Librarians organise information in various forms - from books to periodicals to ICT - to meet the requirements of their library users' needs. Librarians may not know everything - but they do know where to find it!
Librarians are responsible for acquiring and organising various types of information and resources for the community. This information covers a wide range of topics – from business and careers to crafts and gardening.
Librarians must determine what information their library users require and what the best way of offering this information is – this is increasingly in the form of ICT, using computer-based databases and the internet.
Librarians must therefore be fairly good with technology and also personable to enable them to build good communicative relationships with their users.
Graduate/Trainee salaries are typically £11,000 - £18,000 (CILIP, October 2007). These salaries may increase to around £25,000 after ten to fifteen years of experience. Of course, librarians in senior management positions may earn as much as £36,000 and top salaries begin at £61,000. Salaries vary greatly depending on location, skills and level of responsibility.
Many librarians are able to work part-time although very few are self-employed due to the nature of the job.
Librarians’ typical responsibilities include:
- Advising library users on resources and information
- Organising resources and information
- Budget management
- Stock maintenance, including selecting new publications, replacing lost or damaged books and removing out-of-date stock from circulation.
- Promoting libraries
- Developing IT and helping others to use it when looking for information
Certain positions within libraries are open to those without degrees. In these circumstances, at least five GCSEs are required. However, anyone looking to advance within this career must have a degree and relevant post-graduate qualification.
A career as a librarian is open to all graduates, although certain degrees are often favoured. These include:
- Information Science / Management
- Computer Science
- Software Engineering
Graduates without a degree in one of these fields will then require a post-graduate diploma or MA/MSc in Librarianship or Information Science / Management. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) also offers a post-graduate qualification.
Non-graduates with experience in this sector may be admitted to post-graduate courses at individual universities’ discretion.
Funding for post-graduate courses in Librarianship is available from the http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/Pages/default.aspx Arts and Humanities Research Council] (AHRC) although previous experience in the industry may also be required.
Librarians must have the following skills:
- Good IT skills
- Good communication skills
- Enthusiasm and motivation
- Teamwork skills
- Good organisational skills
Specific subject knowledge may also be needed for certain libraries, for example in universities or hospitals.
Librarians tend to work 35 to 40 hours a week if they are full-time. Hours may be irregular as libraries are open evenings and weekends. However, it is a career that really lends itself to part-time work and career breaks are also common, making it ideal for women who wish to combine career and family.
Conditions vary greatly due to the differences in libraries. Some may be large modern buildings in large cities while others are converted facilities in very rural areas. Mobile facilities also exist although most jobs are to be found in towns and cities. Unless working in a mobile facility or working on a number of sites, travel is unusual and fairly limited.
The majority of librarians work in the public sector in local libraries, funded by the local authorities. However, there are increasing opportunities in other areas, for example education. Many librarians find positions in school or university libraries as well as in information management for larger companies.
Major employers include:
- The British Library
- Local governments
Librarians must be willing to change location and role in order to progress in their career. Changing roles is often essential to gain the necessary experience in different sectors and this often involves changing employer and even city.
Librarianship is a highly competitive career and librarians must be very dedicated to ensure promotion. Opportunities are often limited in smaller libraries but larger libraries often have promotion structures and offer management positions after a certain amount of professional experience. Managers are usually responsible for a particular library service or subject area.
The most senior roles are rare and competition for these is very high.
Cathy Malcolm is a School Librarian. She lives and works in Surrey.I have been in my current post for sixteen years, and worked in libraries for most of my working life. While I was still at school, I worked Saturdays at the public library in my home town. I was advised to do this to support my application to study Library Studies at university, and I was also told that if I enjoyed shelving books all day then I would definitely enjoy library work as a career. After school, I did a full time degree in Library Studies at the University of Loughborough as this was the quickest way to qualify. After graduation, I worked for one of the libraries at the University of London for just over a year. I then found a job closer to where I was living at that time in a large London reference library, which was also a promotion. After two years of postgraduate work in libraries, I was able to apply for chartership from the professional body for librarians, so I am now a chartered member of CILIP. After seven years working full time in libraries I had a career break to have a family. Public libraries require late night and weekend working and so are not really compatible with looking after small children. Once my children were both at school I was fortunate enough to be offered a job running a school library on a part time basis. Over the years I have been able to increase my hours gradually but I still work only part time.
My typical day begins with a number of mundane tasks, such as turning on lights and computers, putting the daily papers on display, filing old papers and magazines, changing the date stamp and shelving returned items. Apart from that there is a considerable degree of variation in what I do and I think this stems in part from the fact that I am a one-man-band and therefore all tasks in the library fall to me. I submit budget requests, manage my budget, check invoices and orders and liaise with staff regarding stock provision. I write a development plan each year as well as the annual report. My tasks also include processing new stock, collecting statistics (issue and stock), generally helping students make use of the resources and facilities of the library, sending out reminders for overdue items, creating displays, producing leaflets and bibliographies and maintaining the computerised library management system.
I like the variety of my work. It’s very satisfying to find information for users and to be able to show them resources that they otherwise would not be aware of. I would hate a job where I just sat behind a desk all day; in fact the work can be physically very demanding, which many people don’t appreciate. However, it is possible to feel quite isolated at times if you are the only representative of your profession in an organisation and the other disadvantage is definitely the pay. After thirty years and several promotions I only earn the national average.
I would advise people thinking about a career in librarianship to thoroughly investigate what the work involves and obtain some work experience working in a library of some sort, either paid or unpaid, before committing to this career. You should be aware that there are many different types of libraries out there. Talk to the staff in your local public library but remember that many smaller public libraries are now run by non-professional staff.
It is a graduate profession. The quickest way to qualify is to do a degree in Library Studies. The longer route is to do a degree in pretty much any subject, followed by a postgraduate course in Librarianship / Information Science, but check the course entry requirements before deciding.
And finally, Librarianship is not about working with dusty books and telling people to shush all the time!