Friday, 27 February 2015

So you want to be a librarian?

Last week a YouGov poll claimed that the three jobs Brits most like the sound of are author, academic and librarian. When I tell people what I do for a living, I usually find they don’t actually have a clue what it is that I actually do; stereotypes and misconceptions abound! So is being a librarian really all about books and silence? Here’s my experience of working as an academic librarian for five years thus far.

So what do I need to become a librarian then?
You’ll need some work experience of some kind in a library environment. Excellent communication skills, self-organisational skills, initiative and problem-solving skills, and a good manner with people are also vital. You’ll also need to do a CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) – accredited undergraduate degree or postgraduate qualification in Librarianship/Information Studies/Information Management. 

Blimey! I need all of that just to sit and read books all day?
Good luck with finding space in your workload to read books! Your duties and tasks will vary depending on what sector and role you’re working in. As an Academic Liaison Librarian in a university library, I teach research skills to classes of various sizes, help students with finding material for and referencing their assignments, work with academic colleagues to decide what books and journals to purchase and how to ensure they meet student needs, manage and contribute to projects to improve library services, investigate new developments and technologies which could help our work, check reading lists and add them to the online system, create material for our webpages, and attend departmental and Faculty meetings, amongst other things. Other librarians in universities might be managing the systems or online resources, or the enquiry desk. There are all sorts of librarian roles; you might be managing a school library, or working in a public library, prison library or corporate library, in a law firm or media organisation, for example. You might not even have “librarian” in your job title; you might be an information manager, information architect, knowledge manager, information officer, media manager, information consultant to name just a few. I can’t possibly list all of the different potential jobs you could do as a librarian here…but I can guarantee you won’t be reading books all day!

OK…but a library is a quiet and relaxing place to work, right?
Come into my library the day before a big assignment deadline date and see how quiet and relaxed it is! Libraries are not quiet any more. Students in universities and schools need spaces to work together. Public libraries host baby and toddler Storytimes and other meetings and events. You might have silent study spaces in your library, for example, but generally there is activity all around you. As for relaxing…librarianship is like most other jobs – you will be busy, sometimes things will go wrong, and sometimes you’ll feel pressured and stressed. You’ll face similar challenges to anyone working with the public; sometimes you’ll be dealing with upset, angry, intoxicated, or just unpleasant people. I’ve been shouted at more times than I can count, personally blamed for all sorts of things, including impeding the access of the general public to scientific knowledge and thereby the progress of society, and had stuff thrown at me. It comes with the job.

Yikes. I hope the salary is good?
This varies quite dramatically between roles and sectors. It’s difficult to generalise, but corporate and academic library roles tend to pay more than public and school libraries. Whatever job you’re doing, you won’t be in it for the money though.

Hmm. So why do I want to be a librarian then?
My job is challenging, interesting and rewarding. I love teaching and working with the students, and I get opportunities to get involved in all sorts of projects and to follow things which interest me. In my experience, libraries are open-minded and welcoming places to work, and my colleagues have been generally lovely and funny. There are so many routes that you could take in librarianship; you’re bound to find something that interests you.

How do I find out more?
Have a look through the CILIP webpages, sign up to the LIS New Professionals Network, get chatting to some librarians on Twitter, or check out some blog posts on how people got started in libraries.


  1. Interesting. When I was at Library School over 10 years ago, people wondered what I was thinking. Now I am a Chartered Librarian, it saddens me to find not much has changed. Educating people about what we do is important because only those who are aware will avail themselves of the services we provide. Well done.

  2. Brilliant post! Feel like I should print this off and carry it in my purse for the next time I have to have this conversation!

  3. Michael Gorman5 March 2015 at 01:38

    If it's any consolation, I heard all of these comments (or variations of them) fifty years ago when I was in library school.
    The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.