Q: What does the librarian of a library do, exactly?

Q: Hello. I am currently a junior in high school but am looking forward to starting a career as a librarian as soon as I get into college. I had some questions and I was wondering if someone could answer them or if there was a resource that would answer them.

  1. Is there a high demand for librarians in the nation? (I live in Arizona, if that matters.)
  2. What does the librarian of a library do, exactly?
  3. What is the average degree of most United States librarians and is it a competitive job?

TA: Well, it is always refreshing to see such a thoughtful, focused and ambitious individual in high school. It certainly sounds like you are intelligent (indicated, of course, by your interest in becoming a librarian) and that you have a strong interest in pursuing this course of study. Let me answer your questions, and give you some free advice along the way.

What do librarians do, exactly? Librarians can do a lot of things. The beauty of librarianship is that you can specialize in a hundred different ways. We work in academic institutions, large and small. We work in corporate libraries, public libraries, school libraries, “cybraries,” and sometimes not even in a library at all. In addition to working in a variety of settings, librarians work with a wide variety of materials.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor is an excellent resource on the nature of work, working conditions, employment, education, and training for the field of librarianship. Perhaps the most significant statement from the Handbook regarding the work of librarians is the following: “Librarians assist people in finding information and using it effectively for personal and professional purposes.” Regardless of where or how, this sums up what all librarians have in common – they help people access information.

Below, find some summarized facts regarding librarianship from the Occupational Outlook Handbook. For complete information, please refer to the original source.

  • Librarianship centers around three primary components: user services, technical services, and administrative services. Librarians are involved in providing information, including determining user needs, searching for, and acquiring information. In small libraries, librarians may handle all aspects of the work. Those in larger libraries generally specialize in one aspect of librarianship, such as acquisitions, cataloguing, or reference. The Internet and the rise of electronic resources make technological skills very important.
  • Work schedules vary based on environment. For example, school librarians usually have the same workday and vacation schedules as classroom teachers, while academic and public librarians have varying schedules to staff desks and provide coverage for extended hours, including weekends and evenings, as well as some holidays. Special librarians usually work normal business hours, but may need to work extended hours depending on the nature of the business environment in which they work.
  • An ALA-accredited master’s degree in library science (MLS) is usually required for librarian positions in most public, academic, and special libraries, and in some school libraries. For a list of ALA-accredited programs, visit http://www.ala.org/ala/education/accredprograms/accreditedprograms.htm. In addition to the MLS, computer knowledge and training and knowledge of one or more foreign languages are increasingly important. Most special librarians have additional training or education in their subject area, and most states require school librarians to be certified as teachers as well as earning the MLS.
  • Employment of librarians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations over the 2002-12 period. Job opportunities in librarianship are expected to be very good, because a large number of librarians are expected to retire in the coming decade. This will be tempered, though, by government budget cuts and the increasing use of computerized information storage and retrieval systems, resulting in the hiring of fewer librarians and the replacement of librarians with less costly library technicians. However, there will still be a need for librarians to manage staff and perform the more complex work of libraries. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, jobs for librarians outside traditional settings will grow the fastest over the decade.
  • “Many companies are turning to librarians because of their research and organizational skills and their knowledge of computer databases and library automation systems. Librarians can review vast amounts of information and analyze, evaluate, and organize it according to a company’s specific needs.” (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05)
  • Librarian salaries vary according to the type, size and location of the library, as well as the education, skills and abilities the librarian brings to the position. In 2002, librarians’ median annual earnings were $43,090.

I encourage you to explore librarianship while you are in high school and throughout your college tenure. You may want to volunteer in your high school library or public library, and then work as a part-time student assistant in your university library. These work experiences will help you get an idea of the different types of clientele, work assignments and environments that you may encounter in the field. Prepare yourself during college with literature courses, foreign language classes and entry-level computer classes, all of which will be especially relevant to the profession in the coming years.

You’re very wise to be thinking this far ahead, and I hope I have given you some information to help chart your course toward your desired goals. For further reading, I would strongly recommend reviewing the full entry for librarians in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, as well as the web sites for the American Library Association and the Special Libraries Association. Also, check out http://www.lisjobs.com/states/arizona.htm for job opportunities in Arizona, which will help you get an idea of the salaries and types of jobs in your geographical area.

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