What does a librarian do? (With different types and salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

You can find librarians in an array of places, from universities to prisons. This is quite a varied position, and there are various types of librarians who perform different functions. If you're interested in becoming a librarian, it's useful to know what the role typically entails and what your options are. In this article, we explain what a librarian does, what the various librarians are, how you can become a librarian and inform you how much a librarian earns.

What does a librarian do?

Understanding what a librarian does can help you determine if this is the right career choice for you. A librarian is an individual who handles the running of libraries. These might be public or private libraries in various settings. Most modern libraries typically have computers and other multimedia resources, for which the librarian is also responsible. They manage people's access to books and other resources, deal with enquiries, index and classify stock, help people find what they're looking for and cooperate with other professionals.

Many librarians also attend meetings and conferences, and they might also work to promote the library's services through community events, displays and reading clubs. Depending on the size of the library and how it's organised, a librarian might also be in charge of hiring additional staff like assistant librarians, managing the budget and using the IT system to catalogue stock. Librarians can also have an important role in making sure that staff follow the relevant copyright, data protection and freedom of information laws.

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The different types of librarian

Also known as a learning resource manager, becoming a librarian could lead to a rewardingly varied career. There are many types of librarians who work in different settings with different responsibilities. Some of the more common examples of this are:

Public librarian

This role involves working at a public library and performing a wide variety of functions. You'd be in charge of organising events, supporting local businesses and encouraging local readers. Many people use their local public library as a place to self-educate and improve themselves, and public librarians can be essential for helping and supporting these people. You might help them find the resources they're looking for, assist them with using the IT equipment or make your own suggestions.

The IT equipment at a public library is sometimes the only access to this sort of hardware that some members of the local community have. These individuals might come to the library specifically to use its computers, and as a public librarian, you'd help them operate these machines if they're unfamiliar with them. This can also involve some informal instruction to help these individuals use computers to access various public services like housing and benefits.

School librarian

A school librarian is in charge of the library at a school. These positions exist in both state and independent schools, both of which often have dedicated libraries that support learning and related activities. The books, journals and other materials in a school library are chosen to support the curriculum and encourage independent learning. As a school librarian, you can expect to interact frequently with teachers and other school staff to ensure that students are getting the best service possible.

Like many libraries, school libraries often have computers and other multimedia hardware. Students can use these to access e-learning and similar accounts, do research or browse the web. You might typically be in charge of managing students' library accounts, ensuring books are returned, setting up accounts for computer use and gaining additional stock if the school requires it. A lot of schools now use a virtual learning environment, and the librarian can be an important contributor to how it's run and otherwise support it.

Related: How to become a secondary school teacher

Prison librarian

Prisons typically have a library that allows inmates to use their time productively in self-directed study or reading. If you choose to become a prison librarian, you'd be in charge of the daily operations of a prison's library, which means regular and frequent interaction with prisoners. This means that it's very important that you can be independent, supportive and non-judgemental. The purpose of a prison library is to encourage productive activities and libraries are key to supporting this. Like most libraries, a prison library typically also has some computers.

As a prison librarian, you'd be in charge of supporting literacy development, digital literacy, encouraging self-directed study and helping prisoners find the information they're looking for. You might also cooperate with other prison staff to support particular individuals or run programmes to encourage literacy. You'd also be in charge of any other library staff and volunteers, manage the library's budget and manage stock levels and service delivery.

Academic and research librarian

An academic and research librarian typically works in an educational institution like a university or a further education college. In this role, you'd work closely with academic staff and students to help them find the resources they require to conduct research. You might also help them develop certain research-related skills, such as informing them about information literacy, literature searching, referencing and how copyright law works. You also perform standard librarian duties like managing stock, cataloguing and organisation. In these settings, you're also likely to be in charge of managing access to academic journals and e-resources.

Subject librarian

This is a role that's closely related to that of an academic and research librarian. A subject librarian typically works in a research and academic library or a special collection. They specialise in a particular subject and are an important source of guidance and advice regarding research in that subject. As a subject librarian, you work closely with researchers and other academic staff to ensure that the resources are present and maintained. You might also develop tutorials and other instructions to help new researchers acquaint themselves with the resources available.

Data librarian

A data librarian is an individual who specialises in the management, collection, cataloguing, and use of research data. This is because data is a vital resource for various types of researchers and other academics, and as a data librarian, your job would be to ensure that this data is accessible whilst also being usable. You might also be in charge of developing and implementing a data management plan for the library, helping people with digital literacy and training staff in how to perform similar responsibilities.

How to become a librarian

Most librarians require similar requirements at first, although you may possibly gain additional skills or experience if you want to specialise. To become a librarian, consider following some steps listed below:

1. Get some GCSEs and A-levels

While not all librarian positions require you to have a degree, most are going to require some GCSEs and A-levels to qualify. This can help you get some librarian positions without a lot of experience, such as becoming a library assistant or data officer. There are sometimes specific requirements regarding which subjects are necessary, but in many cases, English and maths are going to be a good idea. If you want to pursue a degree after school, then two or three A-levels are typically going to be necessary.

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2. Complete a university course

If you've got the necessary A-levels for a university course, you can pursue a degree in librarianship or information management. During your studies, you can also volunteer or seek internships at libraries to get some relevant experience. Try to look for courses and degrees that are accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

3. Register with the CILIP (optional)

Not all librarian positions require you to be a member of CILIP, but many of them do. Even if it isn't an explicit requirement, most times it can help your candidacy. This can help you stand out from other candidates when applying for work and potentially increase your earnings. There are various membership levels, such as certification, chartership or even fellowship.

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Librarian salaries

Salaries of librarians can vary significantly depending on your specialisation and your membership to bodies like the CILIP. The national average salary for a librarian is £26,617 per year, although, for a senior librarian, the figure can increase to £32,152 per year. The national average salary for a library assistant is £18,712 per year.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌ Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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