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Library Assistants, Clerical

Significant Points
  • 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 assistants—assist

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 materials.

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.

Working Conditions

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 schedules.

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 to patrons.


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.

Job Outlook

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:

Public libraries and libraries in academic institutions also can provide information about job openings for library assistants.

  • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition

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