Qualifications for a librarian: everything you need to know
Updated 21 February 2023
Librarians are essential to maintaining and organising books and, more recently, electronic resources within a particular setting. They organise and give access to archives of reading materials or other information and are central figures in providing service to library visitors. Learning what qualifies someone to be a librarian can be useful in starting your career in this field. In this article, we explore what qualifications a librarian typically has, what the job entails and some key skills that librarians require to do their jobs effectively.
Qualifications for a librarian
Librarians require some specific qualifications to properly prepare them for a career in the field. These qualifications for a librarian include:
A-levels: Typically, to become a librarian, you're required to have two to three A-levels, or equivalent, enabling you to access a university course and gain a degree.
Bachelor's degree: A bachelor's degree is the minimum required level of education that is accepted to get a job as a librarian. Acceptable degree programmes include librarianship and information management.
Experience: Gaining the necessary experience is essential to becoming a librarian. You can gain relevant experience by attaining a position as a librarian's assistant or a data officer.
Certifications: Gaining a relevant certification is not necessary, but it can qualify you for the role even further. Certifications such as the PKSB (Professional Knowledge and Skills Base) are relevant and valued by employers.
What is a librarian?
A librarian is a professional that works in a library and has special training that equips them to organise, maintain and distribute information for the benefit of library users. For as long as there have been stores of information, there have been custodians and distributors of information, which is where librarians come in. Due to changes in the way libraries work, the nature of the role of librarians has changed significantly. Changes in how information is stored have been the biggest contributing factors in the changes in the role of the librarian over time.
Some librarians now carry the title of information manager because the kinds of materials they manage are more than just books. A librarian may work for a large public library or a small college campus library, but their main duty is always to maintain, store and facilitate access to the information they keep. Today, a librarian's toolkit contains a computer and other electronic devices because their information databases are digital.
Skills needed to be a librarian
Librarians are typically equipped with several skills and a particular education that aids them in the performance of their job. These skills include, but are not limited to:
IT: Librarians require basic IT skills as a minimum. Due to the fact that most libraries keep a digital record of their contents, where the information is stored and managed, it's necessary that librarians can navigate the system and have an understanding of such databases.
Teamwork: This includes collaborating with colleagues within a library or with university staff, depending on the library and the situation. Some form of cooperation is always expected from librarians, as multiple team members run a successful library.
Management: Librarians are responsible for managing collections of books, so knowledge of how to do this is imperative. They may also be responsible for managing a team of people within a library to ensure that the right information is available to visitors.
Analytical: Analytical skills are typically possessed by librarians because they analyse databases and identify gaps in knowledge or problems to address.
Customer service: Customer service is central to the job of a librarian as their primary function is to serve people. They provide a good service by ensuring books and other forms of information are available to the people who need them, while at the same time being highly personable.
Communication: Communication is key to a librarian because talking to customers is what enables them to find out what they are looking for and make sensible suggestions. Often, people don't know what book they need, so good communication skills are important to uncover the right solutions.
Academic: It helps to be academically minded if you're a librarian because the job is one that is highly suited to intellectuals and people who enjoy studying and collecting knowledge. You may attend educational events to bolster your knowledge base.
Why be a librarian?
Becoming a librarian can be an exciting prospect for people who enjoy studying and exercising their intellect. Librarians can often gain access to academic study in the form of doing research and attending lectures and conferences, which appeals to many people who want to further their studies whilst also having a career. Professionals in this role also get to spend much of their days interacting with members of the public who often share their interest in literature and learning.
People who are suited to being a librarian often report high levels of job satisfaction because they are able to spend their days doing something they enjoy, which is learning and helping others learn. Becoming a librarian gives you the opportunity to develop and care for a library's collection and have a hand in shaping its contents, meaning you have a direct impact on the enrichment of the community. A career in this field doesn't end with being a librarian. You can also progress onto managerial positions.
Related: How to choose a career path
How to become a librarian
There are different routes that you can take to become a librarian, but the key skills and qualifications that you may need to obtain are consistent, regardless of the route you choose to pursue. Here is an outline of the route you can take to become a librarian:
1. Conduct research
Conducting research prior to starting on the path to becoming a librarian is important. This career option is certainly not for everyone, so determine whether or not you're suited to it before moving on to the following steps. You can conduct research by visiting your local library and having a chat with the librarian or the librarian's assistant, and asking them what their day-to-day looks like.
2. Earn qualifications
Study a degree to help you do a librarian job. A bachelor's degree can theoretically be in any field, though degrees in librarianship are most desirable from an employer's perspective. Sometimes you may want a master's degree to get a job at certain advanced libraries, but most only require a bachelor's degree. To obtain a degree, it's important to have your A-levels in place already. If you don't, make this your priority.
3. Train in a relevant area
Librarians with different skills manage different types of libraries. For example, a scientific library may hire a librarian with a background in science so that they are better equipped to manage materials relating to this field. By obtaining training in the area in which you want to specialise, you are much more likely to get the job.
4. Work experience
Getting a job as a librarian immediately after graduating might be a challenge but certainly doable. Depending on how confident you feel, it might be worth getting a job as a librarian's assistant or doing some volunteer work to gain experience. This is the best way to gain a real insight into the nature of the job and to learn how to do it effectively.
5. Get certified
Certifications useful to librarians include the CILIP (Certified Institute of Library and Information Professionals). This is a well-respected qualification and gives prospective librarians a deeper understanding of the field and how to deliver a better service. Consider researching other useful certifications in data management and information technology to enhance your skills further.
6. Find a job
Securing a position as a librarian is the final step in the process. If you were successful in finding work experience, that particular library would be a good place to start your search. Ask them if a full-time position is available or if they would be able to let you know if and when one arises. To assist you in your search for a job, be sure to summarise your key skills and qualifications near the top of your CV and reiterate them in your cover letter.
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