Librarians are the custodians of our culture’s retrievable media—books and audio and
visual materials—and other data or physical objects that can be catalogued and stored. The
modern librarian is the manager of an enormous warehouse, and people rely on him or her
to help them navigate the increasingly voluminous world of data.
Research and computer skills are important; therefore, people who are generally less
comfortable with computers find the transition to online archives much more difficult. Be
prepared to work under real deadlines and significant pressure; individuals with corporate
library jobs will find that although the
salaries are higher, “if you can’t do the job
when they really need you, they’ll show you
the door.” Librarians who specialize in medicine or law will find their professions more
lucrative than general librarians, but the books won’t be the kind you take home and read for
a little relaxation. Especially for specialists, graduate studies prove invaluable for a successful
transition to working life.
A librarian spends more than 60 percent of his or her day working with people, either
library patrons or other staffers and back-office workers. Strong interpersonal skills are
required for individuals who hope to succeed in this field. “You’ve got to be polite even when
you want to break someone’s neck, which happens Monday morning about 10 and lasts
through Saturday at four,” said one 15-year veteran of the St. Louis public library system.
Librarians also work closely with their colleagues; they loan books, advise one another, and
discuss daily work issues on a regular basis. More than 50 percent of our respondents called
their professional community “supportive.”
“I’m surrounded by books all day, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted,” reported one happy
librarian. A librarian does far more than sit at the desk and check books in and out of the
library. A large part of his or her job is research. The most-cited positive feature about being
a librarian was the sense of continuous education. Librarians are challenged daily to find creative
ways of retrieving a different information; and how well they can satisfy these requests
determines their success and satisfaction in the profession.
A bachelor’s degree is required, and a master’s in library science is a plus; PhDs are becoming
more common among professional librarians, as well. Some states require certification.
Only 59 schools offering graduate degrees are accredited by the American Library Association,
so check before you enroll. Graduate classwork includes classification, cataloging, computer
courses, and reference work. Some graduate programs require students to know a foreign language.
A strong sense of current events and contemporary themes is helpful. A sense of aesthetics
helps, too; it is not unusual for a librarian to design a library exhibit. Individuals wishing to
become school librarians must also complete any teaching certifications required.
Librarians often move into specializations of information science, in acquisitions, cataloging,
reference, and special collections. Others become antiquarians, antiques dealers, or
collectors, or transfer their skills to the corporate arena by becoming research specialists.
Others become consultants in their areas of specialization or perhaps library directors, who
make personnel and staffing decisions, track inventory, set and follow a budget, and oversee
the general operations of the library.