What Do Librarians Do?
If you are interested in a career that combines books and technology, you may want to consider a career as a librarian. But exactly what is a librarian? In today's information-rich world, that is not a simple question to answer. Librarians perform a wide range of duties, beyond just organizing collections of books and helping patrons locate and check-out books. Let's learn more about the different types of librarians, as well as the duties and requirements for this career.
To begin a career as a librarian, a basic requirement is a master's degree in library science (MLS). An MLS can usually be completed in two years of full-time study, and some programs offer options for specialization, such as art librarianship, rare books, children's services, or library media. When choosing an MLS program, you may want to make sure that it is accredited by the American Library Association. Graduating from an ALA-accredited program can enhance your career opportunities, and it is sometimes required for specific professional-level positions. If you are going to work in a specialty library, you may also need a second master's degree in that field - for instance a law librarian may need an MLS and a JD.
State certification is also required for some positions - such as those within public libraries or in a school. Exact requirements to earn certification vary by state, but graduation from an ALA-accredited MLS program is a common requirement for public library librarians. Public school librarian requirements often include teacher certification, which requires passing a state exam. In some states, you must also work as a teacher before you are eligible for certification. Because of these variations, it's important to be aware of the requirements for your state. The American Association of School Librarians maintains information on certification requirements in various states.
Librarian Duties & Skills
The roles and responsibilities of a librarian are varied and often depend on where they work. Common duties include helping individuals conduct research and evaluate the quality of reference materials; teaching about research and information literacy, and organizing library programs. Some additional duties of librarians include:
- Ordering, cataloging and organizing collections of books, music or art
- Teaching about information literacy
- Utilizing computer databases and search engines
- Ensuring equitable access to information
- Preserving and archiving rare materials
- Conducting research using both databases and physical volumes
- Discerning the quality of reference sources
- Communicating with patrons
- Planning and strategically managing the resources of the library
To be successful in the role of a librarian, there are also several skills and qualities they should possess. These include strong listening and communication skills, creativity, analytical abilities, and interpersonal skills. IT abilities and knowledge are also becoming more important for librarians to possess, as digital databases and online research continues to expand.
A career as a librarian offers many varied and challenging options. Depending on your interests and skills, you can find a library position that will be a great fit. Some of the specific jobs for librarians are presented below.
If you enjoy working in the education sector, a job as a school librarian would be a great option to consider. The school librarian job description is similar across all age groups in K-12 schools. School librarians are responsible for the content of the sequential library curriculum and management of the media center of the school. If you worked as a school librarian, you might provide direct instruction to classes of students around literacy-related topics, train students and staff on the appropriate use of digital resources, curate the library's selection of physical books and electronic resources, collaborate with teachers, and help students choose appropriate materials.
Those who are interested in a career where they can share their love of books and literature with young people, might consider becoming a children's librarian. Children's librarians are responsible for selecting materials for the children's library, working with young people to develop skills in accessing information, and developing early literacy skills by offering a range of programming options, such as story times.
A librarian position in a college library might be a good option for you if possess expertise in a specific area or enjoy helping those with unique research needs. College or academic librarians work in university settings where they plan and organize the resources of the library and work with individuals to locate appropriate materials for their research or information needs. These librarians may also conduct college-wide classes on information literacy and using instructional technologies as well as manage electronics databases or websites.
If you are intrigued by the practice of law, a law librarian might be a great career for you. Law librarians may hold both a Juris Doctor (JD) and an MLS degree, although some hold only the MLS. Law librarians may work in the courts, law firms, and law schools. Their duties often include conducting legal research, helping attorneys and law students access legal information in books and in legal databases, and analyzing the quality of the information. Some librarians focus on niche legal fields, such as tax law or international law.
Professionals who enjoy research and helping others to research a range of subjects, might like specializing as a research or reference librarian. Reference and research librarians are responsible for connecting library patrons with the resources they need to conduct their work. As the ability of patrons to use the library remotely continues to grow, reference librarians must be familiar with the range of digital media used to access information.
Librarians who enjoy learning about health care, might consider a role as a medical librarian. Medical librarians can work in hospitals, medical school libraries, and insurance companies. They typically work with health care professionals and the public to access health care information and may conduct programs on the evaluation of health care information. Some medical librarians have a health care degree in addition to an MLS.
When patrons can't come to a library, a traveling librarian might bring the library to them! These librarians focus on taking books or educational programs to patrons who cannot access the library, for instance they might conduct programs on topics such as early literacy, choosing great books, or research strategies for schools or community organizations. A traveling librarian may also be responsible for selecting books for a bookmobile and taking the bookmobile to various community locations.
Computer technologies have continued to change the function of libraries. If you are interested in the technological aspect of library services, you might consider a role as a systems librarian. Systems librarians focus on software to manage the library's resources. They should have familiarity with a range of programs and applications used in library management and research as well as knowledge of various coding languages. They may also be responsible for selecting and ordering various computer systems within the library and managing the library's social media presence and web page.
If you love listening to and discovering new music, a role as a music librarian may be a career choice for you. Music librarians acquire materials for music libraries, catalogue music collections, and oversee the collection of scores and materials for performance ensembles. Music librarians could work for university music libraries, symphonies, or other performance groups. Music librarians typically hold an MLS degree and have a strong knowledge of musical notation and styles. Some employers may prefer to hire those with a second degree in music and/or are fluent in German and at least one Romance language.
One potential avenue for librarians with a passion for visual arts is to seek a position as an art librarian. Art librarians work in art museums, for digital art collections, and at colleges and universities. They organize art collections and art books and help to preserve digital art and other cultural objects.
After you become a librarian, you may wish to advance to a managerial role, such as a library circulation manager or a library director. Library directors and managers are responsible for long-term strategic planning for the library. They oversee staff and are responsible for promoting the offerings of the library to the public.
Library Media Specialist
As school libraries expand into complex media centers, some institutions may hire a library media specialist. While this role can be similar to that of a school librarian, these professionals may be responsible for developing a school media program, developing curriculum for teaching students about media and technology, provide instruction how to conduct research using texts and digital tools, and help students learn to evaluate the quality of information they find. State certification is typically required to undertake this role.
If you do not have a master's degree level but are interested in a career in a library, consider becoming a library assistant, library technician, or school library aide. In these roles, you would check out or reshelf books, help clients with interlibrary loans, answer questions, and help with library outreach programs. Employers typically prefer a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree when hiring library technicians, and library assistants and school library aides often just need a high school diploma and on-the-job training.
Librarian Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment options are good for librarians in the future, with a 6% growth expected for all librarian positions from 2016-2026. The chart below provides you with information on the projected career outlook for librarians in different industries.
|Industry||Outlook for Librarians, 2016-2026|
|Colleges, Universities & Professional Schools||11.4%|
|Elementary and Secondary Schools||7.3%|
|Motion Picture and Sound Recording||14.6%|
|Performing Arts Companies||-.5%|