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How to Become a Librarian


Librarians direct the day-to-day activities at academic, public, elementary, and secondary school libraries and make plans for the future of their libraries as well. Librarians curate collections of library materials and help patrons locate and use library resources. They also direct educational activities for the community, like story time for young children and classes in topics like conducting research or using the Internet. Librarians also manage library operations by planning budgets, hiring and managing staff, and choosing materials for their libraries.

There are a number of specialties that librarians can pursue depending on their interests. Librarians may specialize in a specific field, like law or medicine, or they may work with specific groups of patrons, like children. Some focus on digital librarianship, helping patrons evaluate and navigate digital sources of information or using technology to catalog and index digital information.

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What kind of training is required to become a librarian?

Most librarian positions require a master’s degree in library or information science from a program that is accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Library science programs accept applicants from all kinds of educational backgrounds as long as they have a bachelor’s degree. Having a high undergraduate GPA and a high score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) will help in the admissions process, as will strong letters of recommendation.

Students in library science programs take courses to prepare them in the core competencies of librarianship as defined by the ALA. They learn about the foundations of the profession, including its history and ethics, current trends in librarianship, and the law as it applies to libraries. Students also learn about information resources and how to evaluate, select, purchase, process, store, and eventually de-select materials. Additional courses focus on collection development and management, and the organization of library resources.

Many of the current trends in librarianship are related to advances in technology, and the ALA requires library science programs to prepare students with technical knowledge and skills. Students must be familiar with various information, communication, and assistive technologies and learn how to evaluate technology products and deploy them in a library setting. Because technology is always changing, students also learn how to identify emerging trends and products and choose if and how to include them in their current practice.

Library science programs also focus on preparing students to interact with their community and connect their patrons with information that meets their needs. They should learn how to reach different audiences in their community and respond to the needs of these groups.

Are there any certification or licensure requirements?

Librarian who want work in elementary and secondary public schools may be required to obtain a teacher certification. Each state sets its own requirements for teacher certification, but in most cases, librarians will need to meet educational requirements by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree and pass a licensing examination. School Library Monthly maintains a web resource that details the licensure requirements for school librarians in each state.

Some states require all public librarians to obtain a license. In many states, public librarians must hold a master’s degree in library science from an ALA-accredited program, but some states set alternate educational standards for licensure. The ALA Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA) lists requirements for public librarian licensure on its website.

How long does it take to become a librarian?

Earning a master’s degree in library science can take one to two years. Counting the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, it can take five to six years to become a librarian.

What does a librarian earn?

The median yearly pay for librarians in the United States was $55,370 in 2012. The lowest ten percent of earners in this field made less than $33,380 and the top ten percent earned more than $85,430 that year.

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.

What are the job prospects?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of librarians in the United States will grow 7 percent between 2012 and 2020, slower than the average growth for all occupations during that time. The BLS attributes this slow growth to shrinking library budgets and increased usage of electronic resources.

What are the long term career prospects for librarians?

Librarians should continue growing throughout their careers by completing additional education, attending conferences, participating in professional associations, and serving on planning committees at their library. By gaining experience and undergoing professional development, librarians can be promoted to positions with greater responsibility.

Academic and public libraries typically employ many librarians and promote them through several ranks depending on their level of experience. Academic libraries may also expect librarians to contribute to the academic mission of their college or university by teaching classes, conducting research, or publishing or presenting scholarly articles and reviews. Like other faculty members, librarians may earn tenure after contributing a number of years of good performance, department participation, and scholarly activity.

How can I find a job as a librarian?

You can look for librarian positions on general job search websites or through the job listings hosted by the ALA, state boards, or school districts. You may also learn about job openings through the professional network that you build through your library science program. Because the job market for librarians is not strong at this time, you should be prepared to search for opportunities that may require you to move to another location.

You can better your job prospects by gaining some experience working in libraries as an intern or volunteer. Emphasizing any expertise you may have in related fields like social media, marketing, web design, or graphic design can help you can an advantage in your job search as well.

How can I learn more about becoming a librarian?

You can learn more about becoming a librarian through professional associations like the American Library Association. The ALA 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 to you.

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