Learn About Being a Librarian

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

Related: Career Paths: Jobs for English Majors

In this video, a copywriter, brand manager and book editor describe their daily work and the skills needed to be great at their job.

What does a librarian do?

A librarian is a professional who assists people in finding the information they need and organizes vast amounts of digital and physical information. They can work in schools, colleges, universities, research institutions, public libraries, for the government or in other information-focused businesses. A librarian often holds a supervisory position, overseeing other library employees such as library technicians and assistants. Some duties of a librarian include:

  • Managing books, periodicals, audio and video recordings and digital resources including cataloging, organization and storage

  • Aiding individuals with research, including locating appropriate databases or books and overseeing the use of those materials

  • Ordering subscriptions and other materials to keep libraries stocked and updated

  • Managing specialized documents, records and manuscripts

  • Maintaining library systems, including databases and digital and physical methods of organization and record-keeping

  • Advocating education and literacy and assisting with reading programs for children or adults

  • Overseeing or directing support staff

Average salary

Librarian salaries can vary according to several factors, including the employer, the level of the institution, the librarian’s level of education and their location.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $56,543 per year

  • Some salaries range from $20,000 to $111,000 per year.

Librarian requirements

There are several requirements for obtaining a position as a librarian, including:

Education

Most librarians hold a Masters of Library Science (MLS) degree. Some employers, based on size, location and state requirements, may hire librarians with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in a different field,  such as management.

Studying for an MLS degree can include a variety of topics, such as research methods, cataloging and classification methods, book preservation, digital preservation and archive management. Most librarians will choose an area of specialty, such as a reference librarian, digital archivist or manuscript preservation and restoration. An MLS program typically takes one to two years to complete.

Training

Librarians receive most of their training through formal education, but they can also receive on-the-job training and usually gain experience as interns, volunteers or part-time workers in a library before becoming full librarians.

Certification

Most librarian positions consider an MLS degree to be the only certification necessary. However, some states or institutions may have certification or licensure requirements, so you should research the typical requirements in your desired area of employment. School librarians must complete the certification required by their state for education professionals. Librarians can also obtain the following certifications:

Certified Public Library Administrator (CPLA) Certification Program

Offered by the American Library Association (ALA), this certification consists of a voluntary post-MLS program for librarians with three or more years of supervisory experience. Candidates have to take courses in seven of nine possible competency areas to receive this certification, which demonstrates that they have acquired a nationally and professionally recognized body of knowledge.

Library Support Staff Certification (LSSC)

The ALA also offers this certification for library workers without an MLS degree. To become Certified Library Support Staff, candidates must have a minimum of a high school degree or its equivalent and one year of experience in a library within the last five years. They will take courses in six of ten possible competency areas to demonstrate their understanding of library operations.

Skills

Librarians need a variety of skills to be successful in their role:

Organization

Librarians need excellent organization skills to manage the vast amounts of data and information they encounter and oversee. They might organize numerous books in a library, keep detailed records of incoming and outgoing sources of information and oversee information database structures.

Interpersonal

Librarians will often have a high level of social interaction with visitors to the library. They should possess strong interpersonal skills to provide excellent customer service to their visitors.

Communication

Verbal and written communication skills will always assist a librarian in their duties, since they communicate with vendors, collectors, students, professors and other visitors. They may have in-person discussions and also communication via email, letter or phone.

Analytical

Librarians need excellent analytical skills to process large amounts of information. They need to listen to a visitor’s needs and determine where to direct them for information. They will also regularly make decisions regarding the classification, organization and storage of different materials.

Interest in research

Information science professionals often have a serious interest in research. This interest can assist librarians when helping visitors find various kinds of information.

Technological

Librarians use computers on a daily basis for recording information and for creating or updating databases. They need to be comfortable with word processing programs, spreadsheets and specialized computer programs in their industry.

Librarian work environment

Many librarian positions are full time and consist of typical office hours, though some may work part-time or on evenings and weekends. A librarian typically works in an indoor environment, and they may sit at a desk all day or stand and walk to reshelve books. They might need the physical ability to lift and carry heavy books. They may work independently or as part of a team, and they will regularly use computers, printers and scanners. A library environment is usually calm and quiet.

How to become a librarian

1. Choose a focus

Your career path as a librarian will differ depending on whether you want to work in an elementary or middle school, a high school, college or university, a public library or a research institution. You can also choose a specialty of information science as a librarian, such as references or digital archives. Search for librarian positions in your geographical area to help you decide.

2. Earn a degree

Most librarian positions require an MLS degree, so you will have to first complete a bachelor’s program and then begin graduate study. 

3. Gain relevant experience

You can increase your employability as a librarian by working part-time or volunteering at a local library to gain experience. You may also find internships available at libraries or in a support staff position. Some colleges offer students work-study positions in their libraries.

4. Check certification requirements

If you want to work at a school, you will have to complete your state’s certification requirements. Some public libraries or other institutions may have certification or licensing requirements as well, so check the requirements in your area.

5. Update your resume

When you are ready to apply for librarian positions, update your resume with your highest level of education, skills and work history. Search for open job listings and write a detailed cover letter tailored to each position by using keywords from the job descriptions.

Librarian job description example

Hollyfield County Library is seeking a head librarian to maintain and update information, including book inventory, audio and video recordings, periodicals and digital databases. This is a supervisory position and the librarian will manage a staff of library technicians and library assistants. Hollyfield County Library is partnered with Hollyfield College so the librarian is also expected to assist students and professors with researching needs.

An MLS degree is required and three years of supervisory experience is preferred. The librarian must be an excellent communicator, possess interpersonal skills to interact positively with library visitors and have keen analytical and organizational skills.

Related careers

If you are interested in a career as a librarian, you may want to consider these related careers:

  • Teacher

  • Guidance counselor

  • Social worker

  • Paralegal


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