Minimal training requirements and flexible schedules make
this occupation appealing to students, retirees, and others
interested in part-time work.
Most libraries use electronic cataloging systems so computers
skills are essential.
Nature of the Work
Library assistants, clerical—sometimes referred to as library
media assistants, library aides, or circulation
librarians and library technicians in organizing library resources
and making them available to users. Library assistants register
patrons so that they can borrow materials from the library and then
issue a library card.
At the circulation desk, library assistants lend and collect
books, periodicals, videotapes, and other materials. When an item
is borrowed, assistants scan the patron’s library card and the
material to record the transaction in the library database; they
then print a receipt with the due date or stamp the due date on
the item. When an item is returned, assistants inspect returned
materials for damage and enter the materials into the circulation
database. Electronic circulation systems are able to automatically
generate overdue notices reminding patrons that their materials
are overdue, but library assistants review the record for accuracy
before sending out the notice. They also answer patrons’ questions
and refer those they cannot answer to a librarian.
Throughout the library, assistants sort returned books, periodicals,
and other items and put them on their designated shelves, in the
appropriate files, or in storage areas. They locate materials
to be lent, to either a patron or another library. Because nearly
all card catalogues are computerized, library assistants must
be familiar with computers. Before reshelving returned materials,
if they notice any damage, these workers try to repair it. For
example, they may use tape or paste to repair torn pages or book
covers and use other specialized processes to repair more valuable
Some library assistants specialize in helping patrons who have
vision problems. Sometimes referred to as library, talking-books,
or braille-and-talking-books clerks, they review the borrower’s
list of desired reading materials. They locate those materials
or closely related substitutes from the library collection of
large-type or braille volumes, tape cassettes, and open-reel talking
books; complete the requisite paperwork; and give or mail the
materials to the borrower.
Library assistants who prepare library materials may sit at desks
or computer terminals for long periods and can develop headaches
or eyestrain from working with the terminals. Some duties can
be repetitive and boring, such as shelving new or returned materials.
Others can be rewarding, such as assisting patrons who are performing
computer searches with the use of local and regional library networks
and cooperatives. Library assistants may lift and carry books,
climb ladders to reach high stacks, and bend low to shelve books
on bottom shelves.
Library assistants in school libraries work regular school hours.
Those in public libraries and college and university (academic)
libraries also work weekends, evenings and some holidays. About
half of all library assistants work part time, making the job
appealing to retirees, students, and others interested in flexible
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Training requirements for library assistants are generally minimal;
most libraries prefer to hire workers with a high school diploma
or GED, but little to no formal postsecondary training is expected.
Some employers hire individuals with experience in other clerical
jobs, while others train inexperienced workers on the job. Given
the rapid spread of automation in libraries, computer skills are
needed for most jobs; knowledge of databases and other library
automation systems is especially useful.
Library assistants usually advance by assuming added responsibilities.
Many begin by performing simple jobs such as shelving books or
cataloging new books and periodicals when they arrive. After gaining
experience, they may move into positions that allow them to interact
with patrons, such as manning the circulation desk. Experienced
aids may be able to advance into library technician positions,
which involve more responsibility in providing library services
Library assistants held about 109,000 jobs in 2004. More than
half of these workers were employed by local governments in public
libraries; most of the remaining employees worked in school, college,
and university libraries. Opportunities for flexible schedules
are abundant; nearly half of these workers were on part-time schedules.
Employment of library assistants is expected to grow as fast
as the average for all occupations through 2014. Efforts to contain
costs in local governments and academic institutions of all types
may result in more hiring of library support staff than librarians.
Also, due to changing roles within libraries, library assistants
are taking on more responsibility.
Many library assistants leave this relatively low-paying occupation
for other jobs that offer higher pay or full-time work, so job
opportunities should be good for persons interested in jobs as
library assistants. The work is often attractive to retirees,
students, and others who want a part-time schedule, and there
is a lot of movement into and out of the occupation. Some positions
become available as library assistants move within the organization.
Library assistants can be promoted to library technicians and,
eventually, supervisory positions in public-service or technical-service
areas. Advancement opportunities are greater in large libraries.
Because most are employed by public institutions, library assistants
are not directly affected by the ups and downs of the business
cycle. However, some of these workers may lose their jobs if there
are cuts in government budgets.
Median hourly earnings of library assistants, clerical were $9.96
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $7.77 and $12.89.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.41, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $16.08.
Sources of Additional Information
Information about a career as a library assistant can be obtained
from either of the following organizations:
Council on Library/Media Technology, P.O. Box 42048, Mesa,
AZ 85274-2048. Internet: http://colt.ucr.edu/