What Careers Are Available in Library Science?

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Updated on April 5, 2023
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The common thread among information and library science careers is working with information that can be provided to users. But beyond that, a career in library science requires some level of interest and the skills of information science that are developed throughout an MLIS program, which will then determine what type of career is best suited for an MLIS student. There are numerous paths that can be taken by someone interested in a career in library science. The library and information science field is filled with professionals passionate about making a positive change in the world around them through the services and materials provided in libraries. This article will explore the essential skills for a library science career, the various possible MLIS career paths one can take, the essential skills needed to develop to succeed in that field, and alternative titles that may be correlated with LIS skill sets that may be used in different information centers.

Essential Skills for Library Science Careers

Though qualifications and skills may slightly differ for various library science career fields, there are standard essential skills needed to have a career in library science and information.

  • Librarians need to know how to interact with patrons and help them with their information needs. 
  • Librarians must be knowledgeable about accessing library services, walking the patrons through the process, and basic troubleshooting of hardware and software programs for when problems arise.
  • Library science professionals must have an understanding of how to collect, store, and share information within their organizations. This will promote knowledge transfer and strengthen competencies among library staff.
  • Libraries today are reliant on technology. Computers are taking over the spaces bookshelves used to occupy. Professionals in this field must adapt to the demands of the 21st century and develop information technology skills.
  • Librarians need to have some level of research and analytics skills. This skill facilitates innovation in every field and library science is not an exception. Library science professionals can use research to determine improvement points in their services and develop better systems and policies based on the results.

Fields and Career Options for Library Science Degree Grads

Information Professionals Are In-demand In Multiple Industries

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 different types of organizational settings that information professionals can be a part of. The typical setting for information professionals ranges from public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, and many more. 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 for each different organizational setting. Nonetheless, one of the main commonalities for organizational settings is to provide a community hub for patrons to gather in a neutral space, to connect users with resources that they may need or are unaware may be accessible to them and to give information and services that specifically cater to those community needs. 

Organizational settings in information professional spaces are created to give community members and users the opportunity to learn, gather, and explore information that may not have been accessible to them before. As society changes, so must libraries, no matter the organizational setting. Themes like innovative technologies demand reevaluating the processes and practices of libraries to adapt and evolve alongside the digital age. Similarly, library professionals must adapt and evolve within their chosen organizational setting to meet the needs of their users in increasingly dynamic ways. Learning what organizational settings there are, allows information professionals to better understand the roles they may have in that setting, and information professionals will be able to establish the tools necessary to be in that organizational setting while catering to the services and materials of that library and its targeted users. 

In exploring a career in library science, no matter what organizational setting, it is useful to know of the different information organization settings that may best fit their interests and skill set, but to also acknowledge the ways the different organizational settings may benefit or enhance users’ experiences through possible collaborations and engagement. Information professionals are knowledgeable about all the different types of organizational settings. Knowing how each information environment functions is what makes information professionals provide effective services to their communities and users. The following explanation will closely follow the characteristics of each of these organizational settings, including some of the similarities each may have with other organizational settings. The next section will also highlight the importance of identifying the different organizational settings within the profession in order to better understand how libraries of all types might serve a specific purpose and audience. With this understanding, an individual will be better prepared and knowledgeable about the careers available in library science.

Working For A Public Library System

A public library is a nonprofit library created for the general public and local communities and is typically funded with taxes generated by the government and community. Public libraries offer programs, books, technology, and resources that can meet the specific needs of their community. Though there are numerous career positions and roles within library science and in a public library, below are two specific library science roles that are designated for public library spaces. 

Youth Services Librarianship

A Youth Service Librarian is a librarian who specializes in services for youth from birth through high school graduation or early college in a public library. Youth services librarians construct and maintain an appropriate age-level collection, provide reference and reader advisory services, and conduct programming that is designed to support print, media, and information literacy for youth users. Youth Services Librarians conduct programs that may be as varied as lapsit programs for babies, robotics for youth, research, and life skills development for older youth. Youth Services Librarianship involves teaching children of all ages how to use a public library’s in-house and online resources, as well as digital services for youth that are emerging in schools and society. This role is also similar to school librarians’ in academic settings. A Youth Services role may also have the following titles: Youth Community Services Librarians, Young Adult (YA) Librarians, Teen Librarians, Young Adult (YA) Specialists, Youth Services Managers, and Directors of Children’s (and Young Adult) Services in a Public Library.

Cataloging Librarian

A cataloging librarian is a librarian who works in a library or other types of information organizations and whose primary responsibilities involve copy cataloging and original cataloging. The catalog librarian is responsible for keeping the collection organized digitally and/or physically. This permits library users to locate materials on the shelf or online easily and efficiently. This librarian studies the material and researches databases that the library acquires and provides a useful online record that correctly describes the item purchased. The librarian may use systems such as machine-readable cataloging (MARC) and other metadata-based systems to organize and catalog each item in a library’s collection. A Cataloging Librarian may also have the titles of Metadata Librarian, Cataloger, Indexer, and Information Architect.

Working With An Academic Library

An academic library is a library that is connected to an academic institution. The library serves as a teaching and research space for students and faculty. These libraries serve two main purposes: to support the school’s curriculum and to support the research of the university faculty and students. The librarian is there to help students, faculty, staff, and members of the general public find and use information effectively and guide the growth and maintenance of scholarly collections in print and electronic formats, all while ensuring current and future users have access to the resources they need to fulfill the institution’s mission. Below are two specific library science roles that are designated for an academic library.

Digital Services Librarian

Digital Services Librarians are involved with an organization’s digital collections and projects. Their role is to create, deploy, and maintain the digital collections for users to access. A position as a digital services librarian requires skills and knowledge in the areas of digitization and skills like organization, access and retrieval, dissemination, storage, preservation, and life-cycle management. They may typically create and maintain searchable collections of newly created and re-created digital archival materials. A digital collections role may also have the titles of “digital repository managers,” “digital collections archivists,” “metadata librarians,” or “programmers/analysts” in an academic library.

Reference Librarian

In academic libraries, reference services are highly specialized. A reference librarian’s role is to assist users with information needs, instruct users in the effective use of information resources, evaluate the quality of information, organize the information, and replace or remove outdated books from the library. A reference librarian is responsible for providing references to questions by users and providing readers advisory, computer, and referral services to patrons in the library. Sometimes a reference librarian may act as a liaison to one or more academic departments, centers, or other campus groups and manage one or more areas of the collection.

Working For A Special Library

In library science, special collections is a specific location or department within a library that stores materials of a “special” nature, including rare books, archives and collected manuscripts. The primary function of a special collections department is to keep holdings safe and secure while remaining accessible. Many special librarians and information specialists work outside the typical library setting and have a non-library job title. Below are two specific library science roles that are designated for special libraries.

Archivist/ Digital Archivists

An archivist typically builds and maintains accessible collections of new and old physical and digital archival materials. They may be in charge of selecting, configuring, installing, and/or managing the repository’s technical infrastructure. Other duties may include the design and implementation of digitization, preservation, and metadata services. The archivists may be required to advocate for and engage with community members about the digital archive’s services, such as through promotion through various social media and other channels. Typically, a digital collections archivist works in close collaboration with the institution’s archivist, records manager, electronic records manager, and/or other related positions. 

Records Management Specialist

A Records Management Specialist is present in many different types of special libraries, and their roles are to maintain a wide record of materials that can have maintenance processes, including storage, retention, and disposal of all records, which may include paper and electronic sources. A records management specialist is responsible for the technical activities associated with the operation of archives and records management. 

Working Within A School Library

School librarians have many of the same responsibilities as public librarians, in the areas of collection development and literacy training. Their jobs focus almost completely on curriculum support, although it can be common for school librarians to offer other types of programming as well. Below are two specific library science roles that are designated for school libraries.

School Media Specialist

A school media specialist is a media librarian that mainly works in an academic environment, typically with youth from 1st through 12th grade. A school media specialist may assist students in identifying, locating, interpreting, and evaluating information located in and outside the library media center. The school media specialist teaches students how to find, evaluate, and share information, as well as how to make media. The school media specialist also works closely with the teachers to make sure that the lessons all fit together. A school media specialist may also have the following titles: media teacher, K–8 library media specialist, school librarian, and media information specialist.

Outreach Coordinator

An outreach coordinator is responsible for connecting an organization with the surrounding community. Their duties include brainstorming potential partnerships or methods for engagement with local businesses and services. An outreach coordinator may maintain a calendar for outreach events and work closely with community partners to plan and execute various outreach events. Some responsibilities that may be included are creating services and programs in collection development and programming, public relations, web design and management, and electronic communication. The outreach coordinator plans and coordinates a comprehensive public relations/marketing outreach program for the library. An outreach coordinator’s role may also have the following titles: community relations librarian, public relations manager, public relations account manager, and public relations specialist.