What is Library Science? Careers and Degrees

Explore the types of careers and degrees available in the field of library science, including wages, job growth projections, and more.
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Updated on January 2, 2024
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  • Library science is a field of study dealing with information resources in libraries.
  • The field of library science includes careers like librarian, archivist, and museum worker.
  • A bachelor's or master's degree in library science can lead to better pay.
  • Jobs for archivists, curators, and museum workers are in demand.

Even in the digital age, where any information is a few clicks away, libraries remain vital. They provide access to resources and allow people to come together, learn, and improve their literacy skills.

Library science careers involve collecting, preserving, and organizing information. Library science graduates can find work in libraries, museums, and schools. They can also pursue careers with government agencies and corporations.

This page explores the types of careers for library science students, the skills a library science degree teaches, and resources available to library science professionals.

What is Library Science?

Library science is a field of study dealing with information resources in libraries. It involves many disciplines, such as the humanities, law, and applied science. If you study library science, you can become a librarian or work in non-academic jobs, such as in archives, information centers, and museums.

Key aspects of library science include:

  • Information Organization: Library science involves organizing and cataloging information for easy retrieval and access. This includes creating bibliographic records, developing classification systems, and implementing metadata standards.
  • Collection Development: Librarians manage books, journals, multimedia, and electronic materials in libraries. They evaluate what users need, review resources, and decide what to include in collections.
  • Reference and Information Services: Librarians help people find and use information by providing reference and information services. They help with research, answer questions, and provide tips for using information resources.
  • Information Literacy: Library science promotes information literacy by teaching ways to evaluate, find, and use information. Librarians also help users improve their information literacy skills through instructional programs.
  • Digital Libraries and Information Systems: Because of digital technologies, library science now includes digital libraries, electronic resources, and information systems. Librarians handle online collections, use digital library systems, and test new technologies to improve information gathering.
  • Preservation and Conservation: Library science focuses on preserving physical and digital materials for long-term accessibility. Librarians use methods to take care of important resources, such as storing them properly and digitizing them.
  • User Services and Outreach: Librarians make sure library programs and initiatives meet the needs of different people. They network, create literacy programs, and partner with others to promote access to information.

Is Getting a Degree in Library Science Worth It?

A library science degree often leads to better pay and more job options, like many other careers. For example, most librarians need a master's degree in library science. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for librarians was $61,660 in May 2022.

Other library science jobs, like archivist, curator, and museum worker, also need a library science bachelor's or master's degree. They also typically make more than the median annual wage for all occupations of $46,310.

Library technicians, who do not typically need a degree, often earn the lowest pay among all educational instruction and library jobs.

Median Annual Salary for Library Science Careers
Job Title Median Annual Wage Typical Entry-Level Education
Librarians and Library Media Specialists $61,660 Master's Degree
Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers $53,420 Bachelor's or Master's Degree
Library Technician and Assistants $35,280 Postsecondary Certificate
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Library Science Career Paths

You can pursue different career paths within the field of library science. For example, medical librarians collaborate with scientists, researchers, and medical professionals to access and gather data. School librarians support children and adolescents with their assignments.

The four concentrations below are common among library science programs. Availability varies by school and program.

Archival Studies

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Archival studies students learn how to organize and protect old documents, so everyone can read them. They apply these techniques during internships with experienced archivists' supervision. Graduates can pursue careers at local, state, and federal archives, as well as with preservation societies.

Information Organization

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An information organization concentration emphasizes cataloging and indexing skills. Students can apply these in-demand skills at libraries and companies that work with large amounts of data. This concentration often features fieldwork experiences and courses in information architecture, thesaurus construction, and database management systems.

Information Technology

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Information technology (IT) students become experts in using and managing libraries' technology services. Courses within an IT concentration may study digital libraries, web and mobile content development, and information systems analysis and design. Popular career opportunities include search engine engineer, emerging technologies specialist, and integrated library systems manager.

Public Library

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Those interested in becoming public librarians study topics such as collection management and legal matters. Students intern at public libraries in their local communities. After graduating, you can work in public libraries as information services specialists, outreach coordinators, or patron services managers.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Interview With a Library Science Professional

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Catherine Pellegrino

Catherine Pellegrino is a reference and instruction librarian at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana. She earned her master's degree in library science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004 and held a position as a library fellow at North Carolina State University for two years before moving to her current position.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in library science? Is it something that you were always interested in?

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I decided to build a career in library science because it gave me an opportunity to work with and help people, while also working with technology and learning about new subjects every day. I work at an academic library, so in my case, most of the people I work with are college students and faculty.

But many librarians work in public libraries with children, older adults and retirees, young parents — basically anyone who lives in their city or county and goes to the library. Other librarians work at special libraries, such as at corporate headquarters doing research to support their companies, or in law or medical offices managing information resources to support lawyers and medical professionals.

I'd been going to libraries since I was a small child, but it took me until I tried a few different things first to realize that making my career in a library would be a good fit, and that is not unusual. Lots of librarians are making a transition from a different career or majored in a different area entirely when they were in college.

How is a library science program different from other college majors?

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To be a professional librarian, you need a master's degree in library science. There are a few undergraduate programs in related fields, like information science, but the important credential is the master's degree.

The coursework covers traditional library subjects like referencing (helping people at an information or research desk) and cataloging, but you can also take additional courses like archival studies and rare books, children's librarianship, database design, web design, user experience, and scholarly communication.

Most programs also have a strong internship, work-study, or practicum element. The best way to learn how to be a librarian is to work in a library, so library schools try to make sure that their graduates have some practical work experience before they graduate.

What was the job search like after completing your degree?

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My first position after I completed my degree was a two-year fellowship program at a nearby university where I got to work with several different departments on a variety of different projects. I was fortunate in that I had that position lined up before I graduated, so I knew that as long as I finished the program successfully, I was set up for a good position immediately.

Knowing that I had to finish the program in order to secure the position also motivated me to do as well as I could in my final semester. It also helped that I had done an internship at that large university as part of my graduate coursework, so the people who were hiring for the fellowship program knew me already and knew that I could be successful in the fellowship program.

Having that practical, on-the-job experience before I graduated really helped with the job search.

Why did you decide to work at a university? Is this a common career path for those with a library science degree?

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I decided to work at a university because I really enjoyed working with college students but did not want the pressure to publish and do research that goes along with being a faculty member. I love getting to work on different subjects every day and helping students learn to do research and find and work with information.

Lots of librarians go into academic libraries at colleges and universities, but many more work in public libraries of all sizes, from tiny one-room libraries in small towns to huge metropolitan research libraries in our largest cities. The work of these libraries and librarians is vital in their communities and can be some of the most rewarding library work anywhere.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job? The most challenging?

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The best part of my job is when I'm working with a student and I'm able to show them something that saves them a lot of time in doing research, or I'm able to introduce them to an information source that they didn't know about.

It's also really rewarding when I can help a professor design an assignment that helps students learn something about how information works and how they can not just use information but also create new information themselves.

The most challenging aspect of my job is never having enough money in our budget to purchase all the books, journals, and electronic resources that our users need. This is true of any library, really. Nobody has infinite money in their budget to buy every possible resource that's out there.

But especially in academic libraries, the prices of scholarly journals are rising much faster than inflation, and our budgets are often flat, so in practical terms that means that we often have to cut resources. It challenges us to use our budgets creatively and strategically and to negotiate from a position of strength with publishers and vendors.

What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a degree and career in library science?

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The first piece of advice I have is to work in a library! Get some practical experience working in a library, even as a volunteer in your local public library, before you commit to going to graduate school and getting a master's degree.

Make sure that you like the work (it isn't all reading books all day — in fact, many of us do very little with books) and the work environment before you make the leap.

My second piece of advice once you're enrolled in a library science program is to work in a library! Make sure that you get an internship or a practicum or a work-study job in a library so that you have some experience to put on your resume when you go out looking for a job.

If you can arrange it so that you have a tangible project that you organized and had ownership of that you can talk about in interviews, even better. Employers want to see evidence of what you can do.

Any final thoughts for us?

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I really want to encourage people from all backgrounds to consider librarianship as a career. As a field, we need to reflect the communities we serve, and librarians from historically underrepresented communities bring experience and values to the profession that our patrons really need.

Our field is stronger when the perspectives that librarians bring to it are more diverse. Whether we're working with university professors; young children getting ready to read; professionals in law, medicine, or business; or older adults, we need people with all kinds of experiences to do this work and to share their unique perspectives with the communities that we serve.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Library Science in Demand?

Some careers in the field of library science are in demand. The BLS projects jobs for archivists, curators, and museum workers to grow by 10% from 2022-2032, a much faster rate than all other occupations. Job growth projections for librarians and library media specialists is 3%, about the same as the average for all occupations.

However, the BLS projects jobs for library technicians and assistants to decline by 6% from 2022-2032.

How Do You Advance Your Career in Library Science?

Professionals in library science can advance by earning certifications and taking online courses. Professional certifications prove experience in library science and enhance participants' existing skills. Some states also require licensure for public and school librarians.

Library workers, whether new or experienced, can also grow by taking continuing education courses. These courses provide access to up-to-date and specialized library skills and knowledge.

How Do You Change Careers to Library Science?

When transitioning to a career in library science, experience is a good first step. People who want to work in libraries, museums, or archives can gain insight by volunteering. They can be aides, docents, or assistants.

To work in most libraries, you usually need a master's degree in library science. School librarians can enter the profession with a teaching degree. Specialized coursework in library-related topics can help increase their chances of success.

People with academic research experience, IT professionals, and social workers can also transition to library jobs. Open courseware and certificate programs can help ease this switch.

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