Librarian Qualifications

In order to become a librarian, you almost always need to have a Master’s degree in library science (MLS; often called a Master’s in Library and Information Science).

First, to clarify, this requirement refers solely to librarian jobs, and there are many positions available within a library that will not need an advanced degree. These include library assistants and technicians, where the qualifications will usually range from a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree plus some previous experience and computer skills.

For librarian jobs, however, which involve advanced research, instruction, technical services and administration, the Master’s will be required the vast majority of the time.

Education: Getting a Library Degree

In order to apply to library school, you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree. The good thing is there are no requirements on the major, and people come into librarianship from a wide variety of fields of study. The GRE exam is often required, but not always, so be sure to check in with a particular school when you are looking to apply. You also may need a particular GPA (such as a 3.0 average) over a particular period of undergraduate study.

In addition, many graduate schools in Library and Information Science have some computer literacy requirements, where applicants must be competent in areas like database searching, word processing, and computer file management. There are also other skills, including webpage creation and basic Unix, that are often learned early on in an LIS program.

Most library schools are accredited by the American Library Association, and you should always check to make sure before applying, as a degree from an accredited school is almost always required in job applications.

Library programs typically last from 1-2 years, although it is common for professionals who are switching careers or gaining new skills to take it at a slower pace while keeping their previous employment. In addition to on-campus programs, there is an increasing amount of online programs where you can get your degree from distance.

As far as actual coursework at library school, it depends on the particular program. Some are more heavily weighted towards issues in traditional librarianship while others embrace information systems, technology, and automation. No matter where you go, however, you will have a general course in the foundations of library and information science and some coverage of the ethics and societal issues relating to access to information. Most of the time, the majority of the courses will be electives, and range from special collections and the history of the book to database design, web architecture and computer programming.

You should always keep in mind your preferred career path when taking courses. If you are interested in user services, for example, be sure to take courses in reference and instruction. Many students supplement their classroom activities with work experience in local public academic or special libraries, either as graduate assistants, hourly staff, interns or even volunteers.

If you are interested in literacy and education, there also might be other paths that interest you other than librarianship. Another route future librarians can pursue for education, aside from a Masters in Library Science, is online graduate programs in education and literacy.

Additional Librarian Qualifications

In addition to the master’s degree, certain librarian jobs will require other qualifications. Academic librarians specializing in a particular area, such as European Literature or engineering, will often need a bachelor’s or advanced degree in that subject area. A law librarian will usually need to have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. For most jobs, however, the MLS will suffice. Of course, more advanced positions will require previous library experience, and time worked while a student can sometimes be counted. Be sure to check directly with the employer if there is any confusion.

School librarians often have very different requirements, which vary by state. Only in some states do they require an MLS, but teacher certifications are usually required.

In general, the more technical skills you have, the better in terms of being qualified for librarian jobs. Good things to study are website design, databases, web programming and computer networking.

Finally, when it comes down to actually applying for a job, be sure you present your qualifications well. For example, you should understand the difference between a CV and a resume, especially for academic librarian jobs, and practice explaining your relevant qualifications and skills in an interview situation.