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How to Become a Librarian: A Comprehensive Guide

Male Librarian

In your search for a career, if you have wondered how to become a librarian, you are in the right place! This unique and rewarding career attracts people who like to work with people, are organized, and love research.

Librarians ensure that people can access the information they need to be successful in their search for answers. They also help people find books, movies, music, and other sources of entertainment. For more information on how to become a librarian, keep reading!

Who is a Librarian?

A librarian is an individual who manages information within a library. Some of their roles include:

  • Organize books and library materials
  • Help library patrons conduct research
  • Maintain existing media collections
  • Catalog resources for education or entertainment
  • Promote learning through special programs

Libraries require many different people to run successfully, with librarians in the lead roles. Some of these individuals might not work directly at the front desk. Instead, they budget, manage, and supervise the personnel and library materials within a library.

Others may spend most of their time researching new materials coming into the building. Additionally, some could be assistants who shelve books and read to children.

The profession of librarianship has evolved, but its fundamental goals remain the same. Librarians help people find and use information to meet their needs and interests.

Librarians work with individuals, groups, and organizations in various settings. These can include public, academic, school, special, and corporate libraries.

What Does a Librarian Do?

In detail, a librarian is responsible for managing and organizing library materials. This includes books, magazines, newspapers, sound recordings, videos, computer software, and other electronic resources.

They also work to provide reference services and readers’ advisory services. In addition to all of that, a librarian may also be responsible for teaching classes on information literacy or conducting research themselves.

The career of a librarian can be gratifying. It’s a chance to help people find the information they need and to promote reading and learning.

How to Become a Librarian: A Step-by-Step Guide

So, you want to become a librarian? It’s a great career choice. But what does it take to become a librarian? Let’s find out.

  1. Choose your specialty
  2. Earn a bachelor’s degree
  3. Pursue a master’s degree in library studies
  4. Gain experience
  5. Obtain certifications or licensure

Step 1: Choose Your Specialty

There are many jobs within a library, You might already have a preference. If not, then it is advisable to learn of the following positions available to you:

  • User service librarian helps library users find information and resources. They work in public, school, or academic libraries.
  • Technical service librarian is responsible for the selection, acquisition, cataloging, and storage of materials in a library.
  • Public services manager oversees all public services in a library, such as circulation, reference, and readers’ advisory.
  • Education librarian works with educators to develop curriculum and provide instruction in library resources.
  • Cataloger is a librarian who catalogs materials using a classification system like Library of Congress Subject Headings.
  • Administrative services librarian manages the financial and administrative operations.
  • Systems librarian is responsible for selecting, installing, and maintaining library technology systems.
  • Digital asset manager oversees the creation, organization, management, and preservation of digital content in a library.
  • Special librarian specializes in a particular subject area like music, history, or science.
  • Public librarian works in a public library and provides information, resources, and programs for their community.

These are just a few of the 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. Let’s take a look at your next steps.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

You will need a bachelor’s degree to start on your path to become a librarian. While a major in library studies is ideal, any bachelor’s degree will do. This is good news for career changers. Students often major in education or general studies to obtain a well-rounded education prior to concentrating in library science.

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Step 3: Pursue a Master’s Degree in a Library Science Program

After earning your bachelor’s degree, it is essential to pursue a master’s in library science. A Master of Library Science (MLS) program focuses on understanding the history and development of libraries and best practices for librarianship. Preferably, students will seek out an ALA-accredited MLS program. The course work typically includes:

  • Information organization
  • Bibliographic instruction
  • Online searching techniques
  • Cataloging and classification
  • Management of libraries

This degree can help you to work with information using the latest technologies.

For students who want to continue to doctoral studies or plan on teaching at a post-secondary level, an MLS is desirable over a Master’s in Library and Information Science (MLIS).

Step 4: Gain Experience

Before applying to any graduate programs, you should get some real-life experience. This is important for several reasons:

  1. First, it shows that you are interested in this profession and are willing to put extra effort into achieving your goal.
  2. Second, working with children or teens might help better understand their needs which will come in handy during your graduate studies.

There are many part-time jobs available at local libraries across the country. You can search for these opportunities on other online job boards to find an opening.
You’ll work a few hours per week and receive a modest hourly wage in most cases. However, this experience will allow you to learn more about the profession and see if it fits you.

Overall, you need to gain experience and knowledge to make an informed decision about your future. So, if you are interested in learning how to become a librarian, start by getting a part-time job at your local library.

Step 5: Specialize with Certifications and Licenses

You’ve decided on the type of librarian you want to be, earned a bachelor’s degree, an MLS, and gained some practical experience. Now, you may be thinking it’s time to work in a library and start your career path as a librarian.

But before you can get started working at a library, you have some extra steps to take: certifications and licenses.

Typically, the requirements for certification or licensure differ between states, but there are many things that most librarian jobs require. Some of these include:

  • Librarians must pass the ALA’s “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.”
  • Librarians need to manage their money and pay staff, vendors, etc. That means they should have good knowledge of accounting and budgeting.
  • Almost every librarian job requires some computer skills. Many libraries use library-specific databases to help people find books, do research, and more.

Online databases hold the information that you will manage. Even if you are not working in IT or technology, you will need basic computer skills.

Many librarians work in public and need to interact with different people throughout their workday. That means that they should always be approachable, well-mannered, and pleasant to deal with.

During your library studies, you can hone these skills by taking elective courses or even workshops outside of class time. An advisor at your school can also help you decide on the best route to take for certification or licensure in your state.

To become a librarian, you must complete an accredited library and information science (LIS) program. Additionally, you’ll also need to pass the ALA’s “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” Earning this certification means that you are prepared to work as a librarian.

Skills Needed to Become a Librarian

There are several skills that an individual needs to become a librarian. These skills include research, information literacy, communication, and management.

Research and Information Literacy

The primary skill that a librarian needs is research and information literacy. Librarians are experts in both library catalogs, databases, bookshelves, etc. This includes knowing how to find what they need on the internet.

Librarians understand that there are different sources (academic journal articles vs. news articles, for example). They know how to critically evaluate sources for accuracy, relevance, and bias, and they also understand the principles of copyright and fair use.

To become a librarian, you need to find information and understand it well enough to teach others. This includes summarizing research findings, analyzing data, and creating bibliographies.
Finally, librarians also need to be able to use technology effectively. This includes everything from using a library catalog on the computer to finding and evaluating information online.

Communication

Librarians also need strong communication skills. They need to communicate with patrons with a wide range of literacy levels and explain complex concepts in easy-to-understand language.

They also need to work effectively as part of a team, whether working with other librarians in their library or collaborating with other departments on a larger project.

Librarians also need to write well, both for reports and to publicize the library’s work.

Overall, librarians need to be comfortable speaking in front of groups. This may be giving presentations at conferences or doing book talks with children. Strong communication skills allow librarians to effectively use technology and work as part of a team.

Management

Finally, librarians also need to have strong management skills. This includes the abilities to manage a budget and assess the needs of the library to utilize the monies for optimal returns. They must allocate time for various projects and deal with difficult patrons or staff members when issues arise.

Libraries are not just places where information is stored and accessed but also community hubs. Librarians need to direct the various aspects of running a library to provide the best possible service to their patrons.

Education Needed to Become a Librarian

Most librarian jobs in most public, academic, and special libraries require a master’s degree in library science (MLS). This degree is best from an American Library Association (ALA)-accredited program. Although school librarians may not need an MLS, they must fulfill state teaching standards.

Choosing an ALA-Accredited Program

Most employers demand an ALA-accredited master’s degree to work on a professional level in libraries. Graduating from an ALA-accredited institution improves job mobility and offers more flexibility. You can find master’s degree programs approved by the ALA in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

The Duties of a Librarian

With the explosion of the internet, the world’s knowledge base has grown exponentially. Librarians lead the way in organizing this information for easy access.

As libraries provide more and more services to make sense of more data, the tasks they perform also increase.

What Degrees Are Beneficial to Become a Librarian?

Most librarians pursue one of three different types of library degrees. Each path has a particular focus, allowing you to follow your interests.

You should choose a course of study based on your past experiences, personal strengths, and intended career path. The ALA has more information on how to select the right program for you.

You can search a directory to find ALA-accredited schools here.

Master’s in Library Sciences

A Master’s in Library Sciences (MLS) is an interdisciplinary field of study concerning the collection, organization, management, preservation, and prioritization of books and other informative materials in libraries. It borrows tools from versatile domains, including management, information technology, and education.

For this purpose, it is also related to various subfields such as documentation science, bibliography, information management, knowledge management, etc. This degree is generally a prerequisite for a professional librarian position in a public or private library.

GetEducated’s Pick: Master of Science in Library Sciences from University of North Texas

Master’s in Library and Information Science

This degree is for those who want to work with the more technical or scientific aspects of information and how it is cataloged.

Students learn to work with information as a strategic asset. Many organizations seek employees who can help them manage and analyze information and data. MLIS brings library studies into the realm of science and technology.

With your degree in MLIS, you can work to improve the link between people with a query and the data that holds their answer.

A Master in Library and Information Science offers students contemporary coursework to keep up with technology. You can earn this degree from many universities across the United States and online.

Graduates find careers as data curators, data analysts, user experience designers, or information architects.

Many jobs require some certification, which students can complete after earning this degree.

GetEducated’s Pick: Master of Science in Library & Information Science / Management from St. John’s University

The Difference Between MLS and MLIS Programs

The Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) is a master’s degree closely related to MLS but relatively recent. MLS is the older of the two programs of study. The “I” in MILS represents the growing technology of information. This addition reflects the need for modernity in libraries and concerning studies.

Both programs are eligible for ALA accreditation and may even have the same courses, graduation requirements, and admissions. However, the type of program determines the degree name. Other names of ALA-accredited degrees, frequently referred to as MLS, are Master of Information Studies, Master of Arts, Master of Librarianship, Master of Library and Information Studies, or Master of Science.

As with any other profession, you can take many different paths to become a librarian. It is essential to do your research and find the degree program that best suits you, as well as the career you hope to have in the future.

Special Certifications for Librarians

Certification, in any field, attests that the holder possesses a specified set of skills and knowledge. With a certificate, you can show a potential employer your worth. The pursuit of a certificate shows your dedication and commitment to your profession.

Professionals embrace the American Library Association (ALA) as the central organization for librarians in the United States. The ALA Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA) offers two different certifications, depending on your experience and education — the Certified Public Library Administrator Program and the Library Support Staff Certification Program.

ALA-APA Certified Public Library Administrator Program

Public librarians with an MLS degree and at least three years of supervisory experience can apply for the Public LIbrary Administrator Program (CPLA) through the ALA-APA. The benefits of holding this certificate include:

  • Increased education and professional development
  • Advancement to a higher position
  • Improved job opportunities due to increased professional expertise
  • Acquisition of the latest advances in library management

The application requires a fee and official transcripts. Candidates must complete four core courses and three electives to earn this certification.

Library Support Staff Certification

The Library Support Staff Certification (LSSC) allows library staff who do not hold an MLIS or MLS an opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills. With this certificate, you can show your ability to be an asset to your employer. Candidates do not need any college education to apply, but they must have work experience in a library. The program consists of three core competencies and four elective competencies.

Librarian Work Environment

Librarians often work in an environment conducive to research. Potential places of employment include a library, media center, or other academic facilities.

Employers are often a public library, a school library, or a corporate library.
Some positions require travel to various places, including schools, government buildings, businesses, and areas of natural or cultural significance.

Most librarians and library media specialists work on the floor with visitors, behind the circulation desk, or in offices. Some have personal offices, but those in small libraries frequently share a workplace with others.

Related Resource: 12 Best History Major Jobs: Entry-Level & Career

Work Schedules

Librarians and library media specialists hold a wide range of job titles and work full time. Public and academic librarians can work part-time. College and public libraries may require weekend and late-night shifts in facilities with extended hours. Work within a corporate library generally follows regular business hours.

Those who work in secondary education have the same working conditions as teachers, including summers off.

Benefits of Becoming a Librarian

There are many benefits of becoming a librarian. Perks include good pay, stable work, interaction with people, lifelong studies, and updated technology.

Good Pay

Librarians earn a decent salary. Most librarians make around $60,000 per year.

The money you make as a librarian can also depend on the level of education. For example, librarians with a master’s degree often make more money than those with only a bachelor’s degree.

Stable Work

Librarians usually have stable jobs. This means that you can count on work as a librarian for many years.

Many opportunities for advancement exist for librarians. So, if you are looking for a career that will allow you to move up the ladder over time, becoming a librarian may be a good choice.

Interactions With People

Librarians have the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life. This is a great way to meet new people and learn about different cultures.

Librarians also help others in the line of duty. For many workers, the quest to help others is a driving force in their choice of careers as they want to make a difference.

Lifelong Studies

Librarians work with books and information every day. The continual consumption of new information helps you connect your patrons with this knowledge. You will stay up-to-date on the latest trends in the world of libraries.

Updated Technology

The majority of libraries use the latest technology. Librarians have the opportunity to learn about this new technology and use it in their work.

In conclusion, there are many benefits to becoming a librarian. If you want a career that allows you to make a difference in the world and stay up-to-date on the latest technology, becoming a librarian may be the perfect choice for you.

Librarian Salary

The median salary of librarians as of May 2020 was $60,820 per year. The lowest 10% made less than $34,810 per year, while the top 10% made more than $97,460 each year.

Advancement Opportunities for Librarians

Librarians can achieve higher positions within libraries. Advancement for librarians might include library director, department head, or other roles that require more responsibility than a regular staff member. Librarians should check with each library to see what opportunities are available.

Otherwise, some of the areas a librarian can specialize in include user services, technical services, acquisitions, collections, administration, and data.

The above positions comprise popular positions that a librarian can look into to further their career. By advancing their skills and keeping up with the latest technology, librarians can maintain a successful career in their field.

Ready to Become a Librarian?

With in-depth knowledge of how to become a librarian, you can take the steps needed to launch you towards a promising future as a librarian. The growing need for trained professionals in this field makes it an easy choice to pursue a career as a librarian. The employment outlook shines bright.

To meet the demands of employers, higher education institutions have created degree programs designed specifically for the profession. Whether you have an undergraduate degree in library science or not, there are many graduate programs to choose from that will qualify you for the promising work as a librarian.

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