Librarian Requirements: What Librarians Should Know

Becoming a librarian is not as simple as you might imagine. Yes, you should have a love of books and information of all types. You should also have an affinity for working with the public. With today’s advances in technology and information systems, librarians must be experts in many different programs, software, technology formats, and database systems. In this article, we will discuss the most basic requirements that you must meet and what you should know if you want to be a librarian.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Librarian

The American Library Association (ALA) has stated that professional librarians need a master’s degree – either a Master of Library Science or a Master of Library and Information Science – in order to fulfill the educational requirements of a librarian position. This varies, however, depending upon the library in which you want to work. Librarians in bigger cities, for example, likely will need a master’s degree, while those in rural areas may be fine with a bachelor’s degree or less. Just over half (34,000) of the total number of public librarians in the U.S. (50,000) have a master’s degree, however. 

Librarian Assisting Someone

Educational requirements for becoming a librarian are typically:

  • Get a bachelor’s degree. This should be in library science, library and information science, or a related field like English, history, art history or liberal arts.
  • Earn your master’s degree in library science (MLIS) or master of library science (MLS) from an ALA-accredited school.
  • If you are working in a school, you may need a teaching certificate.
  • If you are working in a specialized field, such as law, you might need a second master’s degree (although specializations do exist in MLIS and MLS programs that might fulfill this requirement).
  • If you are state-certified (see below), keep up-to-date with continuing education courses. (This is a good idea for all librarians, even if not required by your job).

Skills You Must Have to Be a Good Librarian

The ALA says that the best librarians should have the following skills:

  • Accuracy and skill in typing.
  • Positive attitude towards all library users, including those with special needs.
  • Ability to communicate orally and in writing.
  • Creativity in developing and implementing library programs and services.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of library resources and materials.
  • Ability to organize job duties and work independently.
  • Knowledge of the philosophy and techniques of library service.
  • Ability to motivate, establish and maintain effective working relationships with supervisors, volunteers, associates, community agencies, and the public.
  • Ability to make administrative decisions, supervise staff, and interpret policies.
  • Knowledge of a foreign language if you work in a community with non-English speakers.
  • Knowledge of computers, technology, the internet, and library software.
  • Ability to exercise initiative and independent judgment.
  • Ability to think analytically and develop new or revised systems, work flow, and procedures.
  • Desire to meet and serve the users of the library within your community.

Educational Resources

Core Competency Requirements for Librarians 

The ALA ha defined the following core competencies, which comprise the basic knowledge a professional librarian is required to have in order to work in the US:

  • Foundations of the profession – including ethics, values, principles, role of library and information professionals, history of libraries and librarianship, types of libraries, policies, trends, laws, communication techniques, certification and licensure requirements
  • Information resources – including lifecycle of recorded knowledge and information, acquisition and disposition of resources, concepts and methods regarding management and maintenance of collections
  • Organization of recorded knowledge and information – including skills necessary to organize them, systems used to organize them
  • Technological knowledge and skills – including information, communication, assistive and related technologies used by libraries and information agencies; application of this technology; methods to assess and evaluate the technology; how to identify and analyze emerging technologies 
  • Reference and user services – including providing access to relevant knowledge to individuals of all ages and groups, techniques used to get information from various sources, methods of interacting with diverse users, information literacy and competence techniques and methods
  • Research – including fundamentals of quantitative and qualitative research methods, central research findings and literature of the field, principles and methods to assess value of new research
  • Continuing education and lifelong learning– including necessity to continue professional development, role of library in lifelong learning of patrons, learning theories, instructional methods and achievement measures, principles related to teaching and learning
  • Administration and management – including planning and budgeting, personnel practices, assessing and evaluating library services, developing partnerships in the community, and leadership

Experience Requirements for Librarians 

Librarians should have some experience working within a library before graduating with their MLS or MLIS degree. It is a good idea to gain this experience through volunteering if you cannot find a paid job as a library assistant or a page. Internships during your graduate school program are also valuable as networking opportunities as well as for the experience they provide. Some librarian jobs will also hire students who are currently enrolled in and/or about to finish a MLS or MLIS program. 

Certification Requirements for Librarians

Every state has its own requirements for certification for public librarians. A list of such requirements can be found here

The following states require public librarians to have a master’s degree and state certification:

Connecticut (library directors), Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas (Level 4 librarian), Maine (for larger towns), Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota (higher level librarians), Tennessee, Utah, Virginia (if serving population over 13,000), Washington, Wisconsin.

If you want to be a school librarian, in all states, you must fulfill other requirements including getting a teaching certificate or license. According to, every state requires that its school librarians need a teaching license, Praxis test, endorsement or teaching certificate of some sort. Check with your state’s Department of Education for more details. 

Career Paths for Librarians 

Librarians often start their careers in public libraries in a page position, then may move into an assistant  or technician position, before rising to become a librarian. From there, education and experience can help you to become a library manager, department head, assistant director or director.   

Examples of recent jobs posted for librarians in the US, requiring a master’s degree, include:

  • Librarian I – Rochester, NY – $61,615 annually
  • Cataloging Librarian – Georgetown, TX – $47,570 annually
  • Medical Librarian – Cleveland Clinic, OH – salary not listed
  • Librarian – Longview, WA – $61,812 annually
  • Children’s Librarian – District of Columbia – $55,230 annually
  • Librarian I – Miami, FL – $48,924 annually
  • Librarian I – Birmingham, AL – $42,702 annually
  • Data Librarian – Wichita, KS – $60,000 annually
  • Programming Librarian – Arvada, CO – $47,991 annually
  • Librarian I – Philadelphia, PA – $47,865 annually