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Public Librarian Job Description, Career as a Public Librarian, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Advanced degree

Salary Median—$42,500 per year

Employment Outlook Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Public libraries vary widely in scope and size, according to the needs and financial resources of their communities. The librarians who run these institutions select the books, books on tape, compact discs, government documents, films, audiotapes, videotapes, and Internet databases that they believe will best serve those needs and make best use of the resources available. They must know more than the newest books available; they must also understand the demographics and interests of the users of their libraries.

Large libraries offer librarians a chance to specialize. Acquisitions librarians, for instance, read reviews, examine sample copies, and order new materials for the library. Catalogers describe books according to their subject matter and assign subject headings and classification numbers for card catalogs or online catalogs. Catalogers or their helpers prepare books for filing on shelves according to the systems used by their particular libraries. The Dewey decimal and the Library of Congress classification systems are the ones most commonly used. Reference librarians deal directly with library users, helping them find specific pieces of information or directing them to useful sources. Because they handle questions in person and over the telephone, they must know a wide range of reference sources, including computerized information services and Internet databases. Reference librarians usually have a special desk in the reference or information section of the library.

Some librarians work with specific segments of the community. Children's librarians often prepare displays and conduct weekly story hours designed to interest children in books and library services. They may also offer film programs. Youth services librarians work mainly with junior and senior high school students, helping them learn to use libraries. They suggest books and other materials for pleasure, vocational guidance, and school related projects.

Librarians in public libraries have duties ranging from selecting and ordering materials to assisting library patrons with research. (AP Images.)

Bookmobile librarians work from vans specially designed as mobile libraries, traveling to outlying neighborhoods that lack adequate library services. They select books according to the needs of the communities the bookmobile serves or fulfill requests from their patrons. Other community outreach librarians may serve specific groups, such as those living in nursing homes.

Large library systems are generally administered by sizable staffs made up of specialists. Smaller libraries are staffed by two or three people who do all the specialists' jobs. Library administrators are responsible for the operation and continued funding of their libraries.

Education and Training Requirements

Librarians generally need master's degrees in library science. Graduate programs usually last one year and include a summer of study. Library schools offer courses in the history of books and printing, intellectual freedom, reference tools, and user services. Because most libraries now have automated systems, almost all library schools offer courses in information storage and retrieval, microcomputer technology, and the use of online information retrieval systems. Advanced courses may be taken in specialties such as children's or adult services; classification, cataloging, and indexing; library administration; library automation; and archives.

Some schools offer doctoral programs in library science. Doctorates are often prerequisites for top administrators in large library systems. Undergraduate study in the liberal arts, including English, foreign languages, data processing, and business, as well as part time library work as technical or clerical assistants, may prove useful. Some graduate schools offer two year work-study programs that enable students to get work experience while they are in school.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to local libraries. School placement offices, private and state employment services, professional associations and journals, newspapers ads, and Internet job sites are all sources of employment leads.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Librarians can advance within their own library system or move to larger or more specialized libraries. Most top level jobs are administrative and often require doctorates. Librarians with doctorates may also become teachers of library science.

Employment of librarians is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. The increased use of computerized systems and budget constraints may be crucial factors. Job seekers can anticipate stiff competitions for positions, most of which will open up when experienced workers retire or leave the field. Opportunities may be best in rural areas.

Working Conditions

Public libraries, particularly newer facilities, are generally pleasant and quiet places to work. Specific duties affect the conditions of work. For example, catalogers spend most of their day working in one place, while reference librarians move about the library helping people find information. Reference librarians work under pressure when patrons need information quickly. Most librarians work between thirty five and forty hours per week, including some evenings and weekends.

Where to Go for More Information

American Library Association
50 E. Huron St.
Chicago, IL 60611-2795
(800) 545-2433

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries of public librarians vary by location, size of library, education, and experience. In 2004 the median salary of librarians working for local governments was $42,500 per year. The average salary for federal government librarians in all positions, including supervisory and managerial, was $74,630 per year. Most public librarians can expect paid vacations of three or four weeks a year, as well as paid holidays, sick leave, health insurance, and pension plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesEducation & Training