Since written materials have existed, humankind has recognized the need for some type of system to keep growing collections organized. Enter librarians. The profession has come a long way since the earliest libraries, with the Library of Congress currently housing more than 162 million items on 838 miles-worth of bookshelves. Whether working at a small town public branch, a library housing a special collection of photographs, or a legal library at a law school, librarians enjoy fascinating careers and are always exposed to interesting people and information. Keep reading to learn about the various educational requirements and financial benefits of the field.
Tasked with overseeing all the components related to information resources, librarians are dynamic and highly educated individuals with a passion for helping their community find the papers, articles, books and online resources they seek. Although an antiquated idea of a librarian may envisage being surrounded by thousands of dusty books, much of the work they do in the 21st century is highly informed by technology. Whether cataloguing new resources in an online database or researching materials – both online and in print – for their branch, librarians use a variety of traditional and modern tools and technologies in their day-to-day work
Because the work of a librarian is highly specialized, these professionals are required to have at least a master’s degree and sometimes a doctorate for advanced roles. Whether helping a patron in a local branch or serving in the Library of Congress and sourcing materials for internationally-recognized researchers, librarians connect people to the limitless amount of information available about any topic imaginable. They may work as part of a limited staff in small branches or be responsible for managing numerous library technicians and archivists in a larger library. Regardless of setting, the work of a librarian is always new and different and is well-suited to individuals with a lifelong zeal for learning.
The median national salary for librarians currently sits at $56,880, but those who have been in the field for a substantial amount of time can earn more than $88,000 annually. Use the comprehensive map below to learn about the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile salaries for librarians across the country.
Although jobs for librarians across the country are expected to grow by a modest two percent between 2014 and 2024, this number does not provide insight on fluctuations at the state level. Use the chart below to see how your state stacks up against the national average and how many librarian positions are expected to be added in the coming years.
Successfully completing a baccalaureate program is the first step to becoming a librarian, and this level of education offers many opportunities for study. The American Library Association notes that students shouldn’t worry about taking library-specific courses at this level, but rather focus on areas that interest them most. Common degrees for future librarians include art, history, music, law, psychology or sociology, but it is truly up to the individual student to decide on a course of action.
Unlike other advanced degrees, the vast majority of library science programs do not require any prerequisite courses. While grades will still be important, undergraduate students should focus on soaking up information about a discipline they are passionate about at this level of study.
Most libraries – be they academic, public, or special – require employees to hold a master’s degree in library science. While accreditation from the American Library Association is not always mandatory, graduates of programs approved by this body have a much better chance at being hired and enjoying career mobility. The ALA provides a full, searchable list of accredited library and information studies programs.
Most library science and information studies programs can be completed in two years if the student is able to devote themselves to full-time study. The degrees are highly popular at traditional campuses, but recent years have also given rise to many programs taught purely online. This is a great option for the student who either wants to continue working or is based in a rural setting with no suitable program near them. Whether taught online or on campus, most master’s programs require students to complete either a thesis or capstone project in addition to class requirements and a fieldwork placement.
As part of master’s level coursework, the majority of programs require students to complete an internship or field placement. Students should consider this opportunity thoughtfully and try to find a setting that offers the chance to be immersed in a specific area of interest. Whether aspiring to work as a school librarian or in an art history library, getting a foot into the door of a specialized area will be of significant help when it comes time to land a job out of college.
The AMA provides a list of different types of libraries, as well as various areas where a graduate may want to focus their efforts. The best thing a student can do at this time is research their options extensively before committing to a placement.
Although licensing is mandated at the state level, it is typically only required for school librarians. Individuals pursuing these types of roles must be certified as a teacher as they’ll regularly be helping children learn how to use library resources. The University of Kentucky provides a list of licensure requirements for all 50 states.
Some public libraries may also require librarians to be licensed. Depending on where a student hopes to be employed, they’ll need to check with the local jurisdiction to learn about specific requirements. The Georgia State Board for the Certification of Librarians is a great example of the type of body governing these requirements.
Outside of required licensure, many librarians elect to complete specialized certifications to stand out in their area of expertise. The ALA’s Allied Professional Association offers a list of state and regional certifications available.
While there are no specific library science degrees for undergraduate students, there are several undergrad degrees that can help prepare students for the pursuit of a master’s degree in library science. Below are some of the most popular.
These professional degree programs expose students to a variety of foundational topics within information studies, including modern information technology systems and sophisticated databases. Throughout the degree, learners gain skills in information security, technology management, and network administration. Even at the baccalaureate level, some programs allow students to specialize their knowledge in areas that are of benefit to the aspiring librarian. Common coursework may include:
Much of the research people conduct at libraries is rooted in the discipline of history, and librarians with a firm historical footing will use their knowledge of time periods and significant shifts throughout history regularly. Baccalaureate history degrees consist of numerous survey-style courses providing an expansive overview of human civilizations throughout time. There is also room for concentrating in a specific era or historical framework, such as medieval times or intellectual history. Common coursework may include:
Future librarians with a passion for working with students often gravitate toward an education degree. This multidisciplinary program engages students in topics of child development, curriculum planning, special education and applied learning. Learners pursuing this degree often elect to specialize in a particular category, including elementary, middle, or high school education. Aside from engaging and expansive coursework, this program also requires students to complete student teaching placements – a valuable component providing insight on how students learn best. Common coursework may include:
Librarians are entrusted with an important job, and with that responsibility comes requirements for education and credentials. While smaller libraries may accept applications from those with without a library science degree, this will depend on state requirements. Larger libraries – particularly public and school – will only accept applications from those with a library science degree to their name.
The MLS degree is a comprehensive academic program that equips graduates for work as librarians in a variety of settings, ranging from schools and special collections to public and governmental settings. The majority of programs can be completed in two years of full-time study and are offered as both traditional and online degrees. In addition to core courses, students also complete a culminating project – either a thesis or capstone experience – and undertake fieldwork at a library relevant to their future interests.
This foundational course introduces students to the theories behind how information is organized, and the social, cultural and cognitive considerations involved in classifying resources. Attendees also gain perspective on how different libraries may organize information for their users.
Students learn about the varied methods of classifying and cataloguing materials and how these approaches have been standardized to ensure consistency across libraries. Some of the topics students learn about include bibliographic descriptions, subject analysis, types of classification and choice of entry.
Being able to evaluate new materials, select suitable resources and acquire collections is a science unto itself, and this class equips students with the skills and knowledge they need to oversee the growth of their libraries. There are many principles and policies related to the acquisition of resources–including ethical, legal and political considerations – and students will leave this class with a thorough understanding of them all.
Library science and information science are similar degree paths with some variations. While library science is typically connected to a specific institution or branch, information science is more independent in nature. A student’s first priority is learning about the lifecycle of information – from creation to termination – while those in library science are primarily concerned with usage once it reaches the institution. Furthermore, IS programs are interested in how information is organized, stored, interpreted and utilized, while library science degrees focus on how information is categorized and disseminated. Information science programs are similar to library science in the amount of time to completion – two years of full-time study – and the requirements for graduation. Students typically complete a culminating project and develop a portfolio of their work.
This course provides insight on how software, databases and digital interfaces are designed with the human user in mind. This emerging yet expansive area is concerned with developing digital products that are responsive and intuitive to a user’s needs – particularly in relation to common uses of technology at a library.
Upon finishing this class, students have a solid knowledge of how theories from behavioral sciences are used extensively in the creation of information technology. Students review common behavioral ideologies and methods before analyzing popularized ways of categorizing and disseminating materials.
As more materials and resources become available both in print and online, questions of ownership, copyright, and licensing are moving to the forefront of the information science field, and students in this class benefit from the legal knowledge they gain. In addition to many case studies, learners also study best practices within libraries and archives.
Typically lasting four years, the PhD in information science is designed for students seeking advanced roles in university or research settings. The majority of graduates go on to teach at the postsecondary level or join a variety of research institutions. After completing coursework and the required dissertation, many students elect to undertake a postdoctoral fellowship at an academic institution. While some of the class titles may look similar to those offered at the master’s level, students in doctoral programs engage with topics more intensely.
This class teaches students about the programming that goes into creating applications that people use to find information. The syllabus introduces students to numerous programming languages and how information is access and stored on the internet.
Key issues surrounding cybersecurity are covered in this course, including protection of information, ascertaining levels or protection, and developing protocol for responding to security incidents. Whether working at a library or another setting where significant amounts of materials are accessed online, cybersecurity is a valuable topic to understand.
As more information continues to be stored on the internet, developing different secure ways of archiving resources and materials will continue to gain importance. This foundational course introduces students to topics within digital archiving and provides an underpinning for advanced study.
The field offers many opportunities for aspiring librarians to concentrate their learning and career goals in a specific area. The following section touches on a few of the specific types of libraries where a graduate may elect to work and includes 2016 salary data from Payscale.
Types of special collection libraries are innumerable and provide students many different options for aligning their knowledge and skills in library science with a discipline they enjoy. Special collections librarians may work with rare books and manuscripts, photographs, music, business materials, art or any other field that produces and requires much information. If a student has a clear idea of their career path, studying one of these topics at the undergraduate level could be beneficial to future professional endeavors.
Students specializing in legal library services have a variety of options when it comes to workplace settings, and these professionals can be found in law offices, law schools, governmental agencies or specialized law libraries. Positions require a deep knowledge of the legal system, and these librarians must display an expansive understanding of different types of law. They are often tasked with finding specific rulings or precedents that lawyers can use to present their cases.
Librarians who choose to concentrate their careers in reference are tasked with ensuring library patrons and researchers can find the information they need efficiently. They may create bibliographic or other classification guides to make information more easily accessible while also staying abreast of the latest advancements in reference technology. Reference librarians employed by academic institutions often work with individual departments to develop guides that are relevant to students in specific degree programs.
Whether working in an elementary, middle, or high school setting, these librarians are on the frontlines of teaching children how to find and interact with information. Not only do they organize materials and work with teachers to acquire relevant materials, they also often teach lessons to students on how to use databases and perform queries for information. Individuals with a passion for both library science and educating the next generation are often drawn to these roles.
Medical librarians enjoy diverse and dynamic careers in a variety of healthcare settings, including medical colleges, hospitals, research facilities or governmental agencies. Their specialized knowledge of the medical field is called upon regularly as they work with doctors and researchers to identify materials relevant to a specific medical case or research paper. Aside from possessing a thorough knowledge of library and archival methods, medical librarians must also be scientifically-minded and have a foundational understanding of different concepts within medicine.
Technical Services Librarians straddle the line between information technology and library services and frequently contribute valuable work products to each area. They often oversee library databases and ensure all software used by library visitors is working properly while also overseeing digital collections of the branch. These professionals can be found in a variety of library types, ranging from schools to public settings. To truly enjoy this role, workers must be highly skilled in information technology and library science methods.
Librarians work with hundreds of thousands of materials throughout the course of their careers, and it’s easy to see how reference numbers or classification systems could begin to blur together after a while. To truly succeed, librarians must be methodical, attentive professionals who can maintain concentration.
When dealing with so many different pieces of information, there will be days where some pieces simply cannot be found easily. Whether the Dewey decimal number was incorrectly entered or a helpful patron replaced a book in the wrong section, librarians must be patient when their attention to detail isn’t enough.
Whether interacting with their team, an academic department, researcher, or library patron, librarians must have excellent interpersonal and communication skills to succeed. This is especially true when multiple people are responsible for keeping information organized. Being on the same page eliminates many headaches when it comes to locating resources.
While library collections were organized on individual note cards for decades, technology is playing an increasingly important role in the development and management of collections. Librarians must be comfortable using databases and teaching library visitors how to use these digital resources to find materials.
Aside from licensure requirements, librarians are also encouraged to be aware of current trends and research in the field via continuing education courses. The American Library Association provides a review of what librarians should look for in a truly great continuing education offering as well as a list of resources for finding a relevant offering.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Being a librarian takes dedication. For anyone looking to enter the profession, or similar occupations, the following chart looks at related careers.
Where you live makes a difference, especially with the pocketbook. This tool allows you to compare librarian salaries for two different cities near you (or elsewhere in the country). See how your city stacks up.
This professional body is a one-stop-shop for all things related to the libraries in the United States. The organization accredits library programs, provides awards and grants to students, offers continuing education to those in the field, hosts regular events, and has regional divisions throughout the country.
This specialized association provides a place where Chinese-American librarians can discuss their line of work and learn from each other at local chapter meetings or annual meetings. CALU also provides members access to their publications, awards, and variety of programs. Librarians seeking a group devoted to their nationality have many options available.
Librarians working in collections centered in music can find many benefits of joining MLA, including regular publications, job openings, resume assistance, workshops, and a variety of awards and grants.
In addition to professional groups dedicated to different types of libraries and librarians, there are numerous associations – such as SELA – that focus on geographical location.
SLA was created for librarians working in special collections throughout the nation. Whether at an art history or medical library, this organization supports your interest. Benefits of membership include an annual meeting, certificate programs, webinars, and access to the latest research findings in the field.
Whether seeking a master’s or doctoral degree in library science or information studies, this powerful search tool takes into consideration personal preferences such as location, cost, and available specializations to produce a tailored list of prospective schools.
Distance learning gives aspiring librarians that ability to work toward a degree in a flexible setting. Some programs allow students to work at their own pace, submitting assignments and taking exams when and where they see fit. Other programs have real-time aspects where students log-on a preset times to maximize collaboration. The programs below have a distance-learning element.