Career Advice: The New Librarian

by | March 10, 2009

When you hear the word "librarian," several stereotypes probably come to mind. Perhaps a mousy spinster dusting off ancient tomes in the basement, or a stone-faced authoritarian type cautioning everyone to shush or get out of the library. Either way, prepare to throw those images out the window. The face of library science (yes, it's a science) is changing, and library careers are changing along with it.

In democratizing access to information, and increasing the sheer amount of it that's out there, the Internet has transformed the way librarians work. Some people may think that the Internet has rendered librarians obsolete. Not so. Librarians are incorporating changing technologies into their work to help people find the information they need as efficiently as possible.

The MLS
To qualify for most librarian positions, you'll need a Master's degree in Library Science (MLS), a Masters in Information Management, or some other permutation of "Library", "Science", "Information", "Systems", and "Management". Though a whole host of institutions offer MLS programs, only 50 schools are recognized by the American Library Association. These include Syracuse University, Indiana University, The University of Michigan, and UCLA (for the full list, visit the ALA Web site. The typical curriculum is more tech-savvy than ever, including courses in web development, computer programming, and Human-Computer interaction. In fact, many schools, offer joint master's degrees in library science and computer science.

Career Options
All librarians need to have a broad knowledge of information sources, and keep up with trends in technology, publishing and media. One of their most important assets of course, is the ability to help people find the kind of information. This means keeping up with books, periodicals and other materials related to specific fields. Typical librarian jobs can be broken down into three parts - technical services, user services, and administrative services. Technical services cover the acquisition and organization of information for public use. "User services" refers to interaction with the public to help them determine where to look for information, how to use the various resources available, and how to conduct efficient searches. "Administrative Services" are the basic responsibilities encountered in any business - hiring and managing employees, managing the library and its budget, directing PR and fundraising campaigns, and sourcing products and services. The larger the library, the more specialized each job can be.

Best if all, aspiring librarians are not limited to working in public or academic libraries. So-called "Special Librarians" maintain information for major corporations, law firms, advertising agencies, museums, hospitals/medical centers, research labs and government agencies. In short, if there's an industry you find interesting, MLS skills are probably needed there.

Those more interested in the technical side of Library Science can opt for careers designing and maintaining the computer systems used by librarians. Common job titles include Webmaster, Database Manager, Information Architect, and Information Specialist.

A career option for more entrepreneurial types is information brokerage - where professionals work on a contract basis to gather and organize information for clients in various industries.

Because MLS skills are so marketable, many career changers choose Library Science. It allows those who wish to remain in their industries to explore another side of the business (for example, a burnt-out lawyer might prefer the environment in a law library), but also offers industry changers entree into new fields. According to US News, 40 percent of students in MLS programs are over 35

SalariesAccording to the Special Libraries Association Salary Survey, in 1999, the average "Special" Librarian or Information Specialist made about $45k. The typical Systems Librarian/Webmaster made $54k, a Director or Manager made $58k, and a Chief Information Officer/VP pulled in about $83k. For the same year, the BLS reports that female librarians, archivists and curators reported salaries of $33-34k, and their male counterparts reported annual salaries around $39k.

To learn more about library science, check out the American Library Association.

Filed Under: Job Search


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