How To Become a Librarian: With Steps, Skills and Examples
Updated 1 May 2023
A career as a librarian requires many skills including organisation, customer service and teamwork. Finding the right way to start a career as a librarian can be simple but does require some steps. Becoming a librarian includes everything from gaining the necessary degree to work experience. In this article, we can help you to learn the simple steps of becoming a librarian.
How to become a librarian
There are a number of steps that can help you learn how to become a librarian, from formal education to learning soft skills. Each of these steps can help you progress your career as a librarian and make you more attractive to employers. These steps include:
1. Seek higher education
In most cases, you need a degree for a career as a librarian. You can complete an undergraduate degree in Librarianship at university. An alternative is completing an undergraduate degree in another subject and then a postgraduate master's degree in Libraries and Librarianship. The latter option could make you more suited to working in a specialised library since you may have a proven interest and understanding of the topic of your undergraduate degree.
It's possible to transfer from other careers in information services to being a librarian but having a degree is the more traditional route. Alternatively, you can complete professional courses in Librarianship.
Related: What is a Bachelor's Degree?
2. Gain work experience
In most cases, you need work experience in a library to become a librarian. Volunteering or completing an internship at a local library whilst you study is an excellent way of proving that you have the practical experience required for the role.
Volunteering at a library does not need to be done when you are completing a course. It could fit around your current job if you're considering transferring or after a school day or at the weekend if you are a younger reader. If you're not planning on completing a degree, proving you understand the workings of a library can help you meet the practical requirements of a librarian position.
Related: The Importance of Upskilling
3. Update professional qualifications
The first level of job within the librarian career path is a Library Assistant. At this stage, many librarians become members of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). CILIP is the official association with charity status, which represents librarians. A Professional Registration Certification is the first qualification that CILIP offers, and this award typically comes at the beginning of your librarian career. This first qualification demonstrates your ability to perform your job and reflects how serious you are about your career as a librarian.
The next stage offered by CILIP is to become a Chartered Librarian. The final stage is a Fellowship position. This stage is a professional development course run to improve the work of the selected Fellows. All of these professional qualifications are excellent in progressing your career. The latter two are complete once you're an established librarian.
4. Consider a union
Many unions represent librarians. These unions include UNISON which represents industries across the UK. Whilst it's by no means obligatory to become a member of a union to work as a librarian, it can be advisable in case of workplace disputes.
5. Consider memberships
As well as providing professional certification, CILIP has a membership programme, which librarians are encouraged to join. As with union membership, it's not obligatory. However, becoming a member is a good way to get the latest updates in your field. Additionally, membership can help you grow your network and create future job prospects.
If you intend to work for a private or specialised library, you could join the Special Libraries Association. This is a membership association for librarians who typically have postgraduate qualifications in librarianship, or additional qualifications specialising in law or other subjects in the area in which their library specialises. The Special Libraries Association has an awards scheme, including a fellowship position.
What is the work environment for a librarian?
Being a librarian does not necessarily mean working for the local library. There are many different types of libraries, which create a great range of potential working environments. This varies from libraries in schools and universities to specialised law libraries in legal firms, medical libraries in hospitals and engineering libraries for engineers. Universities may have one or more libraries. Cambridge University, for example, has over 100 libraries, all of which with different specialisations.
University Library at Cambridge, the British Library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford are copyright libraries. In copyright libraries, copyrighted books are kept onsite. Being a librarian at a copyright library is different from being a librarian at a highly specialised library.
What soft skills do I need to be a librarian?
Becoming a librarian can be a rewarding job. Whether you're working in a public, university or specialist library, soft skills can help you succeed in your role. These skills include:
Communicate effectively with people who work with you in the library can help your days run smoothly. This may be colleagues or those in a higher job role. Communication is especially important as most libraries have several floors and shelves, which can make locating books difficult if instructions are not clear.
Your job as a librarian may centre around your organisational skills. It's important to keep your workload organised too. Managing your tasks for the day alongside helping people find books requires a good level of organisation.
Your job may well be customer-facing as a librarian. Therefore, learning to speak effectively to members of the public is important. If you're working in a specialist library, you may likely be dealing with highly qualified individuals. Understanding what each individual needs can help you progress as a librarian, so effective communication is key.
Management, writing, presenting, negotiation
As your career progresses, you may receive more tasks, and soft skills can help you adapt to this increased responsibility. If you're made responsible for other staff, you may need to learn management skills. Good written and verbal presentational skills can help you to write reports about those you manage.
Additionally, you may have to present your findings to someone in a higher position or present new projects to your staff members. Finally, you may need to learn to negotiate if you're responsible for making orders to book dispatchers.
The way librarians enact their work has changed a great deal in recent history. Instead of paper records, the incomings and outgoings of books, many systems now rely on databases. Being adaptable to learning new methods of organising a library is important to stay up to date in the field.
Tips for becoming a successful librarian
Here are some tips for becoming a successful librarian. These tips could be helpful alongside your formal training. The tips include:
Always stay up to date with the books in your library. This is especially important if you go on to work in a specialist library. Your job may include recommending books and having a good knowledge of what is currently in the library.
Finding out about professional courses you can attend may help you progress as a librarian. Professional courses are a great way to meet people in your field and who share your interests. Also, suggesting a development course you want to attend demonstrates that you're proactive in your approach.
This applies to your colleagues and members of the public using the library. If you maintain a friendly atmosphere, people can have a positive experience of being in the library and being around you. Remember that being friendly to others improves your own emotional wellbeing too.
If you're working in a public library, think of new projects or events which would bring more people into the library. Your creative ideas may increase the number of people attending the library. This could demonstrate your worth and show your dedication to the job.
Have a network
Look for like-minded people in the field who have the same interests as you. Discussing your work with colleagues can help improve your well-being and your enjoyment of your job. Also, by networking with those in your field, you can learn about opportunities for career progression or new processes that can help you improve your own library.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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