From the day we start school (if not earlier), libraries are an integral part of our lives. Surrounded by book titles that cover nearly every conceivable subject, the mind begins to broaden, and one’s own tastes and preferences can come to light, often for the first time.
Despite their reliable existence at every stage of our lives, though, most of us don’t give any thought to the people who make sure our libraries run in the first place. What sort of person is drawn to such a curious lending and borrowing organization? The following guide should help answer any questions you might have about what a career in library science entails, how to get started, and what to expect when you actually start applying for work.
Part I. The Library Science Industry
Many people are surprised to learn that a career as a librarian requires years of schooling, and in most cases a master’s degree in Library Sciences. The field is also very competitive, and becoming even tougher as libraries shut down, or cut staff due to budget shortfalls. However, technology has also caused the role of a librarian to change dramatically in recent decades. In many cases, filing systems have become entirely digitized, and the growing importance of data collection and examination has actually lead to many new opportunities for tech-savvy individuals.
Careers in Library Science
- Archives and Preservation: Archivists appraise, edit, and maintain permanent records and historically valuable documents. Often working in museums, government agencies, and colleges and universities, archivists and preservationists may also find employment within private corporations and other institutions requiring experts to preserve important records.
- Metadata Librarian: Metadata Librarians provide information technology about files and knowledge management services at a particular organization. Their tasks often focus on creation and maintenance of the complex filing systems and communication processes of a company or organization. Metadata librarianship might be a good fit for an individual who truly loves organization, but it should be noted that it often requires a particularly keen and analytical mind to keep track of the staggering amount of data.
- Library Technician: Library technicians assist librarians by acquiring, preparing, and organizing materials, as well as performing other tasks needed to run a library. Their duties and work environment are not unlike a librarian’s, though a library technician won’t require a Master’s degree. In fact, some library technician positions only require a high school diploma. That said, median hourly wage for the position was only $12.66 in 2010, and opportunities for advancement are not as robust as they are for those who hold a library science degree.
- Information Services Librarian: Often employed in corporate or government facilities, IS librarians assist with customers’ questions, synchronizing data reports and filing information. They often work closely with IT specialists to ensure data is properly stored and filed.
- Law Librarian: Law librarians work in legal settings such as law schools, private law firms, and government libraries. For those who are specifically interested in a career as a law librarian, a law degree may be insufficient without an accompanying MLS degree. That said, those ambitious enough to achieve both a JD and MLS will find themselves heavily favored in a competitive marketplace for both legal and library-related fields.
- School Library Media: Library media specialists work collaboratively with teachers, administrators and others to facilitate students’ use of information, research tools and communication technology. The goal of the library’s media specialist is to assist students in becoming active and creative research evaluators and research problem solvers.
Salary and Career Outlook
The median annual wage of librarians was $54,000 in May 2010, with the lowest 10% earning less that $33,590 and the top 10% earning more than $83,510.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that employment of librarians is expected to grow by 7% from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. While there will continue to be a need for librarians to manage libraries and help patrons dig up information, the BLS states that “as electronic resources become more common, patrons and support staff will be more comfortable using them, so fewer librarians will be needed for assistance. State, local, and federal budget limitations are also expected to hinder job growth for librarians.
That said, digital data collections is expected to accelerate in both the private and public sector; this will likely increase the need for librarians and other related career options in fields like archives and preservation, statistics, and information media. Employment for archivists, for example, is projected to grow 12% by the end of the decade; this percentage is on par with the average for all occupations.
Part II. Top U.S. Library Science Programs
University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign
Located in the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign in east-central Illinois, U of I is host to more than 1,000 student organizations and the largest Greek system in the world. In the midst of this active student environment is the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, often ranked the best LIS school in the nation.
- Accreditation: The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission’s North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
- Specialized Degrees: Certificate in Community Informatics, Specialization in Data Curation, K-12 School Librarianship, Socio-technical Data Analytics, Special Collections Certificate
- Industry Perception: The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s school of library and information science i consistently ranked among the top LIS schools in the UN. Since its inception, it has regularly ranked number one by US News and World Report among library and information science programs.
- Cost: $14,428 in-state tuition, $28,570 out-of-state.
- Financial Aid: Financial support includes graduate assistantships, scholarships and fellowships. The school awards aid based on factors like field of study and financial need. The school also recognizes a number of scholarships and fellowships for academic excellence.
University of Washington
A leading member of the iSchool movement, UW serves as a model for academic institutions around the globe looking to emphasize the role of technologies through which information is delivered. The school focuses on social and technical problems that link users of information and designers of information systems.
- Accreditation: The school is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and is a member of the Association of American Universities. The Library & Information Science graduate program has been accredited by the American Library Association since 1926.
- Specialized Degrees: Residential Masters of Library and Information Sciences, Online MLIS, Law Librarianship.
- Industry Perception: With an accredited LIS program since 1926, University of Washington is today recognized as one of the most extensive ALA-accredited degree programs in the US. Their curriculum is viewed as emphasising the theoretical foundations of library and information science, and is often viewed favorably by potential employers. With their large role in the iSchool movement, they are also seen as a strong choice for those looking to strengthen their understanding of technology in LIS.
- Cost: $10,574 in-state tuition, $28,058 out-of-state
- Financial Aid: 60% of University of Washington undergraduates receive $400 million in financial aid each year. Academic scholarships, grants, work study programs and loans are all offered to UW students.
Library science majors at Syracuse University will study as part of the School of Information Studies. The school, part of the iSchool movement, is focused on five basic themes: Information and Telecommunications Management, Information in the Marketplace, Information Representation and Retrieval, Human-Information Interaction, and Information and Society.
- Accreditation: The Library and Information Sciences department is accredited by the American Library Association, while the greater university is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the Commission on Higher Education.
- Specialized Degrees: B.S. in Information Management & Technology, B.S. in Systems and Information Science, M.S. in Library and Information Science, M.S. in Library and Information Scien School Media, M.S. in Information Management.
- Industry Perception: With a library science degree program that stretches back over a century, Syracuse University’s LIS program is regularly ranked among the top American Library Association accredited programs. The university’s broader School of Information Studies was recently ranked second in digital librarianship by U.S. News & World Report.
- Cost: As of 2012-13, $39,004 annually, including tuition and fees.
- Financial Aid: Master’s level students are eligible to apply for merit-based awards from Syracuse University and the iSchool, with some awards directed toward specific populations such as library and information science students. The School of Information Studies (iSchool) also offers a selective 50% tuition scholarship program, enabling high performing and ambitious students to attend the SU iSchool. Need-based financial scholarships and other university awards are also available.
University of Michigan
With high-quality academics as well as athletics, the student-body at U of M is well-known for their school pride. The school’s library science department is a part of the larger School of Information, and thus library science students should be prepared to learn about information and communication concerns in general, in addition to library science.
- Accreditation: The School of Information is accredited by the American Library Association, while the greater university itself is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
- Specialized Degrees: Master of Science in Information, Specializations in: Archives and Records Management, Human Computer Interaction, Information Analysis and Retrieval, Library and Information Science, Preservation of Information, School Library Media
- Industry Perception: U of M is a highly regarded school throughout the globe, and its Library Science degree has a long history. Though it is currently part of the School of Information, it began as the Department of Library Science in 1926; in 1928, it became the third school in the nation to receive American Library Association accreditation. The name of the department was changed in 1996 to reflect dramatic changes in the information field, though the school is still widely viewed as an excellent choice for aspiring librarians and information science majors.
- Cost: $13,437 in-state tuition, $39,109 out-of-state for the 2012 – 2013 school year.
- Financial Aid: The UMSI offers scholarships for merit and diversity, as well as a number of assistantships. UMSI master’s students have also been successful in applying for external scholarships like the American Library Association Spectrum Scholarships, ARMA International Educational Foundation Scholarships and Society of American Archivist Scholarships, among others. All external tuition scholarship awards are eligible for matching funds from UMSI, up to a maximum of $10,000.
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
This suburban school is divided into a number of schools and colleges. The UNC School of Information and Library Science is a research-driven school, and over the past two decades it has broadened its reach beyond scholarly publishing.
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctor’s and Professional degrees.
- Specialized Degrees: Bachelor of Science in Information Science, Masters in Library Science, Masters in Information Science, Post-Masters Certificate in Information and Library Science, PhD in Information and Library Science.
- Industry Perception: The School of Information and Library Science is regularly among the most highly ranked schools by U.S. News and World Report. UNC Chapel Hill is also an iSchool, suggesting it is a sound choice for individuals looking for careers in any area of information and data management.
- Cost: $7,694 in-state tuition, $28,446 out-of-state tuition, as of 2012-13 academic year.
- Financial Aid: Aid options include need-based and merit-based aid, as well as fellowships, service awards and assistantships, as well as residence hall staff positions and other work opportunities.
Part III. Launching a Career in Library Science
Cover Letters and Resumés – A librarian’s resume should list any degrees and accreditation as most library positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, and many also require a master’s. Prior experience with information systems management, particularly regarding computers and technology, can be very valuable as libraries and information in general are rapidly becoming digitized. However, positions or experience relating to communication can also be beneficial, as much of a librarian’s work often involves teaching and sharing knowledge with library patrons.
Personal Branding – Cultivating a reputation for strong communication skills, as well as proficiency for analytic thinking and problem-solving, can go a long way towards selling yourself in the library science industry. Above all, though, an evident love of knowledge, and particularly the desire to share knowledge with others, will suggest to associates and potential employers that you are a strong candidate.
5 Tips from Giants in Library Science
- Just bite the bullet – pretty much everyone entering the profession now who is in it for the long haul, either has or will soon acquire a Masters in Library and Information Management or similar. It is expensive and time consuming, it’s of questionable value, and it won’t necessarily prepare you for the proper world of working in libraries – but for now it’s absolutely essential. - Ned Potter, Academic Librarian, University of York
- When you are applying for jobs, spend an insane amount of time on the library website: do a lit review of librarians (for academic positions) and make sure you address the required and desired qualifications of the position, as many libraries rank you based on demonstrating those requirements. - Tiffini A. Travis, Member of the library faculty at CSU Long Beach, Director of Information Literacy and Outreach Services
- It’s the same for every profession – many of the old opportunities are simply going away. But at the same time, many other opportunities based on specific skill sets are opening up. The smart move? Make like a Boy Scout and be prepared: do your homework, be realistic about what may happen tomorrow, learn what you need to learn, and take charge of your career. - Bobbi Newman, author of the blog, Librarian by Day, member of the OITP Advisory Committee, and member of the advisory board of the Pew Internet and American Life research on Libraries in the Digital Age
- If this is the profession you really, truly want to be in — and I mean, you can’t see yourself doing anything else — you have to become active. You cannot be that student who slips into class, stays silent, and goes home after, never to be seen until your next class. First of all, your professors will never know you, and therefore will not be the best to turn to for recommendations. - Lauren Dodd Hall, Librarian at Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center at Maxwell Air Force Base, AL
- I always follow-up with a thank-you e-mail to the person conducting the hiring. I think this practice has greater value in the private sector than in academia, but it’s still a nice way to reiterate your interest in the position, and to express your appreciation for the opportunity to come in for an interview. And really, it’s true: Regardless of the outcome, I learned a lot about how to interview effectively, how I might improve for my next interview, and what goes on during the hiring process at a university library. - Meghan Ecclestone, Business Librarian, Bronfman Business Library
Sharing Knowledge as Profession
With the explosion of the Internet and personal web-browsing, knowledge has become more of a commodity than ever before. For library science professionals who facilitate the acquisition of knowledge for others, the coming of years could prove to be a fascinating time. And as the influence of technology continues to grow, the role of libraries and librarians is expected to change even more in the coming years.