What is a Librarian Assistant?
Libraries are learning institutions and oftentimes require many other staffing positions than just librarians to keep a library running efficiently. A library staff position that is just as important as a librarian and is tasked with important duties is that of a librarian assistant. Librarian assistants are information professionals who aid librarians and library patrons in the day-to-day responsibilities of a functioning library. Understanding what a librarian assistant does and how to become one can help aspiring information professionals make educated decisions when choosing this career. This article will describe what librarian assistants are, list the typical duties and skill set a librarian assistant might have, describe the common steps for becoming a librarian assistant, and discuss the career outlook and pay that may come with pursuing a career as a librarian assistant.
What Does a Librarian Assistant Do?
Library assistants may be seen by some as the backbone of the library system. Librarian assistants not only help librarians but also provide services that organize library resources and make them available to users. At the circulation desk or a reference desk, library assistants help patrons check out and collect books, periodicals, videotapes, and other materials, as well as any other additional customer service needs patrons may have. Librarian assistants help librarians acquire, prepare, and organize materials that may be needed for programming, creating displays, or outreach services. The work of librarian assistants may include (but is not limited to) directing library users to standard references, organizing and maintaining periodicals, preparing volumes for binding, handling interlibrary loan requests, preparing invoices, performing routine cataloging and coding of library materials, and retrieving information from computer databases.
Typical tasks for a librarian assistant include:
- Organize bookshelves
- Check books in and out
- Collect and replace books on the shelves
- Issue library cards
- Catalog new stock, such as books, magazines, and newspapers
- Help visitors find books and other materials
- Answer telephones
- Maintain library records, both physical and online
Librarian assistants typically work under the supervision of a librarian or a library department head, although the work itself tends to be independent and patron-focused. Librarian assistants in small or rural libraries may be tasked with a range of duties to handle the needs of their patrons. Those in large libraries or city areas may be in charge of handling duties that are specialized, as larger city libraries tend to be widely staffed to compensate for their sizable community base. Overall, the primary role of a librarian assistant is to assist the librarian in completing all the day’s tasks in a timely and efficient manner and to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for patrons.
What Skills Does a Librarian Assistant Have?
Librarian assistants require a variety of skill sets that cater to the administrative duties of the position as well as the customer service elements that are typical for the position. Thus, a librarian assistant position requires a combination of hard and soft skills to complete their daily tasks and help both librarians and library patrons. Skills helpful for completing librarian assistant duties include:
- Communication: Librarian assistants can be independent work but the majority of the time in this position requires communicating with the librarian in charge, and communicating with patrons. Thus the main reason for having exceptional communication skills is prominent in this position. A librarian assistant should understand tasks as described by the librarian, communicate well with library technicians and other staff to complete tasks, and understand and communicate clearly with patrons who require help to use the facilities.
- Organization: Another skill set that is prominent within this position is organization skills. Many job duties of a librarian assistant involve organizing and alphabetizing books and other library materials and maintaining an office area, so an understanding of organizational methods is beneficial, but most libraries may provide training on library-specific organization and shelving.
- Computer skills: Computer and technology skills are necessary when handling materials in a library. Librarian assistants will use computers for checking books in and out, emailing patrons, and other clerical duties. Librarian assistants may also spend much of their time cataloging books and other materials on the library’s computer system. Navigating and learning the library’s computer system may be included in the position’s training.
- Interpersonal skills: Librarian assistants often have customer service duties when working with library patrons. It’s helpful to have interpersonal skills to effectively help service patrons, politely and respectfully.
- Knowledge of old and current materials: Librarians prepare librarian assistants to have a basic knowledge of different types of books, such as reference books, nonfiction, and various genres and topics that patrons may be looking for. This knowledge may include an understanding of how to access certain types of books or materials, how to find them in the library, and how to recommend books based on patron criteria and needs.
Steps to Become a Librarian Assistant
The steps in becoming a librarian assistant may differ from state to state and even differ between countries. Below are the common steps needed to take to become a librarian assistant.
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent
It is pretty common today for any job requiring a minimum high school diploma and/or 2-year college education to consider applying for a position. Most libraries don’t require their librarian assistants to have any formal training or college education. However, most require a high school diploma as a minimum. Librarian assistants’ duties vary widely, and training for the position requires skills and knowledge from individuals ranging from a high school diploma to specialized postsecondary training. Some employers may only hire individuals who have library work experience or college training related to libraries; others train inexperienced workers on the job. Library assistants receive most of their training on the job, bringing a hands-on experience to the position. Nonetheless, it is possible to become a librarian assistant with a GED or other diploma equivalent or a Certificate in Library Science, which is preferred but not always necessary.
- Learn about library sciences
Though a degree in library sciences isn’t necessary or required to become a library assistant, knowledge of library sciences might help understand the profession and better inform the way library staff serves patrons. Not only does this help you learn about your chosen field, but it also shows a willingness to learn new skills and work on self-improvement.
There are many courses available online and in person through universities that people can take about library science. Alternatively, some local libraries may offer classes on relevant topics. Most of the skill set required for a librarian assistant position is centered around strong clerical and organizational skills and knowledge of the Dewey Decimal system. Depending on a specific library’s job description and staff, learning other information on library science, youth development, programming, and resources may be required or desired.
Most libraries don’t require library-specific experience when hiring librarian assistants. However, finding a volunteer position in a local library can be a great resume builder when applying for librarian assistant positions. Many libraries offer volunteer positions to help maintain the library or oversee library activities. Volunteer work may include reading to children, shelving materials, tutoring, and other educational or youth-based programs, or being involved in mentoring programs. Volunteering at a library also allows for networking opportunities as a way to make connections with others in the profession.
- Join a professional organization
Lastly, a great way to continue networking and connecting with professionals in the field is to join professional organizations, such as the American Library Association (ALA), and sign up for webinars and discussion forums centered around the profession. Organizational platforms like the ALA Network are a great starting point for finding job openings. Other networking opportunities through webinars and discussion forums are a great way to find a potential mentor who can help advance careers in the field. Through meeting other professionals, the experience of learning more about the specifics of the job or receiving helpful tips on how to complete tasks more efficiently will provide major benefits to those interested in becoming a librarian assistant or any other career focused on library information science.
Librarian Assistant Pay
Librarian assistants earn an average of $25,000–$35,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for Library Technicians and Assistants. Working part-time vs. full-time can have a significant impact on salary and benefits. For the majority of libraries, a librarian assistant is a part-time job, so the average pay may reflect that. For someone who is considering a career as a librarian assistant, it is important to consider researching the details of the position at the hiring library before applying.
Careers That Are Similar to Librarian Assistant
Listed below are related titles that have similar job duties, education, job growth, and pay as librarian assistants.
- Library Aide
- Library Technician
- Assistant Librarian
- Library Clerk
- Library Page
Resources for Librarian Assistant Candidates
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Library Technicians and Assistants Career Profile Handbook