Librarians provide an invaluable service by answering visitor questions, supporting research projects, and educating communities. Although their jobs may seem simple to library patrons, librarians provide complex and vital services that typically require a master's education.
If you are interested in a library science career, it is beneficial to start preparing and searching for a job early. This guide covers important information about library science careers, including various library industries, relevant degree options, and potential jobs and salaries for library science graduates.
Skills Gained in a Library Science Program
Library science students learn skills in the classroom from experienced librarians and apply those skills through hands-on experiences, such as internships and practica. The five skills below represent common competencies that library science students gain and use throughout their careers.
The best library science programs instruct students on the latest technological advances and how they apply to different jobs. Students learn how to help patrons with technology and use it to create documents, publications, and simple programs.
Librarians need keen reading skills to stay up to date on best practices in the field as well as to make thoughtful recommendations to library patrons. Library science students hone reading skills by analyzing complex texts and completing research projects.
Problem-solving skills allow librarians to identify problems, consider possible solutions, and commit to an action plan. Employers desire applicants with strong problem-solving skills who can work independently with minimal supervision.
Librarians who take the initiative to further their educations or execute projects without prompting are coveted by employers. Therefore, employees with strong initiative typically obtain the most in-demand positions and increase their salary potential.
Librarians use communication skills to collaborate with peers and help patrons find relevant information. Librarians with excellent communication skills foster a sense of community in the library, which ensures that it remains a valued and active institution.
Why Pursue a Career in Library Science?
Library science careers provide dynamic work environments, opportunities to help others, and the satisfaction that comes with providing knowledge and guidance to communities. Library science careers also offer strong growth potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the need for librarians to grow 9% through 2026.
Library science careers appeal to lifelong learners committed to furthering their education through advanced degrees and continuing education opportunities. Furthering your education also qualifies you to earn or maintain industry and state certifications. Earning a certification can qualify you for desirable jobs and may lead to greater salary potential and career advancement.
How Much Do Library Science Majors Make?
Several factors influence how much library science majors earn, including education and experience. Most public libraries pay librarians based on a salary schedule that awards education and experience. Location also affects salary potential. Larger cities often pay higher salaries than smaller ones, but large cities may also come with a higher cost of living.
The salaries below reflect the national average salaries for librarians at different career stages.
Interview with a Professional
Catherine Pellegrino is a reference and instruction librarian at Saint Mary's College, 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?
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?
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 ranging from archival studies and rare books to children's librarianship to 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?
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?
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?
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?
The first piece of advice I have is: 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?
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.
How to Succeed in Library Science
Librarians typically possess a master's in library science from an accredited university. Librarians who go on to earn doctoral degrees can become postsecondary teachers. Although librarian positions require an advanced degree, associate and bachelor's in library science programs can play a valuable role in preparing you for your career. For instance, with either of these degrees, you can work as a library technician. Libraries also hire applicants with degrees in history, sociology, political science, and regional studies.
Master's degrees in library science emphasize experiential learning, allowing students to complete practica and internships at libraries in their local communities. These experiences provide valuable on-the-job training that can bolster your resume. Beyond the internships included in your education, you can seek out additional internships and apprenticeships by searching online job boards. The experience you gain in your master's program may fulfill your state's requirements for a license or certification to work in a public or school library.
Licensure and Certification
Depending on your library science career and the state where you plan to work, you may need to earn one or more licenses or certifications. In some states, public school librarians need a teaching license with a school librarian endorsement. Specific industries, like law and medicine, set different standards for librarian licensure and certification.
The Medical Library Association grants an industry credential to medical librarians. Application requirements include a master's degree in library science and four years of relevant experience.
Public librarian requirements vary by state. Approximately half of all states require some form of licensure. Researching Massachusetts' requirements can give you a general idea of what states often require for licensure.
Many school librarians start their careers as public school teachers. To earn a librarian certification, teachers must pass the Praxis II Library Media Specialist Exam. Depending on the state, teachers may also need to earn a master's in library science.
Concentrations Available to Library Science Majors
The concentration you select as part of your library science program makes a significant impact on which library science careers you can pursue. The four concentrations below are common among library science programs. However, not all schools offer the same concentrations, so you should research school offerings before applying.
- Archival Studies: Archival studies students learn how to catalog and preserve historical documents while making them accessible to the general public. Students learn these techniques in class and apply them in internships while working under experienced archivists' supervision. Graduates can pursue careers at local, state, and federal archives, as well as private organizations (e.g., preservation societies).
- Information Organization: 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 features one or more fieldwork experiences and courses in information architecture, thesaurus construction, and database management systems for information professionals.
- Information Technology: Information technology students become experts on how to use and manage libraries' technology services. In class, they 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: Aspiring public librarians complete a specialized curriculum that emphasizes topics like critical approaches to public librarianship, library collections management, and legal issues for library and information management. Students intern at public libraries in their local communities. Graduates can work as information services specialists, outreach coordinators, and patron services managers in public libraries.
What Can You Do With a Library Science Degree?
Graduates with associate and bachelor's degrees can pursue careers as library technicians and teachers. However, library science graduates with advanced degrees typically earn the highest salaries and gain the most career opportunities. They also enjoy greater responsibilities and the ability to make positive changes at the departmental or institutional level.
As you review the careers in this section, keep in mind that not all library science students become librarians. They can also use their education to become historians, curators, teachers, and archivists, among other careers.
Associate Degree in Library Science
With an associate degree in library science, you can explore entry-level jobs and determine whether a long-term career in library science matches your interests and goals. Associate degrees also convey valuable skills applicable to diverse career paths.
The two careers below represent positions that associate degree graduates can enter without additional education or training. They provide valuable, on-the-job experience that bolsters your resume and helps prepare you for a bachelor's in library science program. Working after you earn an associate degree may also help you fulfill professional experience requirements for licenses and certifications.
- Library Technician and Assistant
Library technicians and assistants help librarians by cataloging materials, answering patrons' questions, and performing clerical duties. The job provides an excellent introduction to the library science field and gives professionals the chance to practice the skills they gained in their library science associate program.
- Teacher Assistant
Teacher assistants work in K-12 public and private classrooms. Typical responsibilities include answering students' questions, supervising behavior, and helping teachers prepare lessons and materials. This position helps aspiring school librarians gain teacher licensure as many states require that school librarians possess a teaching license and librarian endorsement.
Bachelor's Degree in Library Science
A bachelor's degree in library science prepares graduates for more careers than an associate degree. Graduates who do not immediately enter master's programs — a requirement for most librarian positions — can gain relevant professional experience, typically in the education field. Working as a teacher provides librarians with many transferable skills and prepares them for top library science programs.
- High School Teacher
In public and private schools, high school teachers educate 9- to 12th-grade students on 1-2 academic subjects. They also write lesson plans, meet with parents, and help less-experienced teachers. Other responsibilities include mentoring students and collaborating with peers to implement school and district policies. High school teachers work alongside librarians to help students perform academic research.
- Middle School Teacher
Middle school teachers instruct students in the 6-8th grades. They teach specific subjects, create lesson plans, meet with parents, and assess student learning. Other job duties include issuing the standardized tests that states require for K-8 students.
- Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers work with children with mental and physical disabilities. They also keep detailed records and maintain legal documents. Library science degrees — along with some additional education — prepare students for this fulfilling career. This career boasts many transferable skills that special education teachers can use in a master's program.
Master's Degree in Library Science
Most librarian positions require a master's degree. In master's programs, students build on the research, analysis, and critical-thinking skills they gained during their undergraduate studies. Typical master's programs take 1-2 years to complete, and students can earn this degree through an on-campus or online program. Top online master's programs boast flexible schedules that allow students to continue working full time while earning their degrees.
Librarians perform many managerial duties, such as planning library programs, approving purchases, and training less-experienced librarians and library technicians. Job duties may vary depending on where the librarian works (e.g., school, public, or medical libraries).
- Elementary, Middle and High School Principal
Elementary, middle, and high school principals use their education and experience to mentor staff, develop new initiatives, and act as their school's public face. Other duties include addressing disciplinary problems and mentoring teachers. School librarians with teaching experience and a principal credential can succeed in this position.
- Postsecondary Education Administrator
Postsecondary education administrators oversee departments in colleges and universities. Working alongside other administrators, they develop new policies and train staff. An experienced postsecondary librarian often enters this position, managing their school's library by hiring staff, leading training seminars, and reviewing proposals.
- Instructional Coordinator
Instructional coordinators develop curricula for public and private schools. They must analyze data; follow local, state, and industry standards; and train teachers in the latest curriculum and instruction best practices. Experienced librarians can enter this position, writing curricula for professional development courses.
- School and Career Counselor
School and career counselors help students explore postsecondary education and career options. Professionals can use the research skills gained from their master's in library science program to help students select appropriate colleges and careers. Library science graduates can enter this career with some additional education and experience.
Doctoral Degree in Library Science
Doctoral degrees in library science prepare graduates for careers in academia in addition to professions traditionally not associated with the library science field. Graduates typically earn lucrative salaries and secure top managerial positions. Although some careers that doctoral graduates pursue may require only a master's degree, applicants with a doctorate possess a significant advantage over other applicants.
- Postsecondary Teacher
Postsecondary teachers instruct students at colleges and universities. They teach 1-3 courses each semester. They also publish original research, mentor students, and collaborate with peers to develop new courses. Although some postsecondary teachers possess only master's degrees, tenure-track professors must hold doctorates in their fields.
- Survey Researcher
Doctorate in library science graduates possess the skills necessary to succeed as a survey researcher. Survey researchers perform extensive research to create unbiased surveys. Major corporations often hire these professionals to gauge employee satisfaction or measure public opinion concerning a new product or service.
- Computer and Information Research Scientist
Many master's and doctoral programs in library science develop advanced IT skills. As a result, graduates can become computer and information research scientists, creating new software programs that librarians and patrons use to locate materials and research data. These professionals play a vital role in ensuring the relevance of libraries.
Accreditation for Library Science Programs
Prospective library science students should take care to attend an accredited school. This section answers the most important questions about accreditation and how it can impact your library science career.
- What is accreditation?
Accreditation is a process that colleges and universities undergo to show that they provide a quality education. Look for regional accreditation from a Department of Education-approved agency. Beyond regional accreditation, your library science program may possess programmatic accreditation from the American Library Association (ALA).
- What is the ALA?
Established in 1876, the ALA strives to advance the library science profession through research and by accrediting the best library science programs in the U.S. and Canada. The ALA also awards grants to libraries and over 30 scholarships each year to library science students.
- Why should students seek out a program accredited by the ALA?
An ALA-accredited master's program provides you with the best possible education. Additionally, if you plan to work as a public or school librarian, your job may require you to possess a degree from an ALA-accredited university.
- Which programs have ALA accreditation?
As of the writing of this article, 65 library science programs in the U.S. and Canada boast ALA accreditation. The ALA website includes a directory of accredited schools. When researching accredited programs, contact the program directly to determine its accreditation status; the ALA website may not have the most up-to-date information.
Where Can You Work With a Library Science Degree?
Many factors affect the number of available positions in a given location. For instance, the industries that need library services and a community's population significantly influence available job opportunities. The following two sections discuss these factors in greater detail.
The following map reflects the annual average salary for librarians in each state as of May 2018. When studying this map, keep in mind that states that boast higher salaries may also have a higher cost of living. You should also consider which states offer the most open positions.
Librarians work in many industries, including elementary and secondary education, government, information services, and postsecondary education. To enter one of these industries, professionals typically need to complete a specialization or concentration during their master's program. Some industries may require licensure or certification in addition to a master's degree.
- Elementary and Secondary Schools
Elementary and secondary schools educate children and young adults in K-12 classrooms. School librarians maintain school libraries, check out materials, and help students with research.
Average Salary: $63,720
- Local Government
Local governments often house extensive archives accessible to employees and the public. Librarians catalog new files, help patrons, and preserve historical documents. Librarians in this industry must abide by state and federal laws regarding certain documents.
Average Salary: $55,220
- Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
Colleges, universities, and professional schools host large libraries that help students and faculty perform research. Librarians in this industry typically specialize in one or more academic fields so that they can best help patrons find appropriate materials.
Average Salary: $68,070
- Other Information Services
The information services field employs librarians to organize and catalog information. Information services librarians must accurately and quickly process employee requests for documents.
Average Salary: $56,290
- Junior Colleges
Junior colleges prepare graduates for entry-level careers or bachelor's-completion programs. Junior college librarians teach students valuable research skills applicable to careers and advanced studies.
Average Salary: $68,350
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How Do You Find a Job as a Library Science Graduate?
You should begin considering your career goals before you graduate. Start by researching the industries that employ the largest number of library science graduates. Your school's career center can also provide you with many valuable services, such as mock interviews, internship opportunities, and resume critiques.
You should also research professional organizations, which often provide career advice, mentoring services, and exclusive job boards. Although some organizations may charge a fee to join, they often provide discounts on professional and educational resources.
Professional Resources for Library Science Majors
The ILA strives to improve literacy around the world. Members come from the education and library science fields. Members enjoy access to the ILA magazine, free literacy lessons for different age groups, and professional development resources.
SLA members come from the medical, law, and government library science fields. Members can collaborate online, attend the annual conference, and complete continuing education courses. Members also receive access to private job boards, discounts on publications, and local networking events.
With more than 1,400 members worldwide, the IFLA strives to educate the public on the vital services that libraries provide in the 21st century. Graduate student members may qualify for a fellowship or grant. Members at all levels can take on leadership positions within an IFLA working group.
A division of the ALA, AASL provides excellent resources to primary and secondary school librarians living in the U.S. and Canada. The association's over 7,000 members receive free lesson plans, continuing education webinars, and steep discounts on all ALA publications. Student members save approximately 40% on membership dues compared to active members.
Another division of the ALA, ACRL members benefit from online and in-person networking events, volunteer opportunities, and professional development courses. Student members save over 90% on dues compared to regular members, making membership an excellent investment for all students working toward careers in this field.
The PLA advocates and provides resources for the nation's public librarians. The PLA website offers career resources and the latest news impacting public libraries. The PLA also boasts leadership development courses for librarians pursuing a promotion.
The MLA represents over 3,600 individual members and 1,100 member institutions. The MLA advocates for the medical librarian profession, provides professional development opportunities, and strives to improve medical library services in developing countries.
The ARL's member institutions collaborate to foster the next generation of research library leaders. The association also advocates for more research publications to enter the public domain. The ALR's job board posts open jobs, internships, and fellowships at U.S. and Canadian research libraries.
The AALL strives to ensure that law librarians can access the latest resources to succeed in their careers. Members receive access to special interest groups, digital communities, and free continuing education webinars. The AALL's career center hosts the most current list of open positions throughout the United States.
The SAA represents the nation's archival librarians. Student members pay a discounted membership fee and can participate in the SAA mentoring program. Students also receive access to professional development workshops and discounts on all SAA publications. The organization boasts an extensive job board featuring entry-level archivist positions.