A master’s degree in library science usually is required;
special librarians may need an additional graduate or professional
A large number of retirements in the next decade is expected
to result in many job openings for librarians to replace those
Librarians increasingly use information technology to perform
research, classify materials, and help students and library
patrons seek information.
Nature of the Work
The traditional concept of a library is being redefined from
a place to access paper records or books to one that also houses
the most advanced media, including CD-ROM, the Internet, virtual
libraries, and remote access to a wide range of resources. Consequently,
librarians, or information professionals, increasingly are combining
traditional duties with tasks involving quickly changing technology.
Librarians assist people in finding information and using it effectively
for personal and professional purposes. Librarians must have knowledge
of a wide variety of scholarly and public information sources
and must follow trends related to publishing, computers, and the
media in order to oversee the selection and organization of library
materials. Librarians manage staff and develop and direct information
programs and systems for the public, to ensure that information
is organized in a manner that meets users’ needs.
Most librarian positions incorporate three aspects of library
work: User services, technical services, and administrative services.
Still, even librarians specializing in one of these areas have
other responsibilities. Librarians in user services, such as reference
and children’s librarians, work with patrons to help them find
the information they need. The job involves analyzing users’ needs
to determine what information is appropriate, as well as searching
for, acquiring, and providing the information. The job also includes
an instructional role, such as showing users how to access information.
For example, librarians commonly help users navigate the Internet
so they can search for relevant information efficiently. Librarians
in technical services, such as acquisitions and cataloguing, acquire
and prepare materials for use and often do not deal directly with
the public. Librarians in administrative services oversee the
management and planning of libraries: negotiate contracts for
services, materials, and equipment; supervise library employees;
perform public-relations and fundraising duties; prepare budgets;
and direct activities to ensure that everything functions properly.
In small libraries or information centers, librarians usually
handle all aspects of the work. They read book reviews, publishers’
announcements, and catalogues to keep up with current literature
and other available resources, and they select and purchase materials
from publishers, wholesalers, and distributors. Librarians prepare
new materials by classifying them by subject matter and describe
books and other library materials to make them easy to find. Librarians
supervise assistants, who prepare cards, computer records, or
other access tools that direct users to resources. In large libraries,
librarians often specialize in a single area, such as acquisitions,
cataloguing, bibliography, reference, special collections, or
administration. Teamwork is increasingly important to ensure quality
service to the public.
Librarians also compile lists of books, periodicals, articles,
and audiovisual materials on particular subjects; analyze collections;
and recommend materials. They collect and organize books, pamphlets,
manuscripts, and other materials in a specific field, such as
rare books, genealogy, or music. In addition, they coordinate
programs such as storytelling for children and literacy skills
and book talks for adults, conduct classes, publicize services,
provide reference help, write grants, and oversee other administrative
Librarians are classified according to the type of library in
which they work: A public library; school library media center;
college, university, or other academic library; or special library.
Some librarians work with specific groups, such as children, young
adults, adults, or the disadvantaged. In school library media
centers, librarians—often called school media specialists—help
teachers develop curricula, acquire materials for classroom instruction,
and sometimes team teach.
Librarians also work in information centers or libraries maintained
by government agencies, corporations, law firms, advertising agencies,
museums, professional associations, unions, medical centers, hospitals,
religious organizations, and research laboratories. They acquire
and arrange an organization’s information resources, which usually
are limited to subjects of special interest to the organization.
These special librarians can provide vital information services
by preparing abstracts and indexes of current periodicals, organizing
bibliographies, or analyzing background information and preparing
reports on areas of particular interest. For example, a special
librarian working for a corporation could provide the sales department
with information on competitors or new developments affecting
the field. A medical librarian may provide information about new
medical treatments, clinical trials, and standard procedures to
health professionals, patients, consumers, and corporations. Government
document librarians, who work for government agencies and depository
libraries in each of the States, preserve government publications,
records, and other documents that make up a historical record
of government actions.
Many libraries have access to remote databases and maintain their
own computerized databases. The widespread use of automation in
libraries makes database-searching skills important to librarians.
Librarians develop and index databases and help train users to
develop searching skills for the information they need. Some libraries
are forming consortiums with other libraries to allow patrons
to access a wider range of databases and to submit information
requests to several libraries simultaneously. The Internet also
has greatly expanded the amount of available reference information.
Librarians must be aware of how to use these resources in order
to locate information.
Librarians with computer and information systems skills can work
as automated-systems librarians, planning and operating computer
systems, and as information architects, designing information
storage and retrieval systems and developing procedures for collecting,
organizing, interpreting, and classifying information. These librarians
analyze and plan for future information needs. (See the section
on computer scientists and database administrators elsewhere in
the Handbook.) The increasing use of automated information
systems is enabling librarians to focus on administrative and
budgeting responsibilities, grant writing, and specialized research
requests, while delegating more technical and user services responsibilities
to technicians. (See the section on library technicians elsewhere
in the Handbook.)
More and more, librarians are applying their information management
and research skills to arenas outside of libraries—for example,
database development, reference tool development, information
systems, publishing, Internet coordination, marketing, web content
management and design, and training of database users. Entrepreneurial
librarians sometimes start their own consulting practices, acting
as freelance librarians or information brokers and providing services
to other libraries, businesses, or government agencies.
Librarians spend a significant portion of time at their desks
or in front of computer terminals; extended work at video display
terminals can cause eyestrain and headaches. Assisting users in
obtaining information or books for their jobs, homework, or recreational
reading can be challenging and satisfying, but working with users
under deadlines can be demanding and stressful. Some librarians
lift and carry books, and some climb ladders to reach high stacks,
although most modern libraries have readily accessible stacks.
Librarians in small organizations sometimes shelve books themselves.
More than 2 out of 10 librarians work part time. Public and college
librarians often work weekends and evenings, as well as some holidays.
School librarians usually have the same workday and vacation schedules
as classroom teachers. Special librarians usually work normal
business hours, but in fast-paced industries—such as advertising
or legal services—they can work longer hours when needed.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is necessary for librarian
positions in most public, academic, and special libraries and
in some school libraries. The Federal Government requires that
the librarians it employs have an MLS or the equivalent in education
and experience. Many colleges and universities offer MLS programs,
but employers often prefer graduates of the approximately 56 schools
accredited by the American Library Association. Most MLS programs
require a bachelor’s degree, but no specific undergraduate program
Most MLS programs take one year to complete; some take two. A
typical graduate program includes courses in the foundations of
library and information science, including the history of books
and printing, intellectual freedom and censorship, and the role
of libraries and information in society. Other basic courses cover
the selection and processing of materials, the organization of
information, reference tools and strategies, and user services.
Courses are adapted to educate librarians to use new resources
brought about by advancing technology, such as online reference
systems, Internet search methods, and automated circulation systems.
Course options can include resources for children or young adults;
classification, cataloguing, indexing, and abstracting; library
administration; and library automation. Computer-related course
work is an increasingly important part of an MLS degree. Some
programs offer interdisciplinary degrees combining technical courses
in information science with traditional training in library science.
The MLS degree provides general preparation for library work,
but some individuals specialize in a particular area, such as
reference, technical services, or children’s services. A Ph.D.
degree in library and information science is advantageous for
a college teaching position or for a top administrative job in
a college or university library or large library system.
In addition to an MLS degree, most special librarians supplement
their education with knowledge of the field in which they are
specializing, sometimes earning a master’s, doctoral, or professional
degree in the subject. Areas of specialization include medicine,
law, business, engineering, and the natural and social sciences.
For example, a librarian working for a law firm may also be a
licensed attorney, holding both library science and law degrees,
while medical librarians should have a strong background in the
sciences. In some jobs, knowledge of a foreign language is needed.
States generally have certification requirements for librarians
in public schools and local libraries, though there are wide variations
among States. Many require school librarians, often called library
media specialists, to be certified as teachers in addition to
having courses in library science. An MLS is needed in some States,
often with a library media specialization, while in others a master’s
in education with a specialty in school library media or educational
media is needed. Twenty-four States also require certification
of librarians employed in local library systems, while several
others have voluntary certification guidelines.
Librarians participate in continuing education and training,
once they are on the job, in order to keep abreast of new information
systems brought about by changing technology.
Experienced librarians can advance to administrative positions,
such as department head, library director, or chief information
Librarians held about 159,000 jobs in 2004. Most worked in school
and academic libraries, but one-fourth worked in public libraries.
The remainder worked in special libraries or as information professionals
for companies and other organizations.
Employment of librarians is expected to grow more slowly than
the average for all occupations over the 2004–14 period. However,
job opportunities are expected to be very good because a large
number of librarians are expected to retire in the coming decade.
More than 3 in 5 librarians are aged 45 or older and will become
eligible for retirement in the next 10 years, which will result
in many job openings. Also, the number of people going into this
profession has fallen in recent years, resulting in more jobs
than applicants in some cases.
Growth in the number of librarians will be limited by government
budget constraints and the increasing use of computerized information
storage and retrieval systems. Both will result in the hiring
of fewer librarians and the replacement of librarians with less
costly library technicians and assistants. Computerized systems
make cataloguing easier, allowing library technicians to perform
the work. In addition, many libraries are equipped for users to
access library computers directly from their homes or offices.
That way, users can bypass librarians altogether and conduct research
on their own. However, librarians will still be needed to manage
staff, help users develop database-searching techniques, address
complicated reference requests, and define users’ needs.
Jobs for librarians outside traditional settings will grow the
fastest over the decade. Nontraditional librarian jobs include
working as information brokers and working for private corporations,
nonprofit organizations, and consulting firms. 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. Librarians also are hired by organizations to set up information
on the Internet. Librarians working in these settings may be classified
as systems analysts, database specialists and trainers, webmasters
or web developers, or local area network (LAN) coordinators.
Salaries of librarians vary according to the individual’s qualifications
and the type, size, and location of the library. Librarians with
primarily administrative duties often have greater earnings. Median
annual earnings of librarians in May 2004 were $45,900. The middle
50 percent earned between $36,980 and $56,960. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $28,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more
than $70,200. Median annual earnings in the industries employing
the largest numbers of librarians in May 2004 were as follows:
Colleges, universities, and professional
Elementary and secondary schools
Other information services
The average annual salary for all librarians in the Federal Government
in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was $74,630
About three in ten librarians are a member of a union or are
covered under a union contract.
Librarians play an important role in the transfer of knowledge
and ideas by providing people with access to the information they
need and want. Jobs requiring similar analytical, organizational,
and communication skills include archivists, curators, and museum technicians;
and computer and information scientists, research. School librarians
have many duties similar to those of school teachers. Librarians
are increasingly storing, cataloguing, and accessing information
with computers. Other jobs that use similar computer skills include
computer systems analysts
and computer scientists and database administrators.
Sources of Additional Information
American Library Association, Office for Human Resource Development
and Recruitment, 50 East Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611. Internet:
For information on a career as a special librarian, contact:
Special Libraries Association,331 South Patrick St., Alexandria,
VA 22314. Internet: http://www.sla.org/
For information on a career as a law librarian, scholarship information,
and a list of ALA-accredited schools offering programs in law
American Association of Law Libraries, 53 West Jackson Blvd.,
Suite 940, Chicago, IL 60604. Internet: http://www.aallnet.org/
For information on employment opportunities for health sciences
librarians and for scholarship information, credentialing information,
and a list of MLA-accredited schools offering programs in health
sciences librarianship, contact:
Medical Library Association, 65 East Wacker Place , Suite
1900, Chicago, IL 60601. Internet: http://www.mlanet.org/
Information concerning requirements and application procedures
for positions in the Library of Congress can be obtained directly
Human Resources Office, Library of Congress, 101 Independence
Ave. SE., Washington, DC 20540-2231. Internet: http://www.loc.gov/hr
State library agencies can furnish information on scholarships
available through their offices, requirements for certification,
and general information about career prospects in the particular
State of interest. Several of these agencies maintain job hot
lines reporting openings for librarians.
State departments of education can furnish information on certification
requirements and job opportunities for school librarians.
Suggested citation: Bureau
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, Librarians,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos068.htm
(visited February 01, 2006).
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,