If you love the idea of spending your day being surrounded by books and helping others, the librarian career path can be very promising. However, it can be tricky to land one of these highly-coveted jobs. The right education can make a big difference. Here’s what you need to know about going to school to be a librarian.
Which Degrees Do You Need?
If you are new to the library field, you might be surprised to find out that the majority of people you’ve interacted with in a library are not librarians. The librarian job is a specific job that involves curating a catalog of information, providing access to it, and creating programming for the general public. This is a management-level job that usually involves overseeing an entire department of clerks and other workers.
In general, a librarian position requires a master’s degree. Almost all modern library jobs will say that candidates must have a master’s degree. There are only a few exceptions to this rule in very small, rural libraries or school libraries. In some rare cases, librarians may only have bachelor’s degrees, but it is almost impossible to become librarian with only a high school diploma.
If you do not have a master’s degree, you usually need years of experience or other relevant training. For example, a small town might promote a long-term library employee to a librarian position, even though that employee only has a bachelor’s degree. In school librarians, the librarian may hold a general teaching certificate instead of a formal master’s degree.
Does Your Bachelor’s Degree Matter?
Of course before you get a master’s degree, you will need to get a bachelor’s degree from a college or university. Technically speaking, you can get a degree in any field. There are plenty of librarians out there who originally studied mathematics, theater arts, or other unrelated programs. However, it is a lot easier to get into a good graduate school program if you had a relevant course of study beforehand. Here are some of the most popular options for librarian bachelor’s degree.
Though you cannot find this degree at all schools, it is one of the most directly-applicable degrees for future librarians. A Bachelor in Library Science is a multidisciplinary program that directly prepares students for a master’s level program. If you are certain of your career path, it might be worthwhile to find a school that offers this major.
This STEM degree is very useful for prospective librarians. It is all about learning how to manage, store, access, catalog, and promote other information. Especially if you are planning on being a reference librarian, information science gives you a lot of important training.
The modern librarian might spend as much time with computers as books, but a deep understanding for the written word is still very important. English programs help to prepare future librarians for a career that focuses on books. In addition to teaching about literature, an English degree can help train you in important tasks like researching information and presenting new information to others.
If you have a specific type of librarian job in mind, it might be helpful to tailor your major to that field. For example, those who want to work in a law library might benefit from a Political Science degree, while those who want to work in a museum library might want an Art History degree. An unusual and highly relevant bachelor’s can help you stand out from the crowd when applying for certain coveted librarian jobs.
Which Master’s Degree Should You Get?
A master’s degree in a library field is essential to becoming a librarian. However, not all master’s programs are equal. There are actually a few different types of master’s degrees for librarians, and different ones may have different uses.
Masters of Library Science (MLS)
This is the most classic master’s degree for librarians. It is a general program that guides you through all the essentials of becoming a librarian. This is good for those who want to work as a traditional librarian in a standard public library.
Masters of Information Science (MIS)
More and more modern librarians are leaning towards this master’s degree. With its focus on things like computer databases, it can be more relevant in certain fields. This master’s degree is usually best for people who want to work in reference sections or very large libraries. It also has the perk of being more applicable when considering jobs outside the library field.
Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS or MILS)
This degree goes by many different names at various schools, but it often combines the best of both worlds. People study both general librarianship and information technology techniques. Among modern librarians, the MLIS degree is usually the most common and versatile option.
Is Any Other Training Necessary?
The outlook for newly graduated librarians can be a little rough. Though there is promising growth in the librarian field, most of the new jobs go to people already in the system. Most libraries are run by small government departments or educational institutions, and these fields tend to prefer to hire from within.
Many new librarians report that it can be tricky to find a job, because every job opening they interview for ends up going to someone who already works in the building. Due to the structure of the librarian field, you usually need to get a job in a lower-level position and work your way up. Many cities will actually pay for further education for employees, so this can even be a good way to get some help with costs for your master’s degree.
Before you can be a librarian managing a full department or even an entire library, you will usually need some experience. If possible, try to volunteer or get a part-time job at a library while you are in school.
Ultimately, with the right combination of education and experience, you can be qualified for all sorts of librarian jobs.