What Does a Career in Library Science Look Like?
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Library science is the study of information, and it offers rewarding, in-demand careers with opportunities for growth.
Professionals who work in library science organize books, periodicals, and other resources. They may also conduct research, organize community events, manage fundraising efforts, and assist people of all ages and backgrounds in accessing information.
This page covers how to pursue a library science career, including education requirements, relevant skills, common library jobs, and answers to frequently asked questions.
What Do Librarians Do?
Librarians organize library materials, help visitors find books and periodicals, check books in and out, and generally maintain library collections. Many librarians also plan and host programs for the community, like reading groups for children. They may also carry out research. Librarians usually need a master's degree in library science or information studies.
Where Do Librarians Work?
Librarians may work in a variety of library and related settings, but the most common workplaces for librarians are elementary and secondary schools, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They also frequently work at colleges and universities. In addition to libraries, librarians may work for government agencies, law firms, museums, or hospitals, doing data management.
Librarians need archiving, indexing, and cataloguing skills. They also need strong information organization skills, which they can develop through library science programs. Librarians may also assume administrative duties, which require organizational and general management abilities. Additionally, librarians use problem-solving and interpersonal skills to help patrons access library materials.
Salaries for library science professionals vary by education, experience, and job description, but in 2018, librarians earned a median annual pay of about $59,050, according to the BLS. As illustrated below, librarians in New York City and Washington, D.C., make the highest annual wages.
|Salary||Job Growth (2018-2028)|
|City||Median Annual Salary|
|New York, New York||$57,831|
Assist librarians with their daily tasks. The scope of their job duties depends on their employer. They may help library patrons locate books and use bibliographic tools, sort and reshelve returned books, catalogue library materials, and issue new library cards.
Often work at museums and other cultural institutions, managing collections such as art exhibits and historical displays. They research, plan, and arrange different presentations and exhibits. Curators at smaller institutions may also take on administrative duties, such as directing museum affairs.
These educational professionals work at secondary schools, teaching various subjects and preparing students for life after high school. They create lesson plans, grade papers, and evaluate student learning outcomes. Individuals interested in library science might enjoy teaching subjects like literature, history, or cultural studies.
Ask An Expert
Michele Lefler has an MS in library and information science from Drexel University. She is the library director at a small public library in south central Pennsylvania. Her passions include intellectual freedom and access to information for all. Her favorite reading topic is dystopian fiction.
Why Become a Librarian?
Challenges include lack of adequate funding and having to increase services with less support to do so. One of the biggest highlights, though, is the sense of satisfaction when you help someone find the information they are looking for. Also, seeing the joy on a child's face in the library is amazing.
Anyone can do well as a librarian. It really depends on what type of librarian you are. Different areas of service and focus will require different personality types, as will varying locations of libraries.
For instance, a librarian in a small rural area will often be tasked with taking on all, if not most, of the various roles and responsibilities. That librarian would need to be outgoing and driven, as well as be able to handle a constantly changing work environment. In a library serving a large metropolitan area, however, you often find many different librarians handling the workload. In that case, a cataloguing librarian would not need the same personality as a library director.
Librarians help everyone! We help children develop a love of learning and reading. We help senior citizens navigate new technology. Librarians help people navigate a huge wealth of information and find just the right thing. Librarians are true service people and impact everyone within the community, even those who don't come in the library.
Most people think of libraries as dusty repositories of books, but that's not true anymore. Yes, there are books and we are great advocates of reading, but libraries are also the heart of the community. Libraries provide fair, balanced, and impartial access to information. There's so much information out there today -- more than ever before -- and librarians help you access the right information.
Also, libraries are a place for community members to access information free of charge. You don't have to pay to access the public library. Anyone in the community can use the resources. And really, you don't even need a library card. Anyone can come in and read the books, magazines, etc. You may need a card to access some materials or to borrow them, but everyone is welcome to utilize the public library.
Most of the time, we assume that in this age everyone has access to the internet, but that's often not true. There are many places where internet service isn't available, and when there is, there are people who can't afford it. Libraries provide free access to computers and the internet. Libraries are often places for free programming and job search help.
I could go on and on about the role that libraries play in the community, but I'll just end by saying this: Libraries are the single most important institution within a community, and librarians are the people who make all of it happen. The more librarians the better.
How to Get Hired
It really depends. There are many more graduates than positions, and that means you'll often have a wait time before getting hired. However, that depends on the market where you live and if you're willing to relocate. I was lucky and had a job waiting when I graduated, but that is extremely rare in this field.
You need a master's degree in library science. Most people balk at that, but they don't really understand everything that's involved in being a librarian. When I enrolled in graduate school, I had a friend who asked, "Why do you need an advanced degree to check in books?" That's not it. I rarely check in books!
Of course this level of education is necessary for professional librarians. Paraprofessionals like library assistants may not need the same level of education. It really depends on the role that person will have in the library.
Again, it depends. As I said about personalities, there's often something for everyone in the library, but that does depend on where the library is located. As the library director of a small public library, I often look for people who have all the necessary skills because we have a small staff. We all have to pitch in and do things. There aren't various departments that you would find in large libraries.
Have experience working in a library. Take on an internship while you're in school or volunteer at a library. Competition can be tight, so the more practical, hands-on experience you have, the better your chances will be. Whatever you do, don't say you thought it would be a neat job because you love to read!
Day in the Life
As I said, I'm the library director at a small public library. That means I work on everything! My day-to-day tasks range from plunging a clogged toilet to ordering books to fundraising and political advocacy! It's literally anything and everything to keep our doors open.
My staff and volunteers, the board of directors, the general public, the media, and politicians.
My hours typically are Monday through Friday, 9-5; however, I'm always on call. Even when we're closed, I'm on call for the alarm company and such things.
Other professional librarians within our library network.
Research and knowing who to ask when I don't know something! Also, I have to use public speaking and networking skills, as well as leadership and management skills.
American Library Association
Founded in 1876, ALA is the largest association for library professionals in the world. Members have access to scholarship opportunities, library tools, and information about potential jobs.
American Association of School Librarians
A branch of ALA for librarians who work in elementary and secondary schools, AASL offers conferences, e-learning sessions, and members-only publications and newsletters.
Association for Library Collections and Technical Services
Another branch of ALA, this organization connects professionals who work in collections, acquisitions, and cataloguing. The group hosts continuing education opportunities and gives out awards and grants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Library science is the study of information, making it a highly important field for societal growth and development.
Just like any career, working as a librarian can feel stressful at times, but for many librarians, the love of the job outweighs the difficulties.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for librarians to grow 6% between 2018-2028, which is on par with the national average for all occupations.
Librarian science can be challenging, especially for those new to the field, but as library science professionals gain education and experience, their responsibilities become less difficult to navigate.
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