How To Become a Librarian in California

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Updated on March 19, 2024
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As of 2023, California has over 35 million residents which makes it the state with the highest population in the United States. It offers beautiful national parks, including the Redwood National and State Parks, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Death Valley National Park. Some of the largest cities in the U.S. are in California, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose. California offers mountains, deserts, and 1271 miles of shoreline. This means plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the state. 

California’s large population comes with ample opportunities, including career opportunities and education options for those seeking a career as a librarian. California has the largest public library system, according to the population it serves, in the nation, which is the Los Angeles Public Library System. They staff over 978 individuals, with 380 of their staff being librarians with MLIS degrees. There are many other large public library systems, as well as opportunities in public schools, university libraries, and archives. There are also plenty of routes to becoming a librarian in California.

In this article, we will cover career qualifications for each level and type of librarian. Qualifications will include work experience, professional education level necessary or preferred, and any certification that is required. The careers we will cover include Academic Public Services Librarian, Research Librarian, Librarian Instructor, Law Librarian, Resource Librarian, Library Archivist, School Librarian, Youth Services Librarian, and Library Administrator/Director. 

How to Become an Academic Librarian in California

Academic libraries serve universities, students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community. The larger universities typically have the most library staff. The large academic library systems will provide more positions and more specialized positions. The smaller university libraries will offer a few library positions and more general librarian roles. For example, a large university may staff one or more research librarians for each discipline of study the university offers. In contrast, a small university will only staff one research librarian to assist across all disciplines. This section describes the most common types of academic librarian positions in California and their qualifications. 

Outreach Services Librarian

An outreach services librarian’s duties will differ greatly depending on the needs of the university and its libraries. Many outreach positions focus on grant writing and reaching out to outside resources that can provide more support to the library that the university would not be equipped to fund or facilitate. Other outreach service positions will focus on reaching out to the community to connect them with the university and the university library. This provides a way to promote the university and a way to get their faculty and students involved in the local community. An additional goal for some outreach librarians is to reach out to the students and faculty to encourage library usage and spread awareness of library resources and services. This position requires an MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited program. Additional requirements and preferred qualifications include experience working in an academic library setting, experience in grant writing, and having skills in current library programs and grant opportunities. 

Librarian Instructor

A librarian instructor is simply a professor who teaches within the field of library and information science. Some institutions hire current librarians as part-time professors and other institutions will hire only full-time library and information science professors. If they are instructors for an ALA-accredited school, they must have their MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited program and may also be required to hold a Ph.D. in library science or another related field. Library instructors for a non-ALA-accredited program may only need a bachelor’s degree. If the program is in library media, then a degree or certification in library media may be admissible. 

Law Librarian

A law librarian is a special librarian who must have knowledge and expertise in the field of law as well as have an MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited program. Some law schools require all of their librarians to also hold a J.D. The reason is that law librarians are responsible for aiding law students and faculty in finding research relative to their work. This requires a knowledge of various types of law, what resources to have on hand and to update periodically, and to understand the needs of law students and faculty.   

Research Librarian

At an academic library, a research librarian helps students and faculty find access to research. They also provide library and research instruction through classes or on an as-needed basis. They also collaborate with other library staff and faculty to provide access to relevant information and services necessary. Some research librarians specialize in one academic discipline and others provide more general assistance. The basic qualifications for this position is a master’s degree in library science, or an equivalent. It is preferred and often required that the applicant holds an MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited program. Other requirements may include being skilled with current research issues and tools, ability to work independently, ability to instruct and present, skilled in problem-solving, customer service, and time management. A specialized research librarian position may require specialized knowledge or experience for their specified field. 

Archive Librarian

Most universities have archives to maintain documents and other materials that are significant to the history of the university and its surrounding community. An archive librarian often works with digitizing documents, pictures, yearbooks, news articles, and other forms of media to make it more accessible and searchable. Oftentimes an archive librarian is also a student worker supervisor. Universities with rich histories may have more than one archive librarian and smaller or newer schools may only staff a part-time assistant or share archival duties throughout the library staff. The minimum qualifications of a full-time archive librarian is an MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited program. Other qualifications may include experience or education in archival work, knowledge of preservation principles and current resources, experience with collaborating with a team, and experience with project planning and management. 

Library Administrator/Director

A library administrator or a library director is the highest a librarian can go within a library system. A library director’s main job is to request funds and resources the library system and the library staff needs to function and flourish. They communicate these needs with local government and others funding libraries and specific programs. They also have the task of making decisions and problem solving in areas that need attention. Assistant directors and other library administrators work more with library staff and act in a supervisory role to all library staff when necessary. They mostly communicate with department heads and branch head librarians to work through problems. These positions require an MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited school and over two years of supervisory experience as a professional public librarian. Other requirements and preferred qualifications include excellent problem solving skills, knowledge of library science principles, knowledge of library management, experience with budgeting, experience in grant writing, and excellent communication skills. 

How to Become a School Librarian in California

For those who wish to work as a librarian in kindergarten through 12th grade schools, they must obtain a degree and certification that is accepted by the Department of Education in California. There are a few programs the California Department of Education recommends to complete in order to become a school librarian. One of these programs is offered through California State University of Long Beach. Contact their Graduate Studies Office for the updated application process and what are the current prerequisites for the program. 

How to Become a Public Librarian in California

Public libraries serve their local community by providing reading material, online resources, computer usage, children’s services and programs, and a place for connecting their community and connecting community members to local resources and services. Public librarians are what make all this happen. Large libraries that serve a wide set of demographics will provide a variety of resources, services, and programs. A large library system in California typically has a youth services department, a reference department, a technical team, and an administration team. Below are the most common positions hired in California’s public libraries. 

Entry Level Librarian

An Entry-Level Librarian, or a Librarian One, are often youth services librarians or public services librarians. A youth services librarian serves children, teens, young adults, parents, and educators. They often offer storytime for preschool-age children, STEAM activity programs, and host speakers and fun events to help children feel welcome in the library and to provide a space that supports families. The public service part of this job includes helping library users to find resources they need, providing tech support, and helping connect the public to information. This position generally requires an MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited program, but years experience and a related degree may be considered. 

Level Two Librarian

Depending on the library or library system, a level two librarian may be a research librarian, archives librarian, reference librarian, or department head librarian. Most of these positions are supervisor positions and may be responsible for an entire department or small library branch. This level will require an MLIS from an ALA-accredited school and two or more years of experience working in the public library setting. Some positions will require prior supervising experience.

Library Branch Manager/Regional Branch Manager

A library branch manager is a librarian who works within a library system and is responsible for the daily management of their respective library branch. A regional branch manager is a branch head librarian responsible for the management of a large regional branch, or they are responsible for the management for multiple branches within the same region. They are often responsible for managing staff schedules, timesheets, handling complaints, communicating the needs of the staff and the library with library administration, and other tasks that the library needs in order to run smoothly. 

There are more branch manager and regional branch manager positions in large cities. For example, the Los Angeles Public Library System has eight regional libraries and many other large library branches that will need a library branch manager that can manage multiple staff members. These systems are often looking for librarians with more experience within a public library system and have years of experience working in a supervisory or management role. The minimum qualifications for this position is two or more years of experience working in a library setting and having an MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited program. 

Additional Resources

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