5 Steps Every Book Lover Needs to Follow to Become a Librarian

librarian getting a book from the shelf of a library

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Do you love reading? Do you have top-notch research skills? Are you a go-to source of information? Then you might just thrive in a career as a librarian. 

While “librarian” may conjure up an image of a rule-obsessed “shusher,” in fact, these professionals come from many different backgrounds and have vast, diverse skill sets, as well as important roles. If you’re interested in the field and think it might be the career for you, keep reading to find out what it takes to become a librarian.

Job description.

At their core, librarians are information specialists. They acquire and manage materials, help people find resources across a range of media (books, films, recordings and more), provide recommendations, assist with research and more. Their specific duties and responsibilities vary according to their specialty and focus.

There are many different types of librarians. They include:

  • Academic, working in college and university settings
  • Children’s and young adult, specializing in children’s literature and programming (such as storytime and activities)
  • Digital, locating and helping people navigate digital and online materials
  • Medical, helping businesses, organizations and individuals find health-related information
  • Outreach, reaching out to disadvantaged or underserved people and communities who may not have awareness of or access to the resources libraries provide
  • Public, working in public libraries
  • Reference, helping patrons locate resources and find specific research materials and information
  • School, working with teachers and students in public and private school settings
  • Special, focusing on niche topics like law or business

This list is not exhaustive. There are also professions related to librarianship that encompass some similar responsibilities and overlap, such as archival studies and information technology (IT). In some cases, people in these related professions will also earn a master of library science or master of library and information science.

How much schooling do you need to be a librarian?

Depending on your specialty and area of focus, there may be different requirements and steps toward becoming a librarian. Generally speaking, however, here’s what to do:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree.

You don’t need to focus on a particular discipline as an undergraduate, although depending on your future specialty, you may find that certain programs equip you with the skills you’ll need better than others. For example, a degree in education might prepare you to become a school librarian, while a technology-related degree could help you become a digital librarian. There are also undergraduate degrees in library science. 

2. Choose a specialty.

Your chosen specialty will dictate further education and steps because the requirements differ according to your work. Consider your interests and where your talents lie. If you love working with kids, you might focus on children’s or school librarianship, for example. Take this into account as you search for a librarianship program. A medical librarian, for instance, will need different knowledge and credentials from, say, an academic librarian.

3. Earn a master’s degree.

In most cases, you’ll need a master’s degree from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA) to practice librarianship. This typically means earning a master of library science (MLS) or master of library and information science (MLIS). In some cases, you’ll be able to find programs with particular specialties or specialize within your program.

4. Obtain additional degrees, licenses and/or certifications.

Some positions and specialties will require additional licenses or certifications. Check the ALA website to find the requirements for your state and specialty. For example, if you hope to become a school librarian, you may need to have a teacher certification. 

5. Continue your education.

While librarians don’t usually need to earn additional credits or renew their certifications, joining associations such as the ALA, attending conferences and seminars, participating in courses and workshops, looking for leadership opportunities and taking advantage of other opportunities will help you grow in your career. 

Skill requirements.

In addition to the above educational requirements, librarians should have the following skills:

  • Digital literacy
  • Interpersonal
  • Research
  • Creativity
  • Technological knowledge
  • Advanced knowledge of computers and other equipment
  • Analytical
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Organizational
  • Innovation
  • Good judgment 
  • IT
  • Teamwork
  • Presentation

Some specialties may require additional skills, such as foreign languages, or knowledge of specific professions.

Librarian salary.

In 2018, the median annual salary for librarians was $59,050 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of course, this varies considerably based on factors such as location and experience. PayScale reports that an entry-level librarian with less than one year of experience can expect to earn $43,331 per year on average. ZipRecruiter provides the following average salary information for different states:

  • New York: $60,363
  • Washington: $54,948
  • Tennessee: $51,933
  • Georgia: $49,409
  • North Carolina: $42,802

Are librarians in demand?

It’s a myth that librarians are becoming obsolete; the BLS reports that the profession is expected to grow by 6%, or as fast as average, between 2018–2028. However, because librarians are not as in demand as they once were, you’ll need to look for opportunities to leverage your skillset and find career opportunities. Take advantage of networking opportunities through your MLS or MLIS program and professional associations, look outside your immediate physical area and search for ways to learn, grow and take on new responsibilities, even in fields outside of or related to librarianship. This will make you a more marketable candidate. 

Can I become a librarian without a degree?

In most cases, you’ll need a master’s degree to work as a librarian, although there may be some exceptions, particularly in less populous areas or at smaller libraries. You can also consider other positions related to and within the field of library science, such as that of a library assistant or clerk, that have less rigorous requirements, such as an associate’s degree or, in some cases, a high school diploma.

A career as a librarian can be a fulfilling one. The path is not an easy one; be clear on your goals and interests be for you embark on it — this will make it all the more rewarding when you finish your education and find your first job in the field.

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