Librarians help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use. They work for a variety of institutions, including public libraries, schools and universities, museums, law firms, and corporations. Duties may include selecting, acquiring, cataloguing and circulating print, digital and media materials designed for educational and entertainment purposes. They also use and develop databases for classifying materials and teach classes on using these and other information resources.
- Catalogue and code print, digital and media materials according to standard library classification systems
- Using professional reviews, catalogues, patron and staff recommendations, select and order library materials
- Organise collection of books, periodicals, documents, media and other materials for ease of access
- Evaluate materials to judge those that need replacement, repairs or to be discarded from collection
- Use and develop information aids, databases for classifying materials, web resources and software
- Instruct patrons, students and other staff on use of databases, catalogues, reference books and other information resources
- Answer reference and reader advisory questions using standard reference materials and online sources
- Conduct more complex searches for patrons’ unique or extensive research projects
- Obtain materials through local, national or international interlibrary loan, including rare books and media
- Develop and implement library policies and procedures
- Pursue professional development with training courses, continuing education and library conferences
- Teach classes on topics such as research methods, evaluating sources, copyright issues and library use
- Plan and develop library programmes, including children’s story hour, author lectures and literacy events
- Prepare library budgets; order and inventory supplies and equipment
- Hire, train and direct library technicians, assistants, pages, other support staff and volunteers
Skills and qualities
Competition is fierce for the most challenging librarian positions. You will typically start out at a small public or community college library. Once you’ve earned some experience, you’ll be a more desirable candidate for bigger institutions.
Special and large academic libraries tend to have the best salaries. Some academic librarians can be part of the local teacher’s union, which offers regular raises, benefits and a pension. Librarians with several years of experience often move into supervisory roles, including library director.
Nights, weekends, holidays occasionally
Most librarians work full time. Public and academic libraries may require evening or weekend hours. School librarians at all levels typically have the same schedule as teachers, including holidays and summers off. Some academic librarians have reduced schedules in the summer months.
Special libraries, such as medical, law firm, museum, engineering and other corporate resource centres, are usually open during normal business hours. Special librarians may work overtime to meet deadlines for court cases or important research.
Library environments can vary greatly. Children’s librarians may spend a lot of time out on the floor, assisting and interacting with families. Technical services librarians typically have offices or shared workspace behind the scenes. Reference librarians usually split time between an information desk, in the stacks helping patrons and answering phone calls.
School and special librarians often work in a smaller space and have multiple duties, including circulation, reference and cataloguing.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Qualifications and training
Master’s degree in library science
Most librarians need a master’s degree in library science, sometimes called a Master of Information Studies. Accredited programmes aren’t always easy to find, so check with the American Library Association (ALA) for the one nearest you. A bachelor’s degree is required to enter the master’s programme. Many librarians have a liberal arts degree, but special librarians may need a degree in a related industry.
Some special libraries require candidates obtain a PhD in their field. Employers may also request multilingual librarians to serve a more diverse community or to catalogue a special foreign language collection.
States may require certification, standardised testing or a teacher’s certification for school librarians.
Some libraries may promote technicians and assistants to librarian status after several years of experience.
SourcesBureau of Labor Statistics O*NET OnLine Oxford Martin School American Library Association (ALA)
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022