Cassandra Pinkston, Interim Director
Professional Duties of a Librarian
Librarians’ duties vary, but no matter the task, the job comes down to one priority: Helping people. From ordering books for easy finding to coordinating programming such as children’s reading hours, librarians are responsible for making libraries an important community resource.
Customer service is central to librarians’ duties. Patrons who need help tracking down information, conducting research or learning to use library resources stop at the librarian’s desk for guidance. Explaining library policies and handling patron complaints is part of the job as well. Customer-service work varies by library type. School librarians teach children to use library resources. Government librarians provide research services for staffers of public agencies. Law librarians locate and organize legal information for law students, judges and attorneys. Medical librarians track down details on clinical trials and health treatments for consumers, doctors and researchers. Academic librarians teach classes on research and help people with information needs.
Libraries are community resources, so librarians have a duty to develop outreach programs for neighborhood residents and businesses. Librarians plan and oversee community newsletters and special services for corporate clients, nonprofits or other groups. They also set up storytelling hours and other events for children. Finally, they put together and teach classes on topics including literacy, library instruction and technology use.
Ordering and cataloging information is where the “science” comes in library science. Librarian duties include organizing library materials so patrons can easily find what they need. Assembling and indexing databases of library materials is also part of the librarian’s role. Some librarians specialize in technical services, where they obtain, prepare and classify new materials. Technical services librarians often have less contact with the public.
Librarians have a number of administrative duties. Library budgets are their responsibility. They also hire, train and manage library staff, including technicians and assistants. If the library needs computers, copiers or other new equipment, librarians research products and make purchasing decisions. They also negotiate contracts for materials and equipment. The smaller the library, the bigger the range of administrative responsibilities a librarian has. At larger libraries, most management tasks fall to librarians who specialize in administrative services.
Fulfilling the duties of a librarian requires several skill sets. Interpersonal and communications skills help librarians understand what patrons need. Computer skills are essential, because library management and cataloging are mostly electronic. Librarians use problem-solving skills to find solutions to patrons’ questions. Reading comprehension is a must as well, because the job requires reading to track down information. Also, the library sector evolves constantly to match new technologies. To handle change, librarians must be adaptable, and able to apply knowledge to new practices.
To become a librarian, you need extensive postsecondary education. A bachelor’s degree in any major will get you into a graduate program in library science, where you earn the master’s degree required for most librarian jobs. A graduate degree in library science trains aspiring librarians in areas such as selecting and processing materials, organizing information and research methods. The American Library Association accredited 56 U.S. programs in the field as of 2011. Some librarian jobs require additional training. School librarians in most states need a teaching certificate or license. Librarians in law, corporate or medical libraries need knowledge or an advanced degree in the field in which they work.