How To Become a Librarian

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Updated on August 16, 2023
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Although librarians are commonly seen as book-loving literacy helpers, they also have a pivotal role as information professionals. Librarians are skilled at discovering valuable resources in places where others might not think to look. A librarian may also be an individual who enjoys sharing knowledge with others and who likes the idea of working in a library since that is a place where visitors often seek answers to questions. Libraries try to have collections that cover a wide range of interests, points of view, and values so that everyone, no matter where they come from or what information they need, can find something they like. So, a librarian’s job is to help people find the resources they need to do research, find information, and meet their needs. They also try to adapt to changes in society to support and promote diversity, access, and intellectual freedom. So in exploring how to become a librarian, it is important to choose a field of specialty, earn a bachelor’s degree, pursue a master’s degree in library studies, and continue gaining experience, which will lead to obtaining certification.

Libraries and librarians provide a welcoming environment for users to discover and learn new pieces of information that answer the needs they may have. But to develop effective instruction, information professionals need to take steps like planning and consideration based on learning theories that connect with the needs of the community. So, if a person likes to help and serve others, is interested in creating and providing services, resources, and materials that inform and entertain, like books, movies, music, stories, websites, local history, and databases, thrives in a technologically changing environment, is interested in information research, preservation, and teaching, and is willing to connect people with a wide range of values and beliefs to materials that reflect those values and beliefs, they might be a good fit for a job as a librarian.

This article will discuss all the ways to become a librarian. First, describe what a librarian is, the education and qualifications needed to become one, the materials and skills most desirable for a librarian, the average earnings of a librarian, the various library career options, and the steps needed to look for jobs to become a librarian.

What is a Librarian?

A librarian is first and foremost a professional who wishes to contribute to the greater good of a literate society, as well as a professional who believes all information resources provided by libraries should be equitably accessible to all library users. These fields stress how important it is to keep learning and improve literacy, and they focus on how to understand and use information or objects. In the field of library science, a few specialties concentrate on managing specific types of libraries, including law libraries or public libraries. Librarians work in a variety of settings, including museums, hospitals, businesses, public libraries, colleges, universities, and schools. In their work, librarians conduct research, instruct, and connect people to technology. When pursuing a role as a librarian, there are various codes of ethics to be taught and used within the profession. As information professionals heavily influence the systems of information, they also ensure the safeguarding of intellectual freedom, privacy, diversity, and access to information. To help get a better understanding of the code of ethics, information professionals demonstrate their awareness of access, confidentiality/privacy, democracy, diversity, education with lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, preservation, the public good, professionalism, service, social responsibility, and sustainability through their role in the library and with its community. Librarians build websites, digitize archives, and different types of media. Librarians work with people of all ages, connecting them to information, learning, and the community.

Educational Requirements to Become a Librarian

Bachelor’s Degree

You will need a bachelor’s degree to start on your path to becoming a librarian. For graduate program admissions, any bachelor’s degree will be accepted, while a major in library studies is preferred. This is advantageous for people who want to shift careers as well. Before focusing on library science, students frequently major in education or general studies to have a well-rounded education. Though having a background in education is not a necessity, other fields of previous study that have transitioned into librarianship are computer technicians, journalists, social media and outreach coordinators, and many other fields. No matter what the previous field an individual studied in, the skill set from their bachelor’s degree will be beneficial when continuing their schooling and gaining library-specific experience.

Master’s in Library Information and Science (MLIS)

After earning your bachelor’s degree, it is essential to pursue a Master of Library Science (MLS) program if you want to become a librarian. Understanding the evolution of libraries and the best practices for librarianship are major topics in MLIS programs. Since many libraries looking for librarians need a candidate to have an ALA-approved MLIS degree, it is crucial to look for an MLIS school that has been recognized by the American Library Association (ALA). An American Library Association (ALA)-accredited program is necessary for most librarian positions in public, academic, and special libraries. School librarians may not need an MLS but must meet state teaching requirements. ALA-accredited master’s programs can be found at colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. While the entrance requirements can differ from school to school, many programs now offer library science programs that do not require the GRE for admission.

If going into a graduate program is not an ideal path, there are many roles and positions within a library that do not require a Master’s degree. However, it would be in a support staff role. These include positions such as library assistants and technicians. You can earn a bachelor’s degree (4 years), an associate’s (2 years), or a certificate in library science. Many of the graduate schools that have ALA-accredited master’s programs also offer undergraduate majors and minors in library studies. 

Developing a Robust Resume

Consider and make a list of the skills you’ve gained and the work you’ve performed through jobs, school, personal interests, volunteer positions, internships, and extracurricular activities. Keep in mind the value of non-LIS experience. As shown in this snapshot, the information profession welcomes diverse candidates from various backgrounds. Practice communication and collaboration skills by seeking out interaction with peers and begin to develop a professional network of colleague relationships while you are a student. If possible, incorporating an internship or volunteer work while in a graduate program helps build librarianship skills and expand work opportunities. However, you do not have to have an undergraduate degree in library science or previous library work experience to be accepted into a master’s program. Your undergraduate degree can be in almost any subject area.

In-demand Skills

In studying information science, students will typically study how users behave when they seek information and which technologies can help people learn. Consider these LIS skills among your basic competencies and seek out opportunities to develop them in your current courses or workplace.

Research, Reference, Readers’ Advisory

Part of the information professional’s job is to use online databases to help patrons retrieve the information they need. Yet, information specialists need to be familiar with how to create, query, and assess information retrieval systems in order to use online databases efficiently. Fact-checking and information curation for the general public are entrusted to professors, librarians, and other information specialists. With these responsibilities comes the need for information professionals to have continued criticism of information retrieval systems already used and available, such as keeping in mind digital search engines and cataloging that can isolate and stereotype groups. A few specific LIS positions that focused on these skills sets are

  • Reference, Instruction, and Outreach Librarian
  • Research Librarian/Archivist
  • Computer Science and Engineering Librarian
  • User Experience Researcher

The people in these positions tend to know about online database searching and research techniques and are capable of post-processing to meet user requirements. They have skill and knowledge in utilizing computer databases containing various reference materials, to which users seek access.

Computer Technology

Technology skills are in demand in both traditional library and archives roles and in nontraditional jobs such as data science, management, analysis, and marketing. Employers expect candidates to have LIS skills in research, reference, instruction, and computer technology. As society changes and evolves, so must libraries, no matter the organizational setting, to continue to adapt to technological advancements. Themes like innovative technologies demand reevaluating the processes and practices of libraries to adapt and evolve alongside the digital age. Similarly to this, librarians must adapt and change within their chosen organizational structure in order to suit the users’ demands in ever-changing ways. A few specific LIS positions that focus on these skill sets are

  • Website/Social Media/Coding
  • Program/Project Management
  • Customer Service/User Support
  • Collection/Data Management
  • Collection Development

These roles and many others showcase a librarian’s knowledge of emerging technologies

and trends. Knowledge and understanding of issues and practices related to electronic information and resources that are detail-oriented and precise with strong critical appraisal skills that include evaluation, writing, and analytics. as well as experience with research data management and/or institutional repositories.

What does a librarian earn?

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the median annual pay for U.S. librarians and media collections professionals in 2020 was $60,820. Because library positions generally aren’t high-paying, prospective library science students should investigate all of their financial aid and scholarship options. Librarians who worked in college, university, and professional school libraries earned the highest median wage among their peers at $58,700, with elementary and secondary school librarians following close behind at $57,310.

Library Areas of Focus

When people think of libraries or information centers, they may tend to think of their local public library or possibly their school library, but many may not be aware of the multitude of organizational settings information professionals may practice in. There are many types of librarians. Once you’ve decided on the kind of librarian you want to be, it’s time to start preparing for your career. Public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, and many more are typical work environments for information specialists. Many organizational settings may differ in terms of space, services, materials, and the specific demographic groups they serve, as well as how funding is acquired. However, one of the key similarities between organizational settings is the provision of a community hub for clients to congregate in a neutral setting, the connection of users to resources they may require or may not be aware are available to them, and the provision of information and services that specifically address the needs of the community.

Public Library

Public libraries serve as community hubs for creativity and collaboration where people can explore new ideas. Most public librarian positions require a Master of Library Science (MLS) or a master’s degree from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA) and a master’s degree with a specialty in school librarianship from a program recognized by AASL in an educational unit accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). as well as any other state-required certificates. School librarian roles in the school libraries are to collaborate with classroom teachers to implement those standards and enhance students’ development, as well as manage the school library circulation, collection development, gathering space, and much more. School librarians develop policies to select appropriate materials for students to provide information and services appropriate to their age range. School librarians also maintain and manage a budget to develop an awareness of areas of funding that can support the school libraries’ goals, search for grants and donations, and do daily accounting upkeep. School librarians not only provide a space for community and learning, but they are also a specialized place for youth and educators to come together and directly work towards enhancing literature and digital technology development.

Special Libraries

Because special libraries frequently cater to a particular user community, such as businesses, museums, governmental organizations, hospitals, etc., many of their contents are not accessible to the general public. To offer services that are advantageous to the company and its community, special librarians should be familiar with the operations of the information center. Because special librarians seek answers for their users, they require strong research and analysis skills to find the unique materials and services that the users need to understand the special collection. Special Library librarians aggressively seek out, preserve, and provide access to historical items. They also urge the college community and the general public to use their current collections. They create a program for archive digitization and put policies into place for evaluating, handling, preserving, and granting access to both physical and digital archival records. They displayed expertise in assessing, choosing, and processing private documents, business records, and other distinctive print, electronic, and digital collections, particularly from diverse populations.

How Can I Find a Job as a Librarian?

Positions for librarians can be located on general job search websites or employment boards run by the ALA, state legislatures, or educational systems. Job openings can also be found through the professional network that is built through a library science program. Because the job market can be overpopulated at times, searching for opportunities may require moving to another location. Library and information science (LIS)-related opportunities are found in many job postings that don’t include the word “library” or “librarian.” It is best to not rely solely on job title searching, though. Choosing a specific software program name, coding language, or other specialized terms for a skill set and using a unique search term (e.g., bilingual, American Sign Language, security clearance) can bring numerous LIS job postings that may best suit an applicant’s strengths. The American Library Association offers resources on its website for those who are interested in becoming librarians, and it also hosts “round tables” and task forces that study issues in librarianship that may be of interest. The following job descriptions also demonstrate the numerous ways that LIS competence is described and can help with future studies in the field of library science.

  • Archivist
  • Cataloger
  • Circulation Assistant
  • Collections Manager
  • Content Designer
  • Curator
  • Data Analyst

When searching for a job as a librarian, search terms like “digital,” “manage,” “metadata,” business,” and “user,” among others, are all different ways that LIS postings will appear and give access to roles as a librarian.