How to Become
a Librarian

What Does a Librarian Do?

Would you like to become a librarian? Before undertaking the steps that must be fulfilled in order to become a librarian, you should know exactly what it is that a librarian does. Being a librarian involves much more than simply filing books on a shelf and handing them out to the public. There are many different types of librarians, as well as specializations within the librarian field, that add even more responsibilities to the basic duties of a librarian. Here we will explore what, exactly, a librarian does and the possibilities for different types of careers in the library field.

Library Science Degrees

A Librarian Career

A librarian is responsible for overseeing the daily operations of a library (which is defined by Merriam-Webster as a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials are kept for use but not for sale). Librarians help to ensure that library patrons and visitors can find what they need in order to learn, and help them to explore topics of interest to them. Today’s librarians must also be very technology-minded, and well-versed in the latest systems, programs, databases and software. Librarians educate the public in various community forums, seminars and classes to help to improve and elevate the culture of their community. 

What Does the Job of a Librarian Involve?​

Becoming a librarian is not as easy as it may at first seem to be. Librarians work with the public to help them to find, retrieve, and use information, digital and print materials, and technology. They may work in a variety of settings, depending upon their job description, from public librarian to school librarian to law librarian to corporate librarian. The possibilities in working as a librarian are many and, if you have the right qualifications, possess the necessary skills, and have the right kind of personality, becoming a librarian might be the perfect career choice for you. 

Librarian Career Qualifications

The American Library Association (ALA) recommends that all professional librarians hold a master’s degree in library science or library and information science from a program that is ALA-accredited. This is considered to be the gold standard for librarians, even though not all librarian positions require a master’s degree. In addition to possessing a degree, most library jobs prefer to hire candidates who have some experience working in a library, whether it’s volunteer or paid work experience. Finally, some states require professional librarians to hold certifications, which are achieved by possessing a degree and completing continuing education on a regular basis. 

In order to become a school librarian, the requirements are much stricter. Most states require school librarians to possess a MLS or MLIS (some will accept a bachelor’s degree) plus a teaching license. In addition, they require prospective school librarians to pass school certification tests. Some even mandate that school librarians have classroom teaching experience.

Female Librarian working in a public library

What Skills Do I Need to Be a Librarian?

Librarians work closely with the public, and must therefore have excellent customer service skills. Add to that the following important skills that a librarian should possess:

  • Organizational skills
  • Academic skills
  • Research skills
  • Patience
  • Curiosity
  • Technological skills
  • Interpersonal skills

What are the General Job Duties of a Librarian?

Because librarians may work in various settings and specialize in certain areas, job duties may vary from job to job. Generally, however, the following duties are common to librarians:

  • Assist library patrons in researching and locating resources
  • Organize library resources making them easy to locate
  • Coordinate and create community programs
  • Evaluate the inventory and needs of library and place orders
  • Identify the technology needs of library and make recommendations
  • Oversee the work of other library staffers and volunteers
  • Update information systems to improve the library’s technology databases and catalogs

Types of Librarian Careers

The following are some job descriptions for various types of librarian jobs requiring a MLS or MLIS that were recently posted online as available:

  • Medical Research Librarian – This remote position within an emergency care research institute involves rapid review and market research, creating and executing searches of literature across multiple platforms. The professional collaborates with IT professionals to assist in designing, assessing, choosing and training machine learning algorithms for process automation. It involves maintaining documentation, learning about the automated data collection and curation process, and other duties as assigned. Salary is not specified
  • Literature and Africana Studies Librarian – This position within a university in Delaware serves as a subject specialist for English and American Literature, Africana Studies, Theatre and other humanities disciplines. They provide research consultation and reference services to students and faculty, develop literacy programs, outreach and instructional materials, manage and develop multimedia and print collections, and collaborate with faculty and library staff. Salary is not specified.
  • Editorial Research Librarian – This position within a healthcare organization researches in support of evidence-based health education content in multimedia, voice and text formats. The professional ensures the availability, access, retrieval, analysis and re-synthesis of best-available evidence to support division content development. The professional assists editorial staff with research, and trains them in best editorial research practices. Salary is not specified.
  • Public Librarian II – This position is within a public library in a major city. It involves assisting customers in finding answers to questions, guiding customers in selecting appropriate materials, assisting customers in technology related requests for service, developing and maintaining a part of the library’s collection, plans and presents library-related programs and outreach services, and handles customer complaints and resolves facility issues. Salary is listed at $50,700 to $69,780 annually. 
  • Library Director – This position is in a small-town library. The Library Director is responsible for all administrative functions within the library, including managing its day-to-day operations, overseeing the development and promotion of library services and programs, serving as a community liaison, preparing an annual budget, applying for grants, maintaining records, and attending monthly board meetings. Salary is listed at $35,000 to $40,000 a year.
  • Associate University Librarian for Special Collections – This position is within a university in California. It oversees special collections, university archives, and preservation department of the library. The position leads a team of staff, faculty and students in conducting collection development, preservation, organization, access, promotion, and outreach. The professional is responsible for hiring and supervising staff, managing budget, developing policies and procedures, and grant writing. Salary is listed at $85,000 to $90,000 per year. 

Non-Traditional Career Choices and Jobs for Librarians

Librarians don’t always work in traditional library settings. Increasingly, librarians are becoming employed within the private sector. These jobs are expected to grow the fastest as time goes on, as the vast amount of information available continues to require trained professionals to locate, sort and process it. Librarians may work for nonprofit organizations, corporations, consulting firms and other types of companies. Some possibilities for non-traditional careers for librarians include (but are not limited to):

  • Information Architects – These professionals help to design a website, application, software or intranet’s conceptual structure and organization. They decide how to arrange the parts of things to form a whole that is understandable. They work closely with user experience design professionals. Check out The Information Architecture Institute for more information on this emerging career choice for librarians. 
  • Knowledge Management Specialists – These professionals help to find and acquire knowledge, especially knowledge that lives within someone else’s brain, and organize that knowledge to make it easy to use and share with others. Visit Knowledge Management Institute for further info.
  • Information Broker – An information broker provides a wide variety of research for clients. Information brokers may specialize in areas such as patent searches and market research. Check out The Association of Independent Information Professionals for more information. 
  • Usability Engineer– Usability engineers conduct studies to find out how well a user of a program, software, or application can “use” that program. They try to find problems within the technology and solve them. For more information visit the Interaction Design Foundation.

Career Information By State