How to Become a Librarian (Between the Stacks)

how to become a librarian

If you’ve ever imagined yourself immersed in a world of knowledge and literature, or contemplated what it takes to become a librarian, you’ve come to the right place.

In this guide, we’ll navigate the EXACT steps you need to undertake to launch your career as a librarian. We’ll discuss:

  • The essential skills you need.
  • The educational journey that can assist you in achieving your goal.
  • How to secure your first job as a librarian.

So, whether you’re a bibliophile who’s new to the library science field, or a seasoned book-lover looking to transform your passion into a career, stay with us.

We’re about to unveil the roadmap to becoming a librarian.

Let’s get started!

Contents show

Steps to Become a Librarian


Step 1: Research the Librarian Profession

Before deciding to pursue a career as a librarian, it is important to understand the profession and its requirements.

Librarians are not just responsible for managing and organizing books, they also play a major role in helping people find information and conducting research.

Start by investigating the different types of librarians, such as public, academic, school, and special librarians, each having their unique set of responsibilities and environments.

For example, public librarians interact directly with the community, while academic librarians assist students, faculty, and staff in colleges and universities.

Visit your local library and talk to librarians about their work.

Ask about the challenges they face, what they love about their job, and their educational background.

You can also look for job postings to get a sense of the skills and qualifications required.

It is also worth looking at the future of the profession.

As technology continues to evolve, librarians are expected to keep pace with new tools and resources.

Digital literacy, for instance, is becoming increasingly important in this profession.

Having a clear understanding of the librarian profession will help you decide if it is the right career path for you and what specific areas you might want to specialize in.


Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

In order to become a librarian, the first educational step after high school is to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

The field of study for this degree can vary, but common choices include English, history, or a related humanities field.

However, a Bachelor’s degree in any field can be beneficial as it provides a broad educational foundation.

During your undergraduate study, you should focus on developing strong research skills, computer literacy, and a solid understanding of different types of media.

You might also want to gain some practical experience by volunteering or working part-time in a library.

This will not only give you a feel for the profession, but also provide you with valuable experience that can help set you apart when applying for graduate school or future jobs.

Remember that while a Bachelor’s degree is an important step, it isn’t the end of your educational journey to becoming a librarian.

Most librarian positions require a Master’s degree in Library Science or a related field.


Step 3: Gain Experience with Books and Research

Before you can become a librarian, it’s essential to gain experience with books and research.

This can be achieved through various avenues such as working at a bookstore, a local library, or even in an academic setting.

Exposure to different genres of books, understanding the classification and cataloging of books, and learning how to guide others in their research are all vital skills for a future librarian.

In addition to gaining practical experience, it may also be beneficial to volunteer or intern at a library.

This gives you an opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the library system, the role of librarians, and the various tasks and responsibilities they undertake.

It’s also necessary to become familiar with digital databases and online research tools, as modern libraries have shifted much of their catalog and resources online.

Understanding how to assist patrons in accessing, navigating and utilizing these resources is a crucial part of a librarian’s job.

Moreover, gaining experience with customer service and community outreach can be beneficial since librarians often host reading programs and events for different age groups and communities.

Thus, these experiences would not only enhance your resume but also provide you with practical knowledge and skills that will be beneficial in your librarian career.


Step 4: Obtain a Master’s Degree in Library Science (MLS)

To become a librarian, after getting your bachelor’s degree, the next step is to obtain a Master’s Degree in Library Science (MLS).

This degree is necessary as it provides an understanding of how information is organized, preserved, and accessed.

You will learn about collection development, information technology, and various aspects of library management.

In your MLS program, you may choose to specialize in a specific area such as school libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, or information technology.

Some programs offer courses in specialized areas like digital libraries, archives, and records management.

Your decision should be based on your career goals and interests.

Most MLS programs require a practicum, an internship, or a field experience as part of the degree, allowing you to gain practical experience in a library setting.

This experience will not only give you a chance to apply what you’ve learned in a real-world setting but also provide opportunities for networking and enhancing your resume.

In addition to the MLS, some librarians may choose to obtain a second master’s degree in a specific subject area.

This can be particularly useful for those interested in working in an academic library setting where subject expertise can be beneficial.


Step 5: Complete Internships or Volunteer at Libraries

In order to gain practical experience and build a professional network, consider completing internships or volunteering at local libraries.

This could be in a public library, university library, or a specialized library.

This will provide you with first-hand experience in the field, allowing you to apply the skills you have learned in your degree program and gain new skills on the job.

During an internship or volunteer position, you may perform tasks such as organizing materials, assisting patrons, and learning about the library’s cataloging system.

This practical experience is invaluable and can help you decide which area of library science you’re interested in pursuing.

Furthermore, these internships or volunteer experiences can lead to job offers upon graduation or serve as a strong reference for future job applications.

Being proactive and seeking out these opportunities can also show potential employers your dedication and passion for the field of library science.

Remember, the more experience you gain, the more attractive you become to potential employers.


Step 6: Understand Current Library Technologies

As the role of librarians has evolved with the digital age, it is essential to understand and become proficient in using current library technologies.

This includes using computer databases, digital cataloging systems, and digital archives.

Some libraries also use multimedia, electronic referencing systems, e-books and online databases that require a specific set of skills.

You may encounter a variety of software and systems, such as Integrated Library Systems (ILS), which help manage various library functions like acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, and the public access catalog.

Familiarity with digital research tools and online databases such as JSTOR, ProQuest, and WorldCat will also be beneficial.

Digital literacy, including understanding and teaching others how to use e-readers, tablets, and online tools is an essential part of modern library services.

As a librarian, you may be called upon to help patrons navigate these tools.

In addition, understanding technologies like radio-frequency identification (RFID) used for tracking books and resources, and self-service kiosks can also be part of a librarian’s role.

As technology continues to evolve, so does the librarian’s role.

Staying current with these technologies through continuing education and professional development is a crucial step in being an effective librarian.

Many library associations offer webinars, courses, and conferences to help you keep up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends in library science.


Step 7: Choose a Specialization

In the field of librarianship, there are various specializations you can choose from.

You could decide to specialize in areas such as children’s literature, academic librarianship, digital librarianship, or archival studies.

Each of these specializations caters to different audiences and requires different skills.

For instance, if you choose to specialize in children’s literature, you would likely work in a school or public library, and you would need skills in selecting age-appropriate literature and organizing reading programs.

On the other hand, if you specialize in academic librarianship, you would likely work in a university library, and you would need to understand the research process and how to support faculty and students in their research.

Digital librarianship requires expertise in managing digital resources and databases, while archival studies focus on managing, preserving, and accessing historical records and documents.

Choosing a specialization would depend on your interests and career goals.

You can get a feel for the various specializations while completing your master’s degree in library science and through internships or part-time jobs.


Step 8: Obtain a Professional Certificate if Required

Depending on the state or the specific job role, you may be required to obtain a professional certificate to work as a librarian.

For instance, some states mandate a certificate for public librarians, while school librarians need a teaching certification or an endorsement in library science.

Investigate the specific requirements in your state or the particular library system you wish to join.

Some professional certificates require you to take additional coursework, pass an exam, or complete a certain number of hours working in a library setting.

Obtaining a professional certificate not only fulfills regulatory requirements but also equips you with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform your duties effectively.

It may also enhance your employability and open up more opportunities for career advancement.

Further, maintaining your professional credentials may require you to undertake periodic continuing education or professional development courses to stay abreast of new developments and trends in the field of library science.

This lifelong learning approach ensures that you remain a competitive and relevant professional in the library industry.


Step 9: Develop Soft Skills Vital to Librarianship

As a librarian, it’s not only important to have a strong understanding of library sciences and a vast knowledge of books, but also to develop key soft skills.

These skills, which include interpersonal communication, customer service, attention to detail, and organizational abilities, can greatly enhance your effectiveness in your role.

Interpersonal communication is vital as librarians often work with the public, assisting them in finding information and answering their queries.

Strong communication skills also aid in fostering a positive library environment and ensuring effective collaboration with other staff members.

Customer service skills are equally important as you’ll be helping patrons of all ages and backgrounds, answering their questions, and solving problems they encounter.

The ability to provide excellent service can enhance a patron’s library experience and encourage them to return.

Attention to detail will help you manage the vast array of resources in a library, from books to databases.

It can aid in preventing errors such as misclassification or misplacement of resources.

Finally, organizational skills are critical for librarians.

You’ll be responsible for managing a plethora of information, including books, periodicals, and electronic databases.

Being able to efficiently organize and retrieve these resources is key to the smooth running of the library.

Taking the time to hone these skills can be just as important as your formal education and practical experience in librarianship, and will set you up for a successful career as a librarian.


Step 10: Apply for Librarian Positions

Once you have completed your Master’s degree in Library Science and obtained your license, you can begin applying for librarian positions.

When applying, consider the type of library you wish to work in such as a public library, a school library, a university library, or a special library like those in corporations or museums.

Start by researching and identifying potential job openings.

Networking with professionals in the field and attending library associations meetings can provide a wealth of opportunities.

Online job boards, professional association websites and library or information science program career centers are also good resources to find open positions.

When you have identified potential jobs, tailor your resume and cover letter to each position, highlighting your relevant coursework, internships, and work experience.

Provide specific examples of how your skills, knowledge, and experiences align with the job description.

Once you have submitted your application, prepare for potential interviews.

Review common interview questions, practice your responses and make sure to showcase your knowledge of library science, customer service skills, and passion for the profession.

Remember to follow up after interviews with a thank you note to show your continued interest in the position.

This step could make you stand out from other candidates and increase your chances of landing the job.

It is also important to be patient, as the hiring process can sometimes take a few weeks or even months.


Step 11: Engage in Continuing Education

Staying current with the latest trends, technologies, and best practices in library science is a vital part of being a successful librarian.

As such, engaging in continuing education is an important step in your career as a librarian.

You can participate in continuing education through various means.

Professional organizations, such as the American Library Association (ALA), offer workshops, webinars, and courses that you can take to keep your skills sharp.

These courses cover a variety of topics, from the latest library technology trends to effective management techniques.

Attending conferences is another great way to engage in continuing education.

These events provide opportunities to learn from leading experts in the field, network with other librarians, and gain insights into new developments and trends in library science.

Beyond formal education, you should also regularly read industry publications, such as Library Journal or American Libraries, to stay up-to-date on the latest news and trends in the field.

Remember, the key to being an effective librarian is to continuously learn and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of library science.

This means embracing new technologies, understanding emerging trends, and being open to new ways of doing things.

By doing so, you can ensure that you remain relevant in your field and provide the best possible service to your library users.


Step 12: Join Professional Organizations

Joining professional organizations can prove beneficial for librarians in several ways.

These organizations offer opportunities for professional development, networking, and staying updated with the latest trends and advancements in the field of library and information science.

Some key organizations you may want to consider include the American Library Association (ALA), the Public Library Association (PLA), and the Special Libraries Association (SLA).

These organizations often host national and international conferences and meetings that allow you to connect with other professionals, learn from their experiences, and share your own insights.

Additionally, joining these organizations can give you access to a wealth of resources, including job boards, research papers, and webinars.

This can be particularly useful for librarians who are seeking to specialize in a certain area or looking for new job opportunities.

Membership in professional organizations often comes with the additional benefit of discounted rates for attending conferences and other events.

This can make it more affordable to engage in continuous learning and professional growth.

Remember, active involvement in these organizations can enhance your resume and make you a more attractive candidate for future job opportunities.



Librarian Roles and Responsibilities

Librarians play a crucial role in managing information services and resources for academic, public, school, and special libraries.

They curate collections, assist researchers, and promote literacy programs.

They have the following roles and responsibilities:


Collection Development and Management

  • Select, acquire, catalogue, classify, circulate, and maintain library materials.
  • Check books and other resources in and out of the library.
  • Assess and meet the needs of the library’s user base.


Information Services

  • Assist library users in finding and using library resources, including reference materials, audiovisual equipment, computers, and electronic resources.
  • Conduct research and provide information from a variety of sources.


Program Development

  • Organize and host events and programs to promote library services and literacy.
  • Coordinate reading programs for different age groups.



  • Manage budgeting and planning.
  • Oversee library operations and supervise library staff.
  • Perform public relations and fundraising work.


Teaching and Training

  • Offer training and assistance in using library resources.
  • Teach information literacy classes to users.


Technical Services

  • Maintain library’s computer systems and databases.
  • Train others in the use of software and databases.


User Services

  • Provide customer service and handle user complaints and suggestions.
  • Develop and implement library policies and procedures.


Professional Development

  • Stay informed about current trends in librarianship.
  • Participate in professional meetings, conferences, and workshops.


Outreach and Advocacy

  • Promote the library within its community or organization.
  • Collaborate with community groups to arrange public programs.



  • Ensure the preservation of library materials and resources.


Records Management

  • Manage records and archives for historical reference and research.


Legal Compliance

  • Ensure compliance with copyright laws and other legal issues pertaining to libraries.


What Does a Librarian Do?

Librarians work primarily in libraries of various types, including public libraries, schools, and universities.

Their primary role is to assist patrons in finding information and conducting research for personal and professional use.

They organize, acquire, and manage collections of books, magazines, newspapers, journals, electronic documents, and other data resources.

They also categorize, classify and catalogue these resources to make it easier for patrons to find the information they need.

Librarians provide user services such as teaching patrons how to search for information using both electronic and traditional resources, answering inquiries, and guiding patrons in choosing books or other resources according to their interests or needs.

Librarians often plan and coordinate educational and recreational programs such as book clubs, storytelling for children, or workshops on various topics.

They may also oversee interlibrary loans and manage library databases.

They play an essential role in maintaining a quiet, respectful environment conducive to study and learning.

Librarians can also be involved in budgeting, planning, and personnel activities, depending on the size and nature of the library.

In academic settings, librarians often assist students and faculty with research, teach information literacy, and manage digital repositories.

Some librarians also specialize in a specific field such as medical, law, or corporate librarianship.


Essential Librarian Skills

  • Organization: Librarians need to have strong organizational skills to effectively manage and catalog a variety of materials like books, digital resources, and periodicals.
  • Communication: Librarians interact with a diverse range of individuals daily. They must have excellent communication skills to explain complex ideas in simple, understandable ways.
  • Technological Proficiency: As libraries move towards digital platforms, librarians should be comfortable using and explaining computer systems, databases, and software. They should also have basic troubleshooting skills.
  • Research Skills: Librarians often assist patrons in their research. They need to understand how to use a variety of research tools and databases and guide others in their use.
  • Customer Service: Librarians should be customer-oriented, ready to assist patrons in finding the information they need and making them feel welcomed and respected.
  • Detail Oriented: Attention to detail is essential when organizing and cataloging materials. Mistakes can make it difficult for patrons to find the materials they need.
  • Literacy and Reading Comprehension: A strong understanding of language, including grammar, spelling, and punctuation, is vital. Librarians should also be avid readers with a broad knowledge of literature.
  • Information Management: Librarians must be proficient in managing both digital and physical information, including cataloging, archiving, and preserving materials.
  • Interpersonal Skills: As they often work in a team, librarians need to cooperate with colleagues, work on shared projects, and communicate effectively.
  • Adaptability: The library environment is constantly evolving, particularly with the rise of digital technologies. Librarians need to adapt to changes and learn new skills continuously.
  • Instructional Skills: Librarians often educate patrons on how to use research tools and databases effectively. They should be able to deliver clear instructions.
  • Problem-Solving: When patrons have difficulty finding information or resources, librarians need to use their problem-solving skills to find the best solution.
  • Critical Thinking: This skill is necessary for evaluating the quality and credibility of resources and information.
  • Knowledge of Copyright Laws: Understanding copyright laws and regulations is important for librarians, especially when managing digital resources.
  • Patience: Dealing with a wide range of patrons, from children to seniors, may require a considerable amount of patience.


Librarian Career Path Progression

The Foundation: Library Assistant

Starting your journey as a Library Assistant is the first step in your career as a librarian.

Here, your focus will be on learning the ins and outs of library operations, cataloging, and providing basic assistance to library patrons.

To succeed in this role, remember to:

  1. Acquire Knowledge: Familiarize yourself with the library’s collection and the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress classification systems.
  2. Develop Interpersonal Skills: Interact effectively with library patrons and colleagues, ensuring a positive experience for all.
  3. Stay Organized: Maintain order in the library and efficiently handle library materials.


The Ascent: Librarian

After gaining enough experience and obtaining a Master’s degree in Library Science, you can take the next step to become a Librarian.

In this role, you will manage the library’s collection, assist patrons with more complex queries, and possibly specialize in a specific area, like children’s literature or research.

Here’s how to excel in this role:

  1. Develop Research Skills: Enhance your ability to locate and provide information that patrons need.
  2. Specialize: Consider specializing in a specific area of librarianship to provide targeted assistance.
  3. Embrace Technology: Become proficient in using library databases, digital archives, and other software tools.


Reaching New Heights: Senior Librarian

With time and expertise, you can become a Senior Librarian.

At this stage, you’ll be recognized for your expertise and leadership within the library.

You may take on managerial roles, guide library policies, and contribute to strategic planning.

To excel as a Senior Librarian:

  1. Mentorship: Share your knowledge and mentor junior librarians and assistants.
  2. Strategic Planning: Contribute to the strategic planning of the library, including budgeting and fundraising.
  3. Outreach: Collaborate with the community and stakeholders to promote the library and its resources.


Beyond the Horizon: Library Director

As your career progresses, you may become a Library Director, where you will oversee all library operations, staff, and budget.

You’ll be responsible for making strategic decisions, developing library policies, and advocating for the library within the community and to stakeholders.

Here’s what to focus on:

  1. Leadership: Inspire your team and drive the success of the library.
  2. Policy Making: Develop library policies that meet the needs of your community.
  3. Advocacy: Promote the importance of the library in the community and secure necessary funding and resources.


Pinnacle of Success: Chief Librarian or Library System Director

At the top echelons of the librarian career ladder, you may reach roles like Chief Librarian or Library System Director.

Here, you’ll be responsible for overseeing multiple libraries or an entire library system.

You’ll make decisions affecting library services on a larger scale and advocate for libraries at a higher level.


Librarian Salary

Entry-Level Librarian

  • Median Salary: $40,000 – $50,000 per year
  • Entry-level librarians typically have 0-2 years of experience and require a master’s degree in Library Science. They are usually responsible for organizing and cataloging materials, assisting patrons, and performing routine tasks under the supervision of a senior librarian.


Mid-Level Librarian

  • Median Salary: $50,000 – $60,000 per year
  • Mid-level librarians have 2-5 years of experience and perform tasks like organizing special collections, planning programs or events, and often supervise library assistants or other support staff.


Senior Librarian

  • Median Salary: $60,000 – $70,000 per year
  • Senior librarians possess 5+ years of experience and are responsible for managing the library’s budget, supervising staff, and making decisions about the library’s offerings and services. They may also be involved in community outreach and engagement.


Library Manager / Library Director

  • Median Salary: $70,000 – $85,000+ per year
  • These roles typically require significant experience and involve overseeing the entire operations of a library, including staff management, collection development, budgeting, and strategic planning. They may also represent the library in community or institutional settings.


Chief Librarian / Dean of Libraries

  • Median Salary: $90,000 – $120,000+ per year
  • These high-level positions require extensive experience, deep knowledge of library science, and the ability to set strategic directions for the library. They oversee all library operations, manage senior staff, and represent the library to external stakeholders.


Librarian Work Environment

Librarians often work in public libraries, academic institutions such as colleges and universities, schools, law firms, corporations, and government agencies.

The setting can range from a busy urban library with hundreds of daily visitors to a small community library with a more intimate group of patrons.

Many librarians work a standard 40-hour week, but in public or school libraries, evening and weekend work might be required to accommodate community and student needs.

In addition, librarians who work for corporations or government agencies may have regular business hours, but could also have overtime during major projects.

Librarians can also opt to specialize in a particular field, such as medical or law librarianship, which might necessitate working in those specific environments.

With experience and a strong client base, a librarian may also choose to establish their own private library consulting firm.

As their work is largely computer-based, librarians must be comfortable with using technology and digital databases, and some might work remotely, especially in research or digital librarian roles.

Despite this, their work environment tends to be quiet, well-organized, and conducive to concentration and research.


FAQs About Becoming a Librarian

What qualifications do I need to become a librarian?

To become a librarian, you generally need to have a master’s degree in library science (MLS) or library and information science (MLIS).

Some positions may require a bachelor’s degree in a specific subject, such as history or literature.

Key skills include strong organizational abilities, computer literacy, and excellent customer service.

In addition, librarians often need a deep understanding of library databases, digital resources, and cataloging systems.


How long does it take to become a librarian?

The time it takes to become a librarian can vary based on your educational path.

Typically, a bachelor’s degree takes about four years to complete, and a master’s degree in library science can take an additional one to two years.

Some individuals may choose to gain experience working in a library setting before pursuing their master’s degree, which can also add time to their career path.


Can I become a librarian without a master’s degree?

While most librarian positions require a master’s degree, there are some entry-level positions in libraries that don’t require this level of education.

These roles, such as library assistant or library technician, can provide valuable experience and insight into the profession.

However, to advance in the field and take on a professional librarian role, a master’s degree is typically required.


Is being a librarian a stressful job?

The stress level of a librarian’s job can vary depending on the specific role and work environment.

Librarians often juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities, from managing library resources, assisting patrons, planning programs, to administrative duties.

However, many librarians find the work rewarding, especially when they can help patrons find the information they’re seeking or promote literacy and learning in their communities.


What are the job prospects for librarians in the next decade?

The job prospects for librarians are expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

The roles and responsibilities of librarians are evolving with the advent of digital media and resources, and librarians who are adept at navigating these changes are likely to find favorable job prospects.

Opportunities may be particularly strong for those who specialize in areas like data management, archival preservation, or digital resource management.



And that’s a wrap.

Stepping into the fascinating world of becoming a librarian may seem daunting, but it is incredibly fulfilling.

Equipped with the right skills, education, and perseverance, you are poised to make a meaningful contribution to the literary world.

Remember, the journey might be filled with hurdles, but the potential for growth is endless. Your efforts could lead to a more enlightened, educated, and engaged society.

So, take that first leap. Immerse yourself in knowledge. Connect with fellow bibliophiles. And most importantly, never stop reading.

Because the world is eager to see what you can curate.

And if you’re seeking tailored advice on beginning or progressing your librarian career, explore our AI Career Path Advisor.

This complimentary tool is designed to provide personalized advice and resources to help you navigate your career path effectively.

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