Librarians are keepers and disseminators of knowledge. They organize information and develop new, creative ways to make it accessible to others using the latest technology. Depending on what specialty they choose, librarians may have responsibilities as varied as running public education programs, conducting research at top universities, teaching children to love reading or managing library employees. Read on to find out more about the different facets of library science, the educational path librarians must travel, and the final steps you’ll need to take before earning the title of librarian.
Part 1 of 3: The Library Science Field
Understand what defines library science. The study of library science includes library management, the preservation, archival, and dissemination of information, the development of information technologies, and research education. Librarians can specialize in any one of these areas, and many have responsibilities that require expertise in all of them. Tasks librarians might have include the following:
Cataloging items in a library’s database
Developing taxonomies to organize data
Implementing new technologies to update the organization of old collections
Using research skills to answer reference questions
Facilitating educational programs for students and the public
Managing a library branch, including other employees
Keeping a library’s collection up to date by ordering new books and resources
Know about different types of librarianship. Perhaps you’re interested in becoming a children’s librarian, or you may want to participate in the archival of scientific information. There are many different types of libraries, and librarians may have a variety of responsibilities within them.
Public libraries have branches that are open to anyone who wants to obtain a library card. They often have public education programs to promote literacy for both adults and children. They play an important role in providing the public with free access to information. Librarians in public libraries take on a customer service role as well as making sure the collection is up to date, communicating with other libraries, and facilitating public programs.
School libraries are an important part of grade schools and middle schools, and serve the function of providing children with the resources they need to receive a well-rounded education. School librarians teach children research skills and help to develop children’s interest in reading as well as managing the library itself.
Academic libraries are found at colleges and universities, and they have comprehensive collections that serve the needs of students pursuing higher education. Academic libraries are often specialized, with separate buildings for a law library, a science library, an art library, and so on. Librarians at academic libraries work at reference desks, catalog new materials, help students with complicated research projects, archive special materials, and keep libraries operating as cutting edge purveyors of knowledge. Librarians at specialized libraries often need secondary degrees, such as a degree in law or within the field of science, to be qualified for their positions.
Decide whether you’re cut out to be a librarian. Many people who love reading are interested in becoming a librarian, but the job requires much more than an appreciation of good books. Good librarians have a passion not just for knowledge, but for finding the best way to organize it. They’re concerned with preserving information and making it as accessible as possible to those who need it.
Many librarians describe their decision to pursue library science as a calling to share information with others.
With today’s ever-changing information technology landscape, librarians have to be technologically adept. Some library science programs now require classes in coding.
Not every librarian interacts with the public. Some librarians spend more time on archival, cataloguing, and other tasks. If you love information, but don’t necessarily feel passionate about education, library science could still be the right field for you.
Conduct informational interviews to learn more. Contact the librarian in a library that interests you, whether that be a public, school, or academic library. Arrange to have a meeting so that you’ll have the opportunity to discuss librarianship with someone who has chosen that career.
Ask the librarian about his or her specific job duties, so you’ll know what to expect.
Ask how he or she made the decision to become a librarian, and what traits librarians should have.
Ask which Masters of Library Science (MLS) programs he or she would recommend.
Part 2 of 3: Educational Requirements
Get an undergraduate degree. In order to apply to an MLS program, you’ll need an undergraduate degree from a college or university. There is no particular major requirement if you want to become a librarian, but common majors include English, Art History, Computer Science, and other courses of study that require research and technology skills.
If you plan to become a librarian in a specialized library, such as a law or science library, you may need a secondary degree in a specific field. In this case, make sure you choose a major with classes that cover the prerequisites you’ll need for acceptance into a master’s program in your field.
Obtain an American Library Association (ALA)-accredited Masters of Library Science. The ALA website, http://www.ala.org, is an excellent resource for information on MLS programs. You’ll find a directory of accredited programs with descriptions of each one.
Conduct a lot of research before you choose where to apply. Each program is quite unique; some focus on technology, others on the politics of information accessibility, and so on.
Some programs require that you live on campus, while others are conducted entirely online. If you find out about a program through a source other than the ALA website, double check to make sure it’s ALA-accredited before going forward. Many libraries will not hire candidates with degrees from non-accredited schools.
Some prestigious institutions offer programs on information technology that are not ALA-accredited. If you’re interested in information technology, but not necessarily in managing a library or the other responsibilities that being a librarian might entail, you may want to look into these alternatives.
Part 3 of 3: Becoming a Librarian
Don’t wait until you have your degree. You can gain experience in a library before you finish your MLS, and even while you’re still an undergraduate. Apply for a job at your university library or local public library. Many colleges hire students to staff reference desks and reshelve books, among other duties. It’s a good chance to find out whether you enjoy the library atmosphere and want to pursue a career in library science.
Some libraries offer internships, whether paid or unpaid, as opportunities for students to get real world experience. If your university library doesn’t already offer one, set up a meeting with the librarian to ask if there’s a way you can get involved.
Many schools have Student Library Association (SLA) chapters for students interested in information technology. Join your school’s SLA, or start a chapter if your school doesn’t have one.
Network with librarians. Your volunteer work, part-time job, internship, or SLA chapter involvement are all opportunities to start relationships with librarians who could help you find a job down the line. Express your enthusiasm for librarianship, ask questions, and keep in touch after your internship ends.
Find ways to stand out when you apply for jobs. Unfortunately, with funding for public and often academic libraries being cut, the library science field has become extremely competitive. Getting your MLS and having library experience will not be enough to guarantee you a job.
Don’t say you “love books” in your resume and cover letter. With so many applicants to choose from, the people in charge of hiring are looking for more interesting reasons why they should choose you for the job. Describe specific characteristics and experiences that make you perfect for the position.
Always tailor your resume and cover letter to each job to which you apply. Mention specific qualities about that particular institution that have led you to seek employment there. Follow up with a thank-you email to show your continued enthusiasm.
Rely on the network of people you met in school, through internships and part-time jobs, and through your SLA chapter. Let people know you’re searching for a job, and be open to a range of positions.
Be willing to work your way up. Even if you’re qualified for a professional position, you may have to start at entry level. Use the opportunity to get to know more people and understand the way your library works. Once you prove yourself, the opportunity for promotion will surely arise.