Librarians

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What Librarians Do[About this section] [To Top]

Librarians help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use. Their job duties may change based on the type of library they work in, such as public, school, and medical libraries.

Duties of Librarians

Librarians typically do the following:

  • Help library patrons conduct research and find the information they need
  • Teach classes about information resources
  • Help patrons evaluate search results and reference materials
  • Organize library materials so they are easy to find, and maintain collections
  • Plan programs for different audiences, such as storytelling for young children
  • Develop and use databases of library materials
  • Research new books and materials by reading book reviews, publishers’ announcements, and catalogs
  • Choose new books, audio books, videos, and other materials for the library
  • Research and buy new computers and other equipment as needed for the library
  • Train and direct library technicians, assistants, other support staff, and volunteers
  • Prepare library budgets

In small libraries, librarians are often responsible for many or all aspects of library operations. They may manage a staff of library assistants and technicians.

In larger libraries, librarians usually focus on one aspect of library work, including user services, technical services, or administrative services.

The following are examples of types of librarians:

User services librarians help patrons conduct research using both electronic and print resources. These librarians also teach patrons how to use library resources to find information on their own. This may include familiarizing patrons with catalogs of print materials, helping them access and search digital libraries, or educating them on Internet search techniques. Some user services librarians work with a particular audience, such as children or young adults.

Technical services librarians obtain, prepare, and organize print and electronic library materials. They arrange materials to make it easy for patrons to find information. They are also responsible for ordering new library materials and archiving to preserve older items.

Administrative services librarians manage libraries. They hire and supervise staff, prepare budgets, and negotiate contracts for library materials and equipment. Some conduct public relations or fundraising for the library.

Librarians who work in different settings sometimes have different job duties.

Academic librarians assist students, faculty, and staff in colleges and universities. They help students research topics related to their coursework and teach students how to access information. They also assist faculty and staff in locating resources related to their research projects or studies. Some campuses have multiple libraries, and librarians may specialize in a particular subject.

Public librarians work in their communities to serve all members of the public. They help patrons find books to read for pleasure; conduct research for schoolwork, business, or personal interest; and learn how to access the library’s resources. Many public librarians plan programs for patrons, such as story time for children, book clubs, or other educational activities.

School librarians, sometimes called school media specialists, work in elementary, middle, and high school libraries, and teach students how to use library resources. They also help teachers develop lesson plans and find materials for classroom instruction.

Special librarians work in settings other than school or public libraries. They are sometimes called information professionals. Law firms, hospitals, businesses, museums, government agencies, and many other groups have their own libraries that use special librarians. The main purpose of these libraries and information centers is to serve the information needs of the organization that houses the library. Therefore, special librarians collect and organize materials focused on those subjects. The following are examples of special librarians:

  • Corporate librarians assist employees in private businesses in conducting research and finding information. They work for a wide range of businesses, including insurance companies, consulting firms, and publishers.
  • Government librarians provide research services and access to information for government staff and the public.
  • Law librarians help lawyers, law students, judges, and law clerks locate and organize legal resources. They often work in law firms and law school libraries.
  • Medical librarians, also called health science librarians, help health professionals, patients, and researchers find health and science information. They may provide information about new clinical trials and medical treatments and procedures, teach medical students how to locate medical information, or answer consumers’ health questions.

Work Environment for Librarians[About this section] [To Top]

Librarians hold about 143,100 jobs. The industries that employ the most librarians are as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 36%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 29
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 18
Information 5

Most librarians typically work on the floor with patrons, behind the circulation desk, in the offices, or go on site visits. Some librarians have private offices, but those in smaller libraries usually share work space with others.

Librarian Work Schedules

Most librarians work full time, although opportunities exist for part-time work. About 1 in 5 of librarians work part time.

Public and academic librarians often work on weekends and evenings, and may work holidays. School librarians usually have the same work and vacation schedules as teachers, including summers off. Special librarians, such as law or corporate librarians, typically work normal business hours, but may need to work more than 40 hours to help meet deadlines.

How to Become a Librarian[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Librarians near you!

Most librarians need a master’s degree in library science. Some positions have additional requirements, such as a teaching certificate or a degree in another field.

Librarian Education

Most employers require librarians to have a master’s degree in library science (MLS). Students need a bachelor’s degree in any major to enter MLS programs.

MLS programs usually take 1 to 2 years to complete. Coursework typically covers selecting library materials, organizing information, research methods and strategies, online reference systems, and Internet search methods.

A degree from an American Library Association accredited program may lead to better job opportunities. Some colleges and universities have other names for their library science programs, such as Master of Information Studies or Master of Library and Information Studies.

Librarians working in a special library, such as a law, medical, or corporate library, usually supplement a master’s degree in library science with knowledge of their specialized field. Some employers require special librarians to have a master’s degree, a professional degree, or a Ph.D. in that subject. For example, a law librarian may be required to have a law degree or a librarian in an academic library may need a Ph.D.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Public school librarians typically need a teacher’s certification. Some states require librarians to pass a standardized test, such as the PRAXIS II Library Media Specialist test. A list of requirements by state and contact information for state regulating boards is available from Libraries Unlimited.

Some states also require certification for librarians in public libraries. Requirements vary by state. Contact your state’s licensing board for specific requirements.

Important Qualities for Librarians

Communication skills. Librarians need to be able to explain ideas and information in ways that patrons and users understand.

Initiative. New information, technology, and resources constantly change the details of what librarians do. They must be able and willing to continually update their knowledge on these changes to be effective at their jobs in the varying circumstances.

Interpersonal skills. Librarians must be able to work both as part of a team and with the public or with researchers

Problem-solving skills. Librarians conduct and assist with research. This requires being able to identify a problem, figure out where to find information, and draw conclusions based on the information found.

Reading skills. Librarians must be excellent readers. Those working in special libraries are expected to continually read the latest literature in their field of specialization.

Technology skills. Librarians use technology to help patrons research topics. They also use computers to classify resources, create databases, and perform administrative duties.

Librarian Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for librarians is $56,880. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $88,530.

The median annual wages for librarians in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private $60,300
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 58,480
Information 52,520
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 51,570

Most librarians work full time, although opportunities exist for part-time work. About 1 in 5 of librarians work part time.

Public and academic librarians often work on weekends and evenings, and may work holidays. School librarians usually have the same work and vacation schedules as teachers, including summers off. Special librarians, such as law or corporate librarians, typically work normal business hours, but may need to work longer hours to help meet deadlines.

Librarian Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, librarians have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Librarians[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of librarians is projected to grow 2 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.

Budget limitations, especially in local government and educational services, may slow demand for librarians. Some libraries may close, reduce the size of their staff, or focus on hiring library technicians and assistants, who can fulfill some librarian duties at a lower cost.

However, there will continue to be a need for librarians to manage libraries and help patrons find information. Parents value the learning opportunities that libraries present for children because libraries are able to provide children with information they often cannot access from home. In addition, the increased availability of electronic information is also expected to increase the demand for librarians in research and special libraries, where patrons will need help sorting through the large amount of digital information.

Librarians Job Prospects

Jobseekers may face strong competition, especially over the next ten years, as many people with master’s degrees in library science compete for a limited number of available positions. Later in the decade, prospects may improve, as older library workers retire and generate openings.

A degree from an American Library Association accredited program and work experience may lead to better job opportunities. Candidates who are able to adapt with the rapidly changing technology will have better prospects.

Employment projections data for Librarians, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Librarians 143,100 145,700 2 2,700


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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