A young girl named Judith was in the library with her first-grade class. Their mission? To obtain their first library cards. To get a card, each student had to be able to write out their name in a legible script. But six-year-old Judith was so nervous about her handwriting, her hands trembled.

“The librarian took pity on me,” said Judith years later. This librarian invited Judith on a brief tour of the library to help calm her nerves, then helped her sign up for a library card as a reward. Judith said, “I have been reading ever since.”

How many of us have stories similar to Judith’s? Not just those of librarians checking out our books, but having an impact on the way we develop as readers? As people? 

Librarians are more than just people behind the checkout desk. They’re the people who keep the community’s lights on. They invite children to develop their intellectual curiosity and confidence, they provide a warm seat to people who need a place to be, and they serve as the gatekeepers between us and the world of imagination. 

If you’re a bookworm and you love to help people, a library job may just be the perfect career for you.

What Does a Librarian Do?

If you haven’t been to a library in a while, it’s easy to remember the impressions you had from childhood. You might imagine a librarian as the bookworm in the corner, an individual adjusting their reading glasses and clearing their throat so you’ll be quiet.

But a librarian is much more than these unfair stereotypes. They can be inspirational best friends, your personal book club, a sounding board for community leaders, and a helping hand for budding readers.

What’s in the job description? Librarians are responsible for overseeing everything that happens in the day-to-day business of a library. This can include everything from keeping a budget for roof repairs to managing a team of library assistants. Here are some of the most common jobs for librarians:

Library Administration

Cataloging inventory, managing card applications, interacting with the patrons—it all falls under the purview of overseeing the library when the doors are open. But library administration also includes everything on the backend: budgeting, ordering new books, and managing the team who cares for the library.

Interacting with People

Librarians are the faces of the library. As such, they occupy a strange space between salespeople and friendly voices. Sure, they can suggest books, but they can also enforce the “no yelling” rule when they need to intervene. A good librarian can do it all.

Developing Interesting Programs

Those fun childhood literary programs don’t just spring up by themselves! Chances are, it was the brainchild of a librarian who wanted to reach out and serve the local community. Most events—from book readings to signings—all fall under a librarian’s daily duties.

How to Become a Librarian

A stylish sweater (elbow patches optional) and a predilection for reading are nice, but they’re not the only librarian job requirements. Check out any local librarian job description, and you’ll likely find technical, management, and administrative requirements. 

Librarian Education Requirements

Is there a “librarian degree”? Sort of. Typically, a librarian will hold a bachelor’s degree in just about any field, but with an additional requirement: a master’s in library science. A librarian job will require about six years of school before you’re ready to take your spot behind the desk.

The good news is, even if you weren’t thinking about how to be a librarian during your undergraduate days, you have tons of flexibility for your choice of bachelor’s degrees. In fact, many people who start out in a seemingly unrelated field can go back to school for library and information science. This option will set you on a course toward library administration within a few short years. However, bachelor’s degrees in English, communications, and business administration may be particularly helpful for aspiring librarians.

The Average Librarian Salary

How much do librarians make? According to CareerKarma, a median librarian salary is approximately $59,000 per year, which is higher than many professions. And keep in mind that not all libraries are made alike. Your salary may depend on how many people you oversee, the size or budget of your library, and your job’s location.

Assistant Librarian Salary

Also known as a library technician, an assistant librarian obviously won’t earn quite as much as the head librarian. According to Glassdoor, you can expect a median salary of approximately $48,000 per year for performing this job. Your duties might include assisting the head librarian, locating books, checking out library materials, and collecting late charges and your focus will be less on the administration of the library and more on its day-to-day needs.

Library Director Salary

What happens if you are an administrator at a larger library? You might get a library director salary in this case, which means a bump in pay—and responsibilities. This is particularly true if you oversee an entire team of librarians. Salary.com puts the median library director salary well into the six figures, around $114,000. In other words? Don’t assume a librarian’s salary has to mean you can’t buy a few books of your own.

Types of Librarians

Not all librarians are the same—you only have to head down to your local library to find that out for yourself. We’re not talking about how librarians look or act. We’re talking about their specialties, their job descriptions, and even the fields they cover. Here are a few of the types of librarians you might not have known about:

Science Librarian

It isn’t as simple as saying a science librarian handles science books. Any general librarian can handle the science department of their library. So what does a science librarian do? Their jobs can include assisting in research, working in data science, organizing digital and paper files, doing background research, and managing resources to help other researchers do what they do best.

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Art Librarian

You might not find an art librarian in the library per se—they might be in the gallery or take up residence in a not-for-profit art center. In these places, an art librarian’s job is once again to manage resources (including any art books), managing the collections of the art itself, and administrative work. Art librarians may or may not specialize in a specific type or period of art, and can help to answer any questions a visitor may have.

Reference Librarian

The stereotype of “asking the librarian” often means interacting with a reference librarian, whose job it is to respond to the questions and inquiries of patrons with helpful guidance. In this case, any patron who comes to the library in search of information or a specific book may seek out the reference librarian. 

Because of this, the reference librarian knows the catalog of resources better than anyone else in the building. Reference librarians can help people over the phone, over email, or in person. Think of them as the one with the answers. If they don’t have it right away, they know where to find what you’re looking for through dedicated research.

Prison Librarian

A prison librarian often serves a smaller population—for obvious reasons. That means a prison librarian might also wear a lot of hats. Not only do they procure books and references for the prison population, they can also assist in selecting educational resources for inmates. A prison librarian will sometimes procure news, magazines, and other sources from the outside world that many of us take for granted.

Many of these resources are often key for helping inmates find new aspirations for life after prison ends, which makes the prison librarian potentially one of the most influential figures in many people’s lives. 

Music Librarian

A music librarian serves as a sort of reference librarian with a specialty: They know the music. Considering how different music is from traditional books and periodicals, this is a category unto itself and it requires someone with specific skills. A music librarian can be responsible for organizing all of the albums, recordings, journals, microforms, and music-related books, as well as administering the equipment that lets people come to the library and listen on a pair of headphones.

Film Librarian

A film librarian is a bit like a music librarian with an audio/visual specialty. There’s some overlap between music and films, of course, but a film librarian typically specializes in cinema history. That can include archiving old footage you can’t see anywhere else. In the Library of Congress, there is a National Film Registry that honors and archives culturally significant films. Every library’s audio/visual department is like a miniature version of this registry, documenting an entire history that’s risen side-by-side with books.

Theological Librarian

In the Middle Ages, handling, studying, and copying books often came down to those in religious orders—and fingers with plenty of stamina. For this reason, the books with some of the longest histories in the library are often theological and religious works. A theological librarian will be well-versed in this history, though there are many theological librarians with specific religious backgrounds and specialties.

National Library Week

What is National Library Week?

Every so often, it helps to celebrate the people who keep the vital work of literacy alive. We call this celebration National Library Week, which will be on April 3–9 in 2022. Throughout this week, libraries across the country will hold special events to highlight the work they do, connect with their local communities, and introduce younger generations to the resources each library offers.

This year’s theme is “Connect with Your Library,” which is a bit of a pun. The emphasis will be on broadband, computers, and other technology that makes libraries a vital resource in the digital age. 

There are also specific days of celebration within this week. For example, Tuesday, April 5 will be National Library Workers’ Day. This day is meant for librarians, of course, but also any administrative workers who are part of making a library run.

The Importance of Libraries and Librarians

There was a time when books were rare. Before the printing press, books had to be copied by hand. This was an exhaustive (and expensive) process, and only the very wealthiest citizens could afford private books.

In the age of the printing press, some people recognized the importance of sharing knowledge and gobbled up all of the books they could. Benjamin Franklin started the Library Company of Philadelphia in the 1700s—the first subscription-based library in North America. Historians also believe this may have been the first public library, since membership was open to the public, and members could happily borrow books.

The steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who made liberal use of libraries growing up, believed reading to be a foundational skill and he put his money where his mouth was. So-called Carnegie libraries—libraries built with financial backing from Carnegie—popped up across the nation, with over 2,500 locations. Today, libraries are well ingrained into our culture, serving both as places to read and as veritable community hubs.

How Libraries Help Communities

Today’s libraries and librarians are more than just book organizers. The library is essentially a community center. Sure, it’s a place to find books, but it’s also a place to stay out of the cold, a place to hold community meetings, a place to meet new people and experience new things, a place to interact with your favorite author, a place to dig up news articles about relatives long past. And it’s the librarians who manage it all—not just the cataloging of books. 

Job Searches

If you’ve ever grown tired of visiting the same one or two websites during a job search, a librarian can help you find additional resources. The American Library Association even maintains a list of online tools for job searching. More importantly, a local library may be much more in tune with the needs of local businesses who have jobs to fill than a major website focused on your local metropolitan area.

Internet Access

What happens when your internet goes out and you have a major report to finish? Or a critical email to send? What happens if you don’t have Internet access where you live at all? Libraries often provide workstations permanently hooked up to the web. You can log in and get work done or finish up the school research you needed before the end of the day. Internet access has essentially become a public utility in this day and age and for many, libraries are the best way to find it.

Classes

Want to learn Spanish in a more interactive environment? Interested in building skills beyond the high school level? Libraries often host classes in a variety of subjects, no matter your age. Whether you want to learn computer skills for a digital world or explore anything from writing to accounting, there’s a good chance a library in your area has something to offer.

Youth Literacy Programs

There’s no skill so foundational as the ability to read. With it, libraries become the key to understanding the world; without it, your options are much more limited. That’s why libraries tend to offer youth literacy programs. These programs aren’t only to help students keep up with their studies, but they help build the foundation of the love of reading. 

What’s more, these literacy programs are designed to keep people coming back, which means they’re often more fun than basic reading exercises. In these programs, many students will learn just how much there is to explore when they open a book.

Considering Becoming a Librarian?

Reading isn’t always a social activity. It’s something you can do in the comfort of your own home curled up by the fireplace. But a librarian makes it a social activity. If you have a love of books and want to help people discover their love of books, becoming a librarian can be one of the most rewarding and high-impact careers you can find.

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