Academic Librarianship

Academic libraries can be found in institutions of higher education, including colleges, universities, and research institutes. These libraries support an organization’s mission and purpose, whether that mission and purpose is academic instruction, research, or science-oriented. 

Becoming an academic librarian is just one of the many exciting endeavors that can be found within the larger field of librarianship. It is one of many career choices that are attainable with a Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. Let’s explore the subdiscipline of academic librarianship a bit further. 

Librarian picking white book from wooden bookshelf

Specialized Education for Academic Librarianship 

Like all professional librarians, academic librarians need to have an MLS or MLIS from a school that has been accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Many schools offer specializations within their MLS or MLIS programs, targeted at academic librarianship. These specializations are available within all types of MLS/MLIS programs – in online, on-campus and hybrid formats. In addition to the classes common to MLS/MLIS program, within an Academic Librarian specialization, you can expect to take courses such as:

  • Introduction to Digital Libraries- The theories, evaluations, human and technological factors that come to play in digital libraries will be discussed in this course. Literature on digital libraries is examined, projects and technologies within existing digital libraries will be studied, and some classes will develop a prototype of an operational digital library. 
  • Planning and Delivering Literacy Programs- Part of being a good academic librarian is being able to plan and deliver literacy programs to patrons. Students in this class will examine successful literacy programs at libraries and adapt their elements to create their own literacy programs. They will learn about planning, implementation and sustainment of quality literacy programs. 
  • College and University Libraries – These types of academic libraries are important to all academic librarians and will be examined in-depth in this course. The history of libraries in higher education is discussed, along with how social and demographic changes have impacted services provided by college and university libraries. Planning, staffing and evaluation of administration in academic libraries is also examined here. 
  • Project Management in Information Organizations- Students in this course will be provided with an overview in project management and then apply what they have learned to managing projects in mock information organizations.
  • Web Design for Libraries and Information Centers – An information architecture approach to designing websites for larger enterprises is taken in this class. The accessibility, usability, searching, navigation, labeling, organization and information content of designing websites for libraries and information centers is examined here.

Academic Librarian Job Description

According to the ALA, academic librarians may or may not be experts in one particular subject. Larger colleges and universities may have multiple libraries, each of which are dedicated to different subjects. These may include music libraries, law libraries, and science libraries. Academic librarians commonly conduct the following day-to-day activities in the course of their jobs:

  • Consult with patrons and others in analyzing what they need, identifying those needs, and fulfilling their needs for information
  • Create information literacy programs for the academic institution and deliver classroom programs to strengthen information literacy skills of students
  • Select, organize and facilitate others’ access to information in many different formats
  • Keeping current with technological advancements and develop the best strategies in which to use them
  • Administering computer-based systems, electronic databases, and websites
  • Contributing to teamwork among colleagues within the library and the larger institution
  • Participating in public relations efforts to promote academic libraries and to help with fundraising for academic libraries

Jobs For Academic Librarians 

Becoming an academic librarian is a secure career field in which to enter. Jobs for academic librarians are usually highly available. Specializing in a certain niche of academic librarianship, like music or law, can also benefit your career choices, offering you even more options. A quick perusal of help wanted ads online recently found the following available positions for academic librarians:

  • Social Sciences Librarian, Lehigh University – Bethlehem, PA
    • Salary: $62,310 to $75,580/year
    • Provide specialized research expertise to students/faculty in depts of Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, International Relations, History, Population Health and to the International Center for Academic and Professional English
  • Art and Architecture Librarian, Rice University, Fondren Library, – Houston, TX
    • Salary: $55,000/year
    • Provide reference and instruction services and develop and manage both print and electronic collections in the visual and dramatic arts, art history, and architecture
  • Curricula Support Librarian, Drexel University – Philadelphia, PA
    • Salary: $52,234 to $65,405/year
    • Expertise in design or applied arts, subject expertise in information resources and tools, research, and collaborative contribution to the library’s curricula support, information assistance and scholarly connections
  • Learning & Engagement Librarian – STEM, Dartmouth College Library – Hanover, NH
    • Salary: $58,500 to $73,100/year
    • Support undergraduates, graduates and professional school students, faculty and researchers in the physical sciences, engineering, computer science and interdisciplinary institutes and centers
  • Head of Collections & Content Strategies, Ohio University Libraries – Athens, OH
    • Salary: not specified
    • Oversee the work of six staff responsible for collections assessment, stacks management, management of the Southeast Ohio Regional Depository, and promoting practices supporting the libraries’ commitment to social justice

Organizations of Interest to Academic Librarians

The following organizations are of interest in academic librarianship, as well as for the networking and professional development opportunities they offer:

Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL): This association of academic librarians is committed to enhancing information and the academic librarian’s ability to serve the needs of higher education institutions, as well as to improve learning, teaching and reading. Its members number over 12,000, making up about 20 percent of the membership of the American Library Association (ALA). 

California Academic & Research Libraries (CARL): This association of academic librarians provides opportunities for professional growth of its academic librarian members, through workshops, programs, and information and idea sharing. 

Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL-ACBES): This national membership association for Canadian academic librarians represents their interests in education, standards, professional practice, ethics and core principles.

Academic Library Association of Ohio (ALAO): This organization of Ohio academic librarians seeks to advance academic library services in Ohio through the identification, examination and promotion of the interests of academic librarianship and the personnel of academic libraries in Ohio.