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.

Basic Duties of a Librarian 

Because there are so many different types of librarians, their basic duties vary from one job title to another. Generally, however, librarians must be able to perform the following duties:

  • Organize library materials making them easy for patrons to find what they need
  • Create and use library materials databases
  • Research new materials and books
  • Help library patrons in conducting research
  • Teach classes about information resources
  • Plan programs for different audiences
  • Maintain existing collection sand choose new books and materials for purchase
  • Prepare library budgets
  • Train and supervise library staff and volunteers
  • Research computers and other equipment for purchase for the library

Competencies and Skills Librarians Should Have

According to the American Library Association (ALA), librarians must possess the following core competencies in order to perform their duties well:

  • Fundamental knowledge of the librarian profession, including:
    • Knowledge of the ethics, values and principles of the library and information profession
    • Knowledge of the role of the library and information professionals
    • Knowledge of the history of libraries and librarianship
    • Knowledge of the history of human communication and how it has impacted libraries
    • Knowledge of current types of libraries and information agencies
    • Knowledge of national and international trends and policies of significance to the library and information profession
    • Knowledge of the legal framework in which libraries and information agencies function
    • Knowledge of the importance of effective advocacy for libraries, librarians and library services
    • Knowledge of the techniques used to analyze problems and create solutions
    • Effective communication techniques, both written and verbal
    • Knowledge of licensure or certification requirements of the profession
  • Understanding of information resources, such as:
    • Concepts and issues related to the lifecycle of recorded knowledge and information
    • Concepts, issues and methods of acquisition and disposition of resources
    • Concepts, issues and methods of managing various collections
    • Concepts, issues and methods of maintaining collections
  • Organizing recorded knowledge and information:
    • Organization and representation of recorded knowledge and information
    • Developmental, descriptive and evaluative skills needed to organize this information
    • Systems necessary to organize this information
  • Technical knowledge and skills:
    • Information, communication, assistive and related technologies
    • Applying these technologies 
    • Assessing and evaluating these technologies
    • Identifying and analyzing emerging technologies and innovations
  • Reference and user services:
    • How to provide access to relevant, accurate recorded knowledge and information to all individuals
    • Techniques used to retrieve, evaluate and synthesize information 
    • Methods used to interact with users of all ages and groups
    • Information literacy techniques
    • Advocating to teach specific audiences concepts and services
    • Assessing and responding to diversity in user needs
    • Assessing impact of current or emerging situations or circumstances on services and resource development
  • Research:
    • Fundamentals of quantitative and qualitative research methods
    • Central research findings in the field
    • Principles and methods used to assess actual and potential value of new research
  • Continuing education and lifelong learning:
    • Necessity for librarians to continue professional development
    • Role of library in lifelong learning
    • Learning theories and application
    • Principles related to teaching and learning of concepts and using knowledge and information
  • Administration and management:
    • Planning and budgeting
    • Personnel practices and human resource development
    • Assessing and evaluating library services and outcomes
    • Developing partnerships within communities
    • Principled, transformational leadership

Qualifications Librarians Must Meet

Librarians are responsible for a tremendous amount of information, and therefore must receive special training in information science. The ALA recommends that all public librarians have a Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree from an ALA-accredited institution. After graduation, librarians are expected to be well-versed in the Core Competencies listed above.

Not all libraries require librarians to possess this level of education, however. Some states also require librarians to fulfill certification requirements, which may involve obtaining a degree and maintaining continuing education. Check out this link for your state’s certification requirements.

Personality Traits Best Suited to Becoming a Librarian

According to Career Explorer, the best librarians share these personality characteristics:

  • Conventional
  • Conscientious
  • Logical
  • Efficient
  • Organized
  • Good communicators
  • Cooperative
  • Patient 
  • Caring
  • Helpful
  • Friendly
  • Empathetic
  • Tactful

Work Settings for Librarians 

Librarians may work in a variety of settings, as libraries are found all over. These include, but are not limited to, your local public library, a school library (either at the K-12 or post-secondary level), a government library, a law library, and a music library. Businesses also have libraries and often employ corporate librarians. Think about the types of settings for each librarian specialization as you read descriptions of the specialized librarian jobs listed below. 

Types of Jobs and Specializations Available for Librarians 

There are many different career specializations and types of librarian jobs available. These are some of the most common:

Public Librarian

A public librarian is what most people think of when they hear the word “librarian.” Public librarians work in public libraries within communities, serving all members of the public. They help library patrons in finding books, conducting research, and learning how to access library resources. Public librarians may also teach programs for patrons, like children’s story time, book clubs, and educational activities. 

Research and Reference Librarian

A research and reference librarian helps patrons who are conducting research. They help patrons to organize the materials and services they need for their research. Reference and research librarians give patrons instructions on the proper databases to use and also help them to locate special materials they need.

Technical Services Librarian

A technical services librarian gathers and orders, prepares, and organizes both print and electronic library materials and subscriptions, as well as other equipment the library may need. They help to arrange and catalog these materials so that library patrons can easily find information. They also order new library materials and archive older ones. 

Collections Development Librarian

A collections development librarian helps to develop a collection of specialized resources for the library. This collection might be digital, books, or content on a particular subject. This person helps the library manage expiring content within its collection, compiles recommended lists, and acts as a resource for the specialized materials within a collection.


Specialized librarians called archivists work with documents, records and manuscripts that are historic and fragile. They love history and are dedicated to preserving it. Archivists will maintain and store this information in the best way possible, and help library patrons to access the information when needed for research.

Systems Librarian

A systems librarian maintains the library’s computer systems. They troubleshoot problems that come up in library cataloging and in developing new systems for the library as needed. This is a very responsible technical position in that it involves maintaining the library’s records.

Electronic Resources Librarian

An electronic resources librarian manages the library’s databases that are licensed from third-party vendors. They troubleshoot any problems that arise and know how to use these databases and resources. They are good at compiling, obtaining and analyzing data of all kinds. 

Outreach Librarian

An outreach librarian promotes the library’s resources and services and helps students develop proficiency in research. They may work on college campuses and in schools, dealing directly with students to help further their education.

School Librarian

A school librarian (also referred to as a school library media specialist) may work within any type of school, from pre-K through grade 12, and within post-secondary colleges and universities. School librarians teach students the proper usage of library resources, including technology. They may also assist teachers in finding materials to use in classroom instruction and in developing lesson plans. 

Catalog Librarian

Catalog librarians input a book or other material’s information into a Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) format which allows the library’s catalog to find the book or material when a patron performs a search. It is a very meticulous and precise position that requires an organized person. 

Academic Librarian

An academic librarian assists students, faculty and staff in college and university libraries. They help students who are researching topics and teach them how to access information they need. They also help faculty and staff to locate resources related to research and teaching. Some post-secondary institutions have multiple libraries on various campuses, and some also have libraries and librarians specializing in particular subjects. 

Administrative Services Librarian

An administrative services librarian helps to manage a library, preparing its budget, and negotiating contracts for library materials and equipment. They may also conduct public relations or fundraising for the library. 

Corporate Librarian

Corporate librarians help employees within private businesses in finding information and conducting research. They may work for a variety of organizations, such as publishing companies, consulting firms, and insurance companies. 

Law Librarian

A law librarian conducts research and helps attorneys, judges, law clerks and law students find and analyze legal resources. They may work in law school libraries and within legal firms. 

Medical Librarian

Medical librarians are also referred to as health science librarians. They help health professionals, patients and researchers find health information. They may provide information about medical treatments, procedures and new clinical trials. They may also teach medical students how to find information, and answer questions from consumers and patients. 

User Services Librarian

User services librarians help library patrons in conducting research using print and electronic resources. They teach library patrons how to use library resources to find information. They may help to teach patrons about catalogs of print materials, help them access and search digital libraries, and educate them on technology and Internet search techniques. User services librarians may work with a targeted audience, like children or young adults.