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How to Become a Librarian Guide

If you love books and working with the public, a career as a librarian may be in your future. Librarians not only manage libraries, but they also teach classes, help conduct research, and serve as valuable assets to their communities. To land a job in this field, you’ll need both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Keep reading to get the step-by-step breakdown. 

1. Determine your preferences  

First of all, it’s important to figure out what kind of librarian you want to be. Some librarians work at colleges and universities, some work in K-12 schools, while others specialize in areas such as law or medicine. You don’t have to be 100% certain about your specialty yet, but it’s good to have at least an inkling. Knowing what kind of job you want is helpful when determining what to study in college. 

Below are the various subfields of library management:

Job Title 

Job Description 

Academic librarian  Academic librarians are employed by colleges and universities. They help students research topics for class, and assist faculty and staff in locating resources related to their research projects. 
Public librarian  These are the folks who work at public libraries that are open to all members of the community. Public librarians commonly help patrons find books to read for pleasure. They may also plan programs such as book clubs and story time for children. 
School librarian Also known as library media specialists, these professionals work in elementary, middle, and high school libraries. They help teachers find materials for classroom instruction and teach students how to use library resources.
Corporate librarian  Corporate librarians work for private businesses such as consulting firms, insurance companies, and publishers. They maintain company-owned information and help employees conduct research. 
Law librarian These librarians work in law firms and law school libraries. They help lawyers, judges, law clerks, and law students locate and analyze legal resources. 
Medical librarian Also known as health science librarians, these folks help physicians, medical students, and other health professionals locate medical information and literature. 
Administrative services librarian As their name suggests, these librarians handle the administrative side of things. They prepare budgets and negotiate contracts for library materials and equipment. They may also perform public relations or fundraising activities for the library. 

2. Get your bachelor’s degree

There’s no specific bachelor’s degree required to become a librarian. From psychology to art history, you can study anything you want at the undergraduate level. That being said, it would be smart to choose a major that complements your career goals. If you’re looking to become a school librarian, for instance, majoring in education would be a good move. But if your sights are set on becoming a medical librarian, something like biology would be more useful. 

3. Earn a master’s degree in library science

Although there are other ways to become a librarian, earning a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree is the most direct route. A Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) works too. As you’re searching for a school to attend, make sure to choose a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Additionally, ensure the program aligns with your career goals. If you’re looking to become a medical librarian, for instance, you shouldn’t pick a program that specializes in youth services. 

Library science programs typically last two years, but can sometimes be completed in a single year. During this time, you’ll learn about everything from cataloging techniques to information technology. By the end of your program, you’ll have the skills and knowledge needed to launch your career as a librarian. To learn more about what to expect out of an MLS program, check out our complete guide on library science. 

If you want to specialize in a particular area (such as law, medicine, or corporate practices), you may need to earn an additional degree in that field. For instance, about one third of all law librarians have a law degree on top of their MLS. To streamline your education, try to find a graduate program that combines library science and your area of specialization. 

4. Obtain certification (if necessary)

Certification requirements vary from state to state. Some states require testing and certification after degree completion, while others don’t. Some states only require certification for certain types of librarians. Public school librarians, for instance, typically need to be certified as teachers. Contact your state department of education for details about requirements in your state. 

5. Find a job

Once you’ve obtained the necessary degrees and certifications, you’ll be ready to apply for your dream job. During your job search, consider visiting the libraries where you might want to work. Speak to a current librarian and ask about day-to-day responsibilities and work culture. This way, you can get a sense of whether or not you’d be a good fit. It’s also a great chance for you to network within the organization.  

Financial aid options for librarians 

The American Library Association (ALA) Scholarship Program awards more than $300,000 annually to students working toward their MLS. The program offers a variety of general and specialty scholarships, along with scholarships for underrepresented students. Applications are open annually from September 1 – March 1. 

Another great resource is the Financial Assistance for Library & Information Studies directory. This is an annual directory of local, state, and national libraries that provide some form of financial assistance for students studying library science. Along with applying for scholarships, you should fill out the FAFSA to see if you qualify for need-based financial aid. 

Frequently asked questions about becoming a librarian

Can you become a librarian without an MLS degree? 

Yes, but your employment options will be limited. In some states, it’s possible to become a school librarian with just a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. Additionally, public librarian positions don’t always require an MLS. Smaller libraries, for instance, often have a difficult time filling positions. When this happens, they may hire librarians who have other degrees or relevant experience. Ultimately, though, getting your MLS degree is the best way to secure employment as a librarian. 

Does a librarian make good money? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, librarians made a median annual salary of $60,820 in 2020. Of course, pay varies based on area of expertise and location. A medical librarian, for instance, will likely have a higher salary than a K-12 school librarian. Location also plays a big factor. Those who work in rurally-located libraries tend to earn less than those  who work in cities. 

Also see: Highest paying careers to consider

Are librarians in demand? 

You can expect to enter a fairly healthy job market if you’re looking to become a librarian. Employment of librarians is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s about as fast as average for all occupations. 

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