How to Become a Librarian 

Have you ever thought of becoming a librarian? If you are naturally curious about the world around you, love books and information of all kinds, and have a strong desire to help connect people with the information they seek, this might be the perfect career choice for you. 

Although technology is advancing and much of our information is now digital, according to the American Library Association (ALA), as of 2019, there were 116,867 libraries of all kinds nationwide. This includes 9057 public libraries; 3094 academic libraries; 98,460 school libraries; 239 armed forces libraries; 867 government libraries; and 5150 special libraries (such as religious, medical, law and corporate libraries). Of the 9057 public libraries in the U.S., New York had the most (756), and the fewest were in the District of Columbia and Hawaii (each of which has just one public library). The nation’s public libraries house over 715 million books and serial volumes. That’s not even including periodicals and electronic data. 

As we have become more technologically advanced and electronically connected in society, library usage has changed. Per the Pew Research Center, as of 2016, just 48 percent of Americans age 16 and older said that they had physically visited a public library or bookmobile in person in the prior year. Even though those numbers are constantly changing, librarians are still very much needed. Public libraries alone employ over 50,000 librarians, only 34,000 of whom have attained ALA certification and a master’s degree. Well-educated, trained librarians are in demand. If a career as a librarian sounds intriguing to you, keep reading to discover how to become a librarian. 

Job Duties of a Librarian 

The primary job of a librarian is to assist library patrons who come into their facility searching for something. They may answer questions, locate books, periodicals and other materials, and find information of all types. Librarians help patrons in accessing data and guide their research process. Today, a librarian must also be an expert in various technological information systems.  A brief summary of some of the main duties of a librarian is below:

  • Customer service – Working with the public, helping patrons navigate the library to find what they are looking for. 
  • Educating – Educating the public through conducting programs for patrons of all ages. 
  • Researching -Assisting patrons in conducting research and finding sources.
  • Cataloging – Keeping track of new books and materials as they arrive in the library, entering them into the library’s catalog and tracking/tracing them when they go out. 
  • Organization – Developing and using taxonomies to organize data. Ordering new books and materials as necessary.
  • Archiving – Some libraries have archives containing primary sources like historical documents. Librarians often help manage these archives and make sure that they are treated with care. 
  • Management – Senior librarians or managers may manage other employees working in the library.

Skills Necessary for Librarians 

In order to be a good librarian, you must have:

  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Excellent technological skills (must be able to learn information systems and databases)
  • A natural curiosity about the world
  • Patience
  • Excellent  analytic skills
  • Strong academic skills
  • Effective organizational skills

Work Settings for Librarians 

Librarians may work in a variety of settings. These include public libraries, school libraries at all levels (from primary through post-secondary), museums, businesses, hospitals, and more. Any place that houses information and needs someone to facilitate and connect people to that information may employ a librarian. 

Before beginning your education to become a librarian, you should volunteer and/or work in a library setting to make sure that this is the right career choice for you. Many libraries offer volunteer positions for high school students, and you might be able to get a college internship or work-study program (either paid or unpaid). Any experience that you can get working in a library will be valuable to your future career as a librarian.

Education Required to Become a Librarian

While you can get a job in a library with a bachelor’s degree, if you want to become a full-fledged, ALA-accredited librarian, you must get a master’s degree in library science. A policy statement from the ALA notes that “The master’s degree from a program accredited by the American Library Association is the appropriate professional degree for librarians.” Not all libraries will require the librarians it hires to have graduate degrees, but having one will give you an advantage over candidates with just a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degree

To start with, you will need a bachelor’s degree. Related areas in which aspiring librarians have studied include English, history, computer science, and art history. If you wish to work in a specialized library, make sure to major in or take concentrated classes within that specialization. It will take you an average of four years of full-time study to achieve a bachelor’s degree. 

ALA-Accredited Masters of Library Science

After obtaining your bachelor’s degree, you should enroll in a master’s degree program that is ALA-accredited. A list of such programs can be found here. Programs include online and in-person options, as well as hybrid options. These degrees are usually in Library Science, Library Science and Information Science or a related field. Master’s degree programs typically take at least two years of full-time study to complete. Examples of concentrations available within these ALA-accredited programs include (but are not limited to):

  • Children’s Services
  • Archival Studies
  • Health Sciences Librarianship/Health Informatics 
  • Cultural Heritage Information Management
  • Law Librarianship/Legal Information Services
  • Music Librarianship
  • Records Management
  • Reference and User Services
  • Special Collections
  • Management and Administration

If you want to work in school librarianship (pre-K through 12th grade), a masters degree with a specialty in school librarianship is your best option. The program you choose should be accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and recognized by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). A directory of these programs may be found here. As of June 2021, there are 30 such accredited school librarian programs nationwide.

Salary and Job Outlook for Librarians 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor reports that as of May 2020, librarians and media collections specialists in the U.S. earned a mean annual wage of $63,560.  The District of Columbia was the highest-paying state in which librarians worked, paying them an average annual salary of $86,520. Other states in which librarians earned higher-than-average salaries include Washington ($78,330); California ($78,300); Maryland ($77,950) and Massachusetts ($74,000). 

The job outlook for librarians is good, with a projection of job opportunities growing by five percent between 2019 and 2029. This growth is faster than the average for all occupations. As technology advances and changes, communities are turning to libraries more and more for a variety of activities and services. The need for librarians to help patrons find information and access and manage resources should remain for years to come.

In its report on MLIS Skills at Work, San Jose State University School of Library & Information Science notes that there is a wide variety of career options for holders of an MLS degree. As library information knowledge is being applied in different ways and professional areas, job titles such as the following are emerging:

  • Litigation Intelligence Analyst
  • Library Product Manager
  • Application Developer
  • Archivist
  • Curator of Oral History
  • Digital Initiatives Program Manager
  • Document and Data Control Analyst
  • Workflow Analyst/Programmer
  • Information Technology Specialist
  • Emerging Technology Librarian
  • Production and Marketing Specialist
  • Knowledge Center Head of Operations
  • Technology Hub Administrator 

Resources for More Information