The stereotypical image of the librarian as an awkward introvert shushing patrons at the library couldn’t be further from the truth today. The job has shifted radically from one concerned primarily with books to an exciting career involving diverse collections of print and electronic resources to be used by different groups of people.
Wikipedia defines a librarian as “an information professional trained in library and information science, which is the organization and management of information services or materials for those with information needs.” Using this as a starting point, we can explore the types of activities you might encounter in a librarian job description.
Major Types of Libraries
First, there are various types of librarian jobs, most commonly in academic, public and school libraries. But librarians and information professionals also work for corporations, law firms, museums, government organizations and hospitals and medical centers. (This is collectively referred to as special librarianship.) Some even set up their own information services business and work directly with clients.
Because of this, the duties of librarians can vary greatly. But while the day-to-day tasks may be different, they do share a core group of key traits and skills, which we will explain next.
Three Categories of Librarian Jobs
A big part of many librarian jobs is user services, also called reference and instructional services, which means helping people find and interact with the information they need.
At a public library, this might mean recommending fiction books based on what the patron has already enjoyed. (This is known as readers’ advisory.) But public librarians also do so much more, including teaching patrons how to search for information on the internet; use software programs and databases; find DVDs and other media; conduct genealogical and historical research; and even write a resume and apply for jobs.
In a college or university library, user services encompasses helping students, faculty and staff through the research process, assisting them in identifying and locating the most useful books, articles, theses, archival materials and specialized resources such as statistics and large data sets. This will often include teaching patrons how to use article indexes, full-text databases and online library catalogs. Most academic reference librarians will also teach classroom instruction sessions relating to research skills, productivity, citation management and much more.
Special librarians help businesses and organizations with very targeted research needs, often performing market research; identifying and acquiring valuable articles or reports; and distilling information and communicating findings to colleagues in a timely and efficient manner.
In contrast, other librarians work “behind the scenes” in a variety of roles. Technical services librarians acquire and process materials, create and maintain catalog records, and ensure that the library’s resources will be findable and available to users.
Some assist in the identification and selection of appropriate materials for the collection. The job might include working directly with automated library systems and developing a variety of library web-based services and information retrieval mechanisms.
The third major aspect of librarian jobs is administration. This concerns the management of the library, from supervising employees to setting the budget, and often involves negotiating prices and contracts with third-party vendors of databases and library applications. Librarians in administrative positions must also manage library facilities and physical equipment and they often write grants and spearhead fundraising initiatives.
The highest on the library administration chain are Library Directors, who are first-in-command for a library or even an entire library system.
To Wrap Up
Many librarian jobs will include duties from more than one of these major areas. It’s also important to understand that not every person working in a library is a librarian. Library assistants, technicians and even pages and facilities staff perform vital roles in the library, but they do not have a library science degree and are limited to specific tasks.
All in all, while no two librarian job descriptions are going to be the exactly the same, the type of library and major job category (user services, technical services or administration), will give a good idea of the tasks that the librarian will perform on a daily basis.