Librarians help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use. Their job duties may change based on the type of library they work in, such as public, school, and medical libraries.


Librarians typically do the following:

  • Help library patrons conduct research and find the information they need
  • Teach classes about information resources and help users evaluate search results and reference materials
  • Organize library materials so they are easy to find, and maintain collections
  • Plan programs for different audiences, such as storytelling for young children
  • Develop and index databases of library materials
  • Research new books and materials by reading book reviews, publishers’ announcements, and catalogs
  • Choose new books, audio books, videos, and other materials for the library
  • Research and buy new computers and other equipment as needed for the library
  • Train and direct library technicians, assistants, other support staff, and volunteers
  • Prepare library budgets

In small libraries, librarians are often responsible for many or all aspects of library operations. They may manage a staff of library assistants and technicians.

In larger libraries, librarians usually focus on one aspect of library work, including user services, technical services, or administrative services.

The following are examples of types of librarians:

User services librarians help patrons find the information they need. They listen to what patrons are looking for and help them conduct research using both electronic and print resources. These librarians also teach patrons how to use library resources to find information on their own. This may include familiarizing patrons with catalogs of print materials, helping them access and search digital libraries, or educating them on Internet search techniques. Some user services librarians work with a particular audience, such as children or young adults.

Technical services librarians obtain, prepare, and classify print and electronic library materials. They organize materials to make it easy for patrons to find information. These librarians are less likely to work directly with the public.

Administrative services librarians manage libraries. They hire and supervise staff, prepare budgets, and negotiate contracts for library materials and equipment. Some conduct public relations or fundraising for the library.

Librarians who work in different settings sometimes have different job duties.

Academic librarians assist students, faculty, and staff in colleges and universities. They help students research topics related to their coursework and teach students how to access information. They also assist faculty and staff in locating resources related to their research projects or studies. Some campuses have multiple libraries, and librarians may specialize in a particular subject.

Public librarians work in their communities to serve all members of the public. They help patrons find books to read for pleasure; conduct research for schoolwork, business, or personal interest; and learn how to access the library’s resources. Many public librarians plan programs for users, such as story time for children, book clubs, or other educational activities.

School librarians, sometimes called school media specialists, work in elementary, middle, and high school libraries, and teach students how to use library resources. They also help teachers develop lesson plans and find materials for classroom instruction.

Special librarians work in settings other than school or public libraries. They are sometimes called information professionals. Law firms, hospitals, businesses, museums, government agencies, and many other groups have their own libraries that use special librarians. The main purpose of these libraries and information centers is to serve the information needs of the organization that houses the library. Therefore, special librarians collect and organize materials focused on those subjects. The following are examples of special librarians:

  • Corporate librarians assist employees in private businesses in conducting research and finding information. They work for a wide range of businesses, including insurance companies, consulting firms, and publishers.
  • Government librarians provide research services and access to information for government staff and the public.
  • Law librarians help lawyers, law students, judges, and law clerks locate and organize legal resources. They often work in law firms and law school libraries.
  • Medical librarians, also called health science librarians, help health professionals, patients, and researchers find health and science information. They may provide information about new clinical trials and medical treatments and procedures, teach medical students how to locate medical information, or answer consumers’ health questions.

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Work Environment

Librarians held about 148,400 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most librarians in 2012 were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 38%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 29
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 17
Information 5

Some librarians have private offices, but those in smaller libraries usually share work space with others.

Work Schedules

Most librarians work full time, although opportunities exist for part-time work. In 2012, about a quarter of librarians worked part time.

Public and academic librarians often work on weekends and evenings, and may work holidays. School librarians usually have the same work and vacation schedules as teachers, including summers off. Librarians in special libraries, such as law or corporate libraries, typically work normal business hours, but may need to work longer hours to help meet deadlines.

Education and Training

Most librarians need a master’s degree in library science. Some positions have additional requirements, such as a teaching certificate or a degree in another field.


Most employers require librarians to have a master’s degree in library science (MLS). Students need a bachelor’s degree to enter MLS programs, but any undergraduate major is accepted. 

MLS programs usually take 1 to 2 years to complete. Coursework typically covers selecting library materials, organizing information, research methods and strategies, online reference systems, and Internet search methods. 

A degree from an American Library Association accredited program may lead to better job opportunities. Some colleges and universities have other names for their library science programs, such as Master of Information Studies or Master of Library and Information Studies.

Librarians working in a special library, such as a law, medical, or corporate library, usually supplement a master’s degree in library science with knowledge of their specialized field. Some employers require special librarians to have a master’s degree, a professional degree, or a Ph.D. in that subject. For example, a law librarian may be required to have a law degree or a librarian in an academic library may need a Ph.D.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

To work in public schools, school librarians often need to be certified. Certification typically requires librarians to hold a teacher’s certification. For more information on teacher certifications, see the How to Become One section of the high school teachers profile. Some states require librarians to pass a standardized test, such as the PRAXIS II Library Media Specialist test. A list of requirements by state and contact information for state regulating boards is available from School Library Monthly.

Some states also require certification for librarians in public libraries. Requirements vary by state. Contact your state’s licensing board for specific requirements.

Personality and Interests

Librarians typically have an interest in the Helping, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Helping or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a librarian, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Librarians should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Librarians need to be able to explain ideas and information in ways that patrons and users understand.

Computer skills. Librarians use computers to help patrons research topics. They also use computers to classify resources, create databases, and perform administrative duties.

Initiative. New information, technology, and resources constantly change the details of what librarians do. They must be able and willing to continually update their knowledge on these changes to be effective at their jobs in the varying circumstances.

Interpersonal skills. Librarians must be able to work both as part of a team and with the public or with researchers.

Problem-solving skills. Librarians conduct and assist with research. This requires being able to identify a problem, figure out where to find information, and draw conclusions based on the information found.

Reading skills. Librarians must be excellent readers. Those working in special libraries are expected to continually read the latest literature in their field of specialization.


The median annual wage for librarians was $55,370 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,380, and the top 10 percent earned more than $85,430.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for librarians in the top four industries in which these librarians worked were as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state,
local, and private
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 57,310
Information 51,970
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 49,790

Most librarians work full time, although opportunities exist for part-time work. In 2012, about a quarter of librarians worked part time.

Public and academic librarians often work on weekends and evenings, and may work holidays. School librarians usually have the same work and vacation schedules as teachers, including summers off. Librarians in special libraries, such as law or corporate libraries, typically work normal business hours, but may need to work longer hours to help meet deadlines.                                   

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, librarians had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of librarians is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

There will continue to be a need for librarians to manage libraries and help patrons find information. As patrons and support staff become more comfortable using electronic resources, fewer librarians will be needed for assistance. However, the increased availability of electronic information is also expected to increase the demand for librarians in research and special libraries, where they will be needed to help sort through the large amount of available information.

Budget limitations, especially in local government and educational services, may slow demand for librarians. Some libraries may close, reduce the size of their staff, or focus on hiring library technicians and assistants, who can fulfill some librarian duties at a lower cost.

Job Prospects

Jobseekers may face strong competition for jobs, especially early in the decade, as many people with master’s degrees in library science compete for a limited number of available positions. Later in the decade, prospects should be better, as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings.

Even though people with a master’s degree in library science may have trouble finding a job as a librarian, their research and analytical skills can be valuable for jobs in a variety of other fields, such as market researchers or computer and information systems managers. A degree from an American Library Association accredited program may lead to better job opportunities.

For More Information

For more information about librarians, including accredited library education programs, visit

American Library Association

For more information about careers in libraries, visit

Library Careers

For information about medical librarians, visit

Medical Library Association

For information about law librarians, visit

American Association of Law Libraries

For information about many different types of special librarians, visit

Special Libraries Association

For more information about school librarians, visit

School Library Monthly


Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).

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