The Ultimate Librarian Career Guide

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The way that we use libraries has changed over the years. This has also affected the job of librarians. Their main purpose is still to help the public access necessary information and resources. People visit public libraries for various reasons. According to Pew Research, in 2016, 64 percent of library visitors were there to borrow books. Forty-nine percent, however, visit libraries to sit and read, study, or engage with media. Patrons are increasingly visiting libraries to use technology resources, especially if they are not available within their own homes.

It is clear from these findings that librarians must be well-versed in technologies of all types. This explains the reasons why the American Library Association (ALA) recommends that professional librarians hold a master’s degree in library science or library and information science. The longer period education one receives in a master’s degree program will provide more opportunity for aspiring librarians to keep up with the latest emerging technologies and trends necessary to perform their jobs. In this article, we will examine the career of being a librarian and all of the possibilities that exist therein.

Best Personality Traits and Characteristics for Librarians 

The best librarians share some common personality traits, especially in the 21st century.  Researchers at the University of Nebraska Lincoln found that today’s librarians should have these personality traits:

  • Excellent abstract reasoning skills, fast learners
  • A service orientation to library patrons, maintaining a respectful personality while dealing with a diversity of groups of users
  • Emotional stability
  • Lively, spontaneous, enthusiastic, animated
  • Self-control
  • Concentration and focus on technical matters
  • Social boldness
  • Self-reliance
  • Vigilance
  • Warmth and caring towards others
  • Conscious of their role in the library
  • Perfectionists
  • Sensitive
  • Abstract, imaginative and fluent with ideas
  • Open to change


Education and Training for Librarian Careers

As mentioned above, the ALA recommends that all professional librarians get a master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program. Not all libraries require this, however. Some will hire librarians with a high school diploma or associate’s degree and experience. Others will require a bachelor’s degree in library science or a related area. 

Librarian replacing books that have been borrowed

If you really want to become a professional librarian, however, it’s best to get your Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from an ALA-accredited program. A list of such programs can be found here

School librarians need a different type of education. This usually includes a master’s degree with a specialty in school librarianship, as well as a teaching certificate or license. It is recommended that you select a program that is 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 is here.

In addition to formal training, it is very important to gain practical experience working in a library. You can do this at the volunteer level while still in high school, and potentially work in a part-time staff position at a library while earning your degree. Most degree programs also require a practicum or internship that will provide you with valuable experience working hands-on in a library setting.

Librarian Careers and Specializations

San Jose State University School of Library & Information Science produced a report in Spring 2021 called “MLIS Skills at Work.” In this report, which surveyed 400 recent job postings for library and information science professionals, they highlight some of the latest career trends. They note that 87 percent of the job postings require a MLS or MLIS degree. Some of the emerging titles and specializations for librarians include (note that some of these specializations will be examined in depth in other articles on this website): 

  • Budget planning and financial management
  • Business analysis
  • Career support
  • Community outreach, partnerships
  • Copyright law, digital rights management
  • Data curation, information governance
  • Digital asset management systems
  • Digitization of documents and media
  • Early literacy
  • Grant writing, donor relations
  • Instructional design
  • Legal research
  • Marketing, outreach and social media
  • Metadata, cataloging standards
  • Multimedia digitization and preservation
  • Public speaking and advocacy
  • Science/health research
  • Structured Query Language (SQL)
  • Statistical methods
  • Strategic planning, change management
  • Subject matter expertise: legal, health, etc.
  • Systems administration
  • Technical services, systems administration
  • User experience and discoverability
  • Web content management systems

Different Types of Librarian Careers

Other Options for Library Careers

If you are interested in working in a library but don’t want to devote six years to getting a master’s degree (four for bachelor’s and an average of two to complete master’s degree), there are other options available. They include library technician, library assistant, library page, and other library support staff.

Salaries for Librarians

The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said that librarians and media collections specialists in the U.S. earned a mean annual wage of $63,560 as of May 2020.  The best-paying state in which librarians work is the District of Columbia, where the salary is $86,520. This is followed by Washington state, where librarians made $78,330; California, where librarians earned $78,300; Maryland, where librarians made $77,950; and Massachusetts, where librarians made $74,000. 

Best Paying Cities in Which Librarians Work

Librarians are paid higher than the national average salary in some metropolitan areas within the United States. These include:

  • Washington/Arlington/Alexandria, DC/VA/MD/WV: $88,390
  • Vallejo/Fairfield, CA: $85,920
  • Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue, WA: $84,230
  • Fresno, CA: $84,020
  • Kennewick/Richland, WA: $82.590
  • Medford, OR: $82,260
  • Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim, CA: $81,280
  • Bellingham, WA: $80,570
  • Santa Maria/Santa Barbara, CA: $80,150
  • Salinas, CA: $79,680

The Future of Librarianship 

It is projected by the BLS that job opportunities for librarians will increase by five percent from 2019 to 2029. This growth is faster than the average expected growth for all occupations. Librarians are in demand as technology continues to advance at a rapid rate. Patrons need librarians to help them find information and use technology. Patrons and communities also rely on libraries for activities and services. 

As the MLIS Skills at Work report notes, previous experience is highly important right now to landing a good job as a professional librarian. Supervising and managing staff is also an important skill to have. As COVID-19 has changed the work landscape, candidates who can work remotely and manage themselves are increasingly in demand. It is expected that these skills will continue to remain significant ones for librarians to have in years to come. 

Librarian Career Information By State