The first memory you may have of a librarian is someone helping you find a picture book at your local library or public school. This is one type of librarian. But there are other types of librarians who work in a variety of institutions, from schools and public libraries to universities and research institutes. If you wish to know how to become a librarian, read on to learn more. We’ll break down what it means to be a librarian, the educational requirements you need to become one, and the job prospects in the field.
What Is a Librarian?
A librarian is a specialist in information science. As the custodian of a library, they are responsible for the library’s catalog, both physical and virtual. This allows them to help library patrons find whatever book, reference, or information they’re looking for.
Librarians are skilled researchers and often have vast subject expertise and experience working with data, especially if they work at specialized libraries or archives.
What Does a Librarian Do?
A librarian’s primary occupation is to help students and library patrons who are conducting research. They answer questions, find information, locate books, periodicals, and other materials. They also access data and guide the research process. As technology has advanced, librarians have also become experts in a variety of different information systems.
Technical Services and Cataloging
Librarians who work in technical services are trained information science professionals in many systems. They know all about the most obscure corners of the library and the virtual systems and catalogs used to access items.
Cataloging means keeping tabs on new books and materials that arrive. Cataloging librarians enter these materials into the library catalog so that they can be tracked and traced within the library’s information system. These systems allow librarians and patrons to access the vast amounts of data found in the catalog.
Public-facing librarians help library visitors navigate the complex library system and find what they are looking for. Depending on the scope of the person’s question, the librarian may even help them conduct research and identify sources.
Archival Work and Maintenance
Some libraries house archives, which can contain primary source documents like letters, photographs, legal documents, or other historical documents. Archival workers have the extra responsibility of managing valuable and often very old archival materials and making sure they are treated with care.
Essential Librarian Skills
The stereotype that a librarian is very bookish and antisocial isn’t really accurate. Many librarians spend a lot of their time talking to library patrons and helping them find their sources and materials. This means that you should hone your interpersonal skills when learning how to become a librarian. That said, librarians also need to have sharp academic skills, patience, and natural curiosity.
Librarians of all kinds, including school librarians, archivists, and research librarians, need to have strong analytical skills. They must interpret all kinds of information quickly and efficiently, analyze their library’s collection and databases, and evaluate library settings.
Collections Management/Organizational Skills
To be a skilled librarian, you must have strong organizational skills. If you are managing a vast collection of different materials and using several cataloging and information systems, you need to keep it all straight. You can master the skills necessary to become a librarian in one of the many degree programs for library and information science.
As catalogs have moved online, and online databases have made information more readily available, librarians must now have strong digital skills. That said, they usually just need to learn a few databases and systems.
Librarian Salary and Job Outlook
A librarian’s salary can vary depending on the kind of library, archive, or institute the librarian works in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for librarians is $59,500.
School librarians, especially those at public school libraries, typically earn less than the national average for the job. Librarians who work at colleges and universities or who hold a doctoral degree in library science may earn significantly more.
Beyond salary, librarians usually enjoy competitive benefits packages, including health insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits often offered to those in public service occupations.
Research specialists and students will continue to need librarians to help them access the materials they need. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that librarian jobs will increase by 5% by 2029. This is faster than the average rate of growth for all occupations.
In the past decade, libraries have started to offer services that go far beyond book-borrowing and research. Many public libraries host public and private events, offer continuing education classes for adults, have youth services programs, host book clubs, and more. Librarians are also needed to help manage these programs.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Librarian?
It takes at least six years of full-time coursework to become a librarian. Librarians must hold a bachelor’s degree in any academic field and a master of library science or a master of library and information science.
A bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete and a master’s degree in library and information science takes two. Combined, students need to complete six years of full-time study to become librarians.
How to Become a Librarian: A Step-by-Step Guide
The exact steps you’ll need to take to become a librarian vary slightly depending on what kind of librarian you want to be. Do you want to be a school librarian, working with young students in public schools? Or would you rather work at a university or research institute? Ultimately, you will need to earn degrees and, potentially, some other endorsements.
Before you become overwhelmed, take a deep breath and keep doing your research like you’re doing right now. The more you learn about library and information science, the better sense you will get of what it takes to become a librarian.
So, let’s jump into discussing exactly how to become a librarian.
Step 1: Get Your Bachelor’s Degree
If you don’t already have a bachelor’s degree, you must earn one so you can pursue the master’s degree that librarian positions require. You can even get an online degree. Bachelor’s degree programs in library and information sciences exist, but earning one does not qualify you to work as a librarian.
For this reason, you should pursue a bachelor’s degree in a subject that you’re interested in. Then you can move on to a master’s degree program in library and information sciences. Librarians commonly hold bachelor’s degrees in English, education, history, anthropology, and other social sciences.
Step 2: Get a Master’s Degree in a Library Science Program
This is the most crucial step you need to take to become a librarian. Librarians must have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science accredited by the American Library Association, or ALA. These programs cover the foundations of library science: information studies, collection management, and library operations.
Some programs might offer an opportunity to pursue certain concentrations or endorsements. Such endorsements will be invaluable depending on whether you want to become a school librarian, a public librarian, or an archivist.
Step 3: Get a Part-Time Job at a Local Library
This isn’t required, but it’s helpful to get to where you want to be when learning how to become a librarian. Working part-time at a library while you pursue your degrees will give you relevant experience and an edge in the job market. You can also volunteer at a public or local school library. As with pursuing any other occupations, you should seek out every opportunity to get more experience and insight into your desired profession.
Step 4: Specialize With Certifications or Licenses
First, decide what type of librarian you want to become. Then, do your research and find out what other licenses or certifications you need, if any. To become a school librarian, for example, you’ll need state certifications.
Best Courses and Training Programs for Librarians
While rarely heard of, several universities do offer undergraduate degree and graduate degree programs in library science and information systems. Courses that can be taken on-campus or online are available for aspiring librarians. To make your search easier, we’ve put together a list of these programs below.
In-Person Librarian Degree Programs
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Boasting a nearly 100% job placement rate, Kutztown University offers several programs for anyone who wants to become a library media specialist. The programs promise training in implementing research and in systems and strategies to drive information sharing.
St. John’s University
Also offered online, this graduate degree program is accredited by the American Library Association (ALA) Committee. It requires 36 credit hours along with “four core courses, a management course, and seven elective courses,” according to the university site.
Southern Connecticut University
- Program/s: Bachelor of Science in Information Management and Services and Master of Library and Information Science
Southern Connecticut University’s BS in Information Management and Services prepares graduates for jobs in libraries and information centers. Completion of the program entails finishing 39 credits. The MLIS, on the other hand, prepares graduates for management roles in all kinds of libraries and related information agencies.
Online Librarian Degree Programs
University of Southern Mississippi
- Program/s: Master of Library and Information Science
With accreditation from two official bodies, SACSCOC and ALA, this program offers the skills and knowledge professionals need to advance in the field. Comprising 40 credit hours, students can complete their studies in one to three years.
University of Arizona Global Campus (formerly Ashford University)
Requiring the completion of 120 credits, this fully-online program is designed to enhance your research and information-gathering skills. The curriculum also covers how technology has impacted learning and how this may help enhance information access.
University of Nebraska-Omaha
With a nearly 100% placement rate, the program is reported to have produced close to a third of library professionals in Nebraska, according to the university site. These include library assistants, library managers, and library technicians. The curriculum includes a wide array of core courses. Some of these are children’s literature and education, digital citizenship, and advanced cataloging and classification.
Should You Become a Librarian?
Only you can answer this question, but it’s clear, now more than ever, that access to accurate information should be a basic human right. As a librarian, you can help others stay informed, discover books and learning, or find the sources they need for their research projects. All in a day’s work.
Like many information and data-based occupations, it takes about six years of full-time study to become a librarian. You will need a bachelor’s degree in any field (four years of full-time study) and a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science (two years of full-time study).
Librarians make a median annual wage of $59,500, higher than average compared to other professions. Librarians with more subject area expertise and endorsements, like law librarians, can earn higher salaries and better benefits.
If you enjoy doing research, managing information, and interacting with community members or students, becoming a librarian could be a very rewarding career path. Further, librarians have the opportunity to earn competitive benefits packages.
The profession requires a master’s degree for most entry-level positions so it is more difficult than other fields that don’t require an advanced degree. That said, there are plenty of opportunities to work in other library occupations while you’re pursuing your degrees. These occupations won’t pay as well or offer competitive benefits packages. But they offer great opportunities to learn about how to become a librarian when you’re still in school.
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