we wanted to develop a program that would not only entice frontline staff to pursue a library degree, but one that would be supported by managers while meeting the needs of directors. The committee consisted of Grace Francisco, children's and Hispanic services librarian at Oceanside Public Library; Cliff Lange, director of Carlsbad City Library; Julia Orozco, director of Salinas Public Library; Krystal Roberts, staff member at San Francisco Public Library; Ray Schroff, director of Tehama County Library; and Ken Yamashita, library division manager at Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library. The committee met during the summer, and later that year the new Public Library Staff Education Program was introduced.
Seeking public librarians
Funded with a federal Library Services and Technology Act grant, the program specifically targets individuals currently working in California public libraries for two reasons. First, its goal is to increase the number of public librarians in the state because those are the libraries charged with serving all individuals in their community. Second, state library staff felt that targeting current staff would help ensure greater success in having them continue to work in the state once they started their professional careers. An evaluation of a previous state program that assisted ethnic minority students in becoming librarians showed that the program was effective at helping them acquire their master's degrees; but once they received their degrees, a significant number left California to work in other states. So a requirement was established that employees must have worked in their public library for at least a year before applying for tuition reimbursement, and must remain employed at their library while receiving tuition reimbursement.
When the program was first introduced in late 1998, it was limited to public libraries. Since county law libraries are also charged with providing service to the public, the following year the program was extended to include them as well.
Under the Public Library Staff Education Program, public and county law libraries can apply for tuition reimbursement grants for their eligible employees. …