Librarians are educated professionals with extensive knowledge and expertise in library and information science (i.e., the organization, management, and administration of materials and information services). Other titles for individuals in this profession include Reference Librarian, Library Media Specialist, Catalog Librarian, and Technical Services Librarian. Most Librarians generally work in public libraries, college or university libraries, elementary and post-secondary school libraries, company libraries, and information centers or agencies where they provide assistance and guidance to individuals who are in need of personal or business-related information.
Today's libraries have shifted dramatically from the traditional housing of books and paper-based records and materials to environments that use state-of-the-art technology to house, manage, and access the expansive breadth of information sources. It is no surprise then that Librarians must possess the knowledge of a vast range of both public and scholarly or intellectual sources of information, and apply the latest trends related to media, publishing, and computers in order to manage the organization and selection of library materials. The Librarians of today work with information in a variety of formats that include video and audio recordings, books, newspapers, magazines, photographs, graphic materials, maps, digital-based resources, and library databases.
In addition to being responsible for a variety of general duties and tasks, most Librarians specialize/work in one specific area of a library where their duties will vary depending, upon the type and size of the library:
- Technical Service Librarian - The Librarian in this role does not work with patrons. Instead, they work "behind the scenes" on acquisitions (e.g., computer equipment, database subscriptions) and the cataloguing of materials so that individuals seeking information may do so without difficulty. Some may also compose summaries and abstracts.
- User Service, Reference, or Research Librarian - In this role, the Librarian provides assistance directly to library patrons by assessing their requirements and determining and retrieving the appropriate information that would best suit their needs. The Librarian may also instruct patrons on how to find the information on their own and provide instruction on the use of electronic information resources, databases, or other information sources.
- Collections Development Librarian - This Librarian focuses on overseeing the selections of books and electronic resources. Librarians who work in large libraries use specific guidelines or approval plans that ultimately enables publishers to submit books to the library (to become part of the library collection) without the need of a review and evaluation process. It also enables the Librarian to check the submitted books upon arrival and subsequently determine whether the book will indeed be added to the library collection. Librarians also have access to a budget (or funding) that they may use toward purchases of books and other appropriate materials.
- School Librarian - The Librarian in this role works in a school library or media center and may often act as the school's literacy advocate or IT (information technology) specialist. They also assist teachers in curriculum development, and research and obtain specific materials to be used in classroom instruction. They also instruct students on the proper use of library resources.
- Outreach Librarian - In this role, the Librarian provides library and information services to disadvantaged groups which include, but are not limited to: the disabled; homebound adults and seniors; low-income areas/neighborhoods; and incarcerated and ex-offenders.
- Administrative Services Librarian - In this capacity, the Librarian is responsible for overseeing the planning and management of the library. This generally includes, but is not limited to: supervising staff members; negotiating contracts for equipment, services, etc.; public relations; fundraising; and budgets.
- Electronic Resource Librarian - This role is focused on database management.
- Systems Librarian - This Librarian develops, troubleshoots, and maintains all library systems.
- Archivist - This individual specializes in dealing with and managing historical (or archival) materials (e.g., records, documents).
Once a Librarian has achieved a senior level of expertise and experience, they may advance to the role of Chief Information Officer, Department Head, or Information Center or Library Director. In this capacity, their responsibilities become more management and administrative driven where they are involved in long-term plans and relationships with the organization under which their library falls (e.g., for a public library, it would be the city or county).
In information centers and small libraries, the Librarian typically deals with all operational matters that include:
- reading publishers' announcements, book reviews, and catalogues
- determining and purchasing materials from wholesalers, distributors, and publishers
- preparing new materials that are being added to the library collection
- supervising assistants who perform differing tasks (e.g., entering information into electronic catalogs)
- strong writing
- clear speaking
- information organization
- information gathering
- category flexibility
- service orientation
- detail orientation
- creative problem solving
- deductive reasoning
- people and time management
- intellectual freedom and censorship
- the role of libraries and information in society
- the history of books and printing
- information organization
- research strategies and methods
- materials selection and processing
- user services
A Librarian will often pull together special programs for both children and adults (e.g., children's storytelling, book discussions/talks, and literacy skills). Many will also write grants, conduct special classes, and market specific services.
Increasingly, experienced Librarians are leveraging their skills in opportunities and areas outside the library (e.g., reference tool development, database user training, database development, and publishing). And, there are those who become self-employed consultants who specialize in providing services to businesses, government agencies, or libraries.
Technology and the Library
Technological advancements and the Internet have greatly impacted the availability and variety of reference information. As such, most libraries maintain their own computerized information databases and also have access to those that are remote. Additionally, associations formed between some libraries provide those seeking information with access to the databases from each the associated libraries. It goes without saying that today's Librarian must possess and apply the knowledge and skills needed to use the many and various technological resources available to them and the public.
Librarians always work indoors. Most work a set schedule based on a 35- or 40-hour workweek; some work on a part-time or on-call basis. Schedules may include some holidays, evenings, and weekends (most applicable to those working in public, college, and university libraries). School Librarians may work a set number of months according to the school calendar year and typically have the same daily and vacation schedules as classroom teachers. Those who work in company libraries and information centers or agencies usually work standard business hours with occasional overtime hours when needed.
Frequent standing, bending, stooping, and reaching are inherent in this profession. Librarians may also spend a great deal of time working at their desk or reference area, or in front of a computer terminal (which may cause headaches and eyestrain over a prolonged period of time). Some may work under tight deadlines for patrons or students in rapid need of information due to job requirements or homework assignments, all of which may lead to stress. Librarians also carry and lift books, and climb ladders to reach high shelves or stacks.
Most Librarians are members of professional associations that keep them abreast of industry advancements and technological changes.
Individuals in this profession must possess the following skills, knowledge, and abilities:
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment for Librarians is "expected to grow by 4 percent between 2006 and 2016, slower than the average for all occupations." A combination of tight government budgets and the increased use of electronic resources are expected to constrain the available jobs for Librarians. It will also foster the hiring of lesser-paid library assistants and technicians in place of Librarians. It is interesting to note that the more technology is infused into libraries, both library patrons and staff become more familiar with how to use the resources, and subsequently, fewer Librarians will be required to both maintain and instruct or assist users. Additionally, many library websites offer access to their resources, and as such, information seekers will access these resources remotely, thereby passing the Librarian altogether. Regardless however, there remains a definite need for Librarians to assist users in the development of database searching, manage staff, handle difficult or complicated information requests, and select appropriate materials.
Per the USDL BLS, job opportunities for non-traditional Librarian jobs are expected to "grow the fastest over the decade" (e.g., information brokers and those employed by nonprofit organizations, consulting firms, and private companies).
Librarian Colleges, Certification, and Licensing
A Master's degree in Library Science (MLS) is required for a Librarian seeking employment in most academic, public, and special libraries. Individuals seeking employment within a school are generally not required to possess an MLS, however they must meet the licensing requirements of the state. Those seeking employment within the Federal Government are required to possess an MLS or the education or job experience equivalent.
A bachelor's degree (regardless of the major) is a prerequisite for entrance into an MLS program. While individuals will find MLS programs offered by many colleges and universities, prospective employers tend to seek graduates from one of the several academic institutions that have been accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Most MLS programs will take anywhere from one to two years to complete. Graduate program foundation courses are focused on library and information science and include:
More and more, computer-related studies are becoming a critical part of MLS programs. In fact, some programs offer interdisciplinary degrees that merge standard education in library science with courses in technical information science.
Individuals also have the option of focusing their studies in a specific discipline such as children or technical services. Those seeking a Ph.D. in library and information science will find this advanced degree be of value should they look to secure a teaching position or high-ranking administrative role in a large public, university, or college library.
Librarians who are employed in specialty libraries (e.g., corporate, medicine, law) typically take additional courses that are focused in the field in which they work.
Depending upon the state, certification requirements exist for Librarians who are employed by public schools and local-level libraries. Fourteen states require a master's degree (i.e., an MLS or master's degree in education with a concentration in library media) and approximately one half of all states require school Librarians to possess a teacher certification (not all require actual experience in teaching). Furthermore, some states may require an individual to pass a comprehensive assessment; most states have certification standards applicable to local public libraries (voluntary in some states).