What Does a Librarian Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a woman sitting at a desk with a stack of books beside her, a phone, a computer, and a certificate on the wall behind her. Text reads:

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon © The Balance 2019

Librarians select informational resources, organize them, and teach people how to use them effectively. Many work with the public, while others are behind the scenes in technical support or in administration.

Although librarians, who are also referred to as information professionals, have traditionally worked with printed resources, they've kept up with ever-evolving technology and have incorporated electronic resources such as online databases and e-books.

Librarian Duties & Responsibilities

Librarians are responsible for a wide range of duties:

  • Understand general library practices as well as the practices of the specific library where they work.
  • Respond to requests in person, over the phone, or via email to answer questions and locate information.
  • Teach a variety of skills to students, particularly research skills.
  • Keep up with information management trends.
  • Create and publish web-based content including research tutorials, subject guides, course guides, promotional spots, and information pieces.
  • Manage patron access to resources.

Librarians help people find the information they need, whether it's the answer to a question about paying quarterly business taxes or the latest collection of short stories by a favorite author. They also empower patrons by teaching them how to find the information on their own.

Librarian Salary

The highest-paid librarians tend to work for colleges and universities. Hourly wages are based on a 40-hour workweek.

  • Median Annual Salary: $59,050 ($28.39/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $93,050 ($44.74/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $34,630 ($16.65/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

This career typically requires a master's degree and certification.

  • Education: Most librarian jobs in public, academic, or special libraries require a master's in library science (MLS) from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Librarians employed by the federal government must have an MLS. A doctorate in library science is required to teach in a librarian education program or aspire to a top administration position in a college or university. Some librarians, especially those who work in academic settings, have an additional degree in the area in which they specialize.
  • Certification: Most states require public librarians to be certified. Certification for school librarians (also called school media specialists) varies by state. Some states require that they be certified teachers, while others stipulate that they have a master's degree in education with a specialization in library science. Other states require only an MLS.
  • Continuing Education: Many librarians take continuing education classes to keep up with changing technology.

Learn about the requirements in the state in which you plan to work using the License Finder tool from CareerOneStop.

Librarian Skills & Competencies

Specific personal qualities, called soft skills, can contribute to your success as a librarian.

  • A love and affinity for learning: Librarians have to keep abreast of the rapid changes in technology.
  • Strong communication skills: This includes listening, speaking, and interpersonal skills needed to interact with library patrons as well as function as part of a team. Strong customer service skills are also needed.
  • Initiative: Librarians work independently without relying on instruction from others.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this field will grow as fast as the average for all occupations, at about 9%, from 2016 to 2026. Communities are finding new and innovative uses for libraries, which results in more staff hiring.

Work Environment

Librarians can spend a fair amount of time on the library floor and on their feet when assisting patrons, but the majority of the work time is spent in an office or at the circulation desk. Some might travel to other sites occasionally.

Work Schedule

Librarian jobs are usually full-time. It's not uncommon to work weekends, evenings, and holidays. School librarians might have summers off if they work for a college or university that doesn't offer summer classes. Librarians in law libraries or who work for corporations might occasionally work overtime to handle pressing deadlines.

How to Get the Job

APPLY

The ALA offers many resources for finding library job openings on its website.

WRITE A TARGETED RESUME AND COVER LETTER

Create a resume and cover letter that play up your strengths and set you apart from other candidates.

REHEARSE COMMONLY ASKED INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Human resources representatives and hiring managers often ask the same types of questions when conducting interviews. To prepare for your interview, learn what those questions are and practice the best responses to them.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs call for more extensive — or less extensive — education, and they pay accordingly. Figures given are median annual salaries: