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How to Be a Librarian

Updated on September 8, 2011


So, you think you'd like to be a librarian. Do you like telling people to be quiet? Does stamping "Overdue" give you a sense of power? Well, I'm sorry to tell you that those two stereotypes are not quite true!

However, if you enjoy working with people and helping them find what they need, then you may well be suited to this profession.

What does a librarian do?

The daily tasks of a librarian will depend on what kind of library they work in and how big the library is. Some very large libraries have librarians who never even talk to patron and others who do only that. In a small library, there may be only one librarian who covers all the daily business of running the place.

Librarians can do any and all of the following:

  • Reference. This entails answering questions about where materials are or answering short questions about general information. If you like feeling as if you know everything, then reference is for you!
  • Circulation. This includes checking in and out materials, but it also includes keeping statistics on usage. A librarian who does this might count books that have been pulled from the shelf but not checked out, maintain the condition of materials and note when things go missing.
  • Acquisitions. Any materials that the library is thinking of buying, is trying to get or has acquired will go through acquisitions. These librarians look at what patrons generally use and what is newly available. They process orders and then sometimes take care of labeling the books for use.
  • Cataloging. These librarians deal with metadata. That's literally "data about data", but in this case it means information about the books. This includes entering new books into the system and maintaining that data so it conforms to the library's own system and any larger system it might participate in. Catalogers are master searchers since they are the ones who create the keywords to begin with.
  • Technical Services. These are the librarians that deal with the technology available in the library and online. They may be the ones that make suggestions or even decisions about what new equipment is needed or what should be done away with.
  • Preservation and archives. Some libraries, especially those this special collections, work tirelessly to preserve their materials. Specially trained librarians work to repair materials and store them appropriately.
  • Other tasks. Libraries are often involved in many behind-the-scenes projects such as digitization, information sharing and answering questions through email or letters.


While some libraries are not as particular about the minimum requirements to be a librarian, most will require a specific level of education and experience for each job title.

There are some positions that are not considered "librarians" but do some of the day-to-day tasks in a library. A library aide who does things like shelving usually needs a high school diploma or at least be working towards one. A library assistant or clerk who performs more complex tasks such as labeling books or participating in behind-the-scenes projects is expected to have a Bachelor's degree or be in the process of getting one.

An entry-level librarian is usually required to have a Master's degree in Library Science or some equivalent. In a larger library, you may have heads of different departments such as head of acquisitions or head of circulation. These librarians would need a Master's plus experience in their area.


There are some libraries out there that don't conform to the above outline of requirements. This may be because they are a special kind of library or because they are a smaller library that can't be picky about who they hire.

A school librarian doesn't always have to have the Master's degree. Sometimes a school librarian can have a teaching certification with an endorsement as librarian or media specialist. Also, some schools will hire a media specialist who takes care of the library. This person may not have a library degree, but rather will have experience in libraries or an Associate's in library studies.

A law librarian sometimes can get away with having a law degree and no Master's. This is especially true where they have some related library experience or are in a law school's library.

There are other special libraries such as music libraries, medical libraries, etc, that may favor degrees in related fields over a library degree. Check the listings for those positions to be sure.

A rewarding career

Being a librarian can be a very satisfying career. There are so many different kinds of libraries to work in and various jobs that need to be done there, that there is something for everyone. The number one requirement would be a desire to help people since this is the purpose of libraries. At heart, librarians are helpers.


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    • Sarah Anderson profile image

      Sarah Anderson 6 years ago from Wallingford, CT

      You've hit the nail on the head, amazingchild! I've got my Bachelor's degree in Information and Library Science, and I want to be an assistant. This economy better recover soon, though, or my time will never come.