The Job and What's Involved

Librarians are responsible for collecting, organising and preserving information in libraries so that it is readily available to those who wish to access it.

The information may be in various forms, for example, books, newspapers, microfiche, videos, audio CD's or cassettes. However, the growth in electronic and digital libraries has meant that the material is increasingly likely to be kept on computer files, CD ROMs or DVDs.

A librarian is responsible for:

  • Selecting, ordering and buying relevant material and clearing the shelves and computer files of outdated material.
  • Deciding which resources to obtain by researching up-to-date publications on the internet and through liaising with publishers.
  • Liaising with users of the library, including academics and representatives of professional bodies, to help decide which resources should be obtained.
  • Advising users face to face, over the telephone, or by email about available resources and materials.
  • Classifying and indexing resource materials on digital catalogues.
  • Taking responsibility for valuable or fragile antiquarian publications, and arranging insurance for them if necessary.
  • Organising outreach work, such as school visits, creative writing workshops or readings by writers.
  • Managing the library and keeping accounts within the budget.

In large libraries, the librarian may be in charge of overseeing the training and professional development of a group of staff. In small libraries, particularly small specialist libraries, the librarian may work alone and would be expected to have background knowledge in the specialist subject.

Public and university libraries are often open during the evenings and weekends, so the hours of work vary. Part-time work is often available for daytime, evening and weekend shifts.

Most librarians work from one site. Some jobs may involve travelling between several branches. In rural areas, librarians may operate and drive a mobile library. There might be occasional visits to book fairs involving staying overnight away from home.

Libraries are usually airy and well-lit. Many have large areas devoted to computer users. Most have separate offices for administrative tasks to be carried out. All the work is based indoors and the atmosphere is normally quiet.

There may be some lifting and bending. In certain libraries where there are still a lot of high bookshelves, librarians may occasionally have to mount stepladders.

A typical starting salary is between £18,000 and £22,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are approximately 41,000 librarians and library assistants working in the UK, of which 29,000 work in public and national libraries, and 12,000 work in academic libraries. Works of literature such as novels and poetry, as well as information on a wide range of topics, are held in general libraries. These include public libraries open to the local community, newspaper libraries, school or college libraries and the main libraries of universities.

Other libraries contain materials of specialist interest. These include libraries maintained within hospitals, legal institutions, research establishments, charities and some businesses. These would usually employ librarians who have some background in the specialist subject.

Jobs may be advertised in newspapers and on recruitment agencies' websites. Aslib, the association for information management, has an online recruitment and training section at

Education and Training

Most librarians have a degree or postgraduate qualification accredited by CILIP. The CILIP website has a list of accredited courses, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. It may be useful to get experience by working as a library assistant before starting a degree course.

The minimum entry requirements for degree courses are usually five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two or three A levels/three or four H grades or equivalent qualifications. Check with individual institutions for their exact course entry requirements.

For graduates whose degrees are not related to librarianship, there is a Graduate Training Opportunities scheme run by CILIP. Employers who are part of this scheme take on graduates for a year to provide them with training and experience prior to starting their professional course. In some cases, the employer will keep the job open and offer support while the trainee follows the course on a full-time, part-time or distance learning basis.

This is very useful, as work experience in librarianship or information science is often required to obtain a place on one of the accredited Masters degree and postgraduate diploma courses.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Individuals can apply for affiliate membership of CILIP if working as a library assistant. Library assistants may apply for certification. To become a chartered member of CILIP, candidates should have an accredited award and be working in a professional capacity. For more information on achieving chartered status, contact CILIP. With six years' experience, a chartered member can apply to become a fellow.

Many people in this field continue to study and work towards postgraduate qualifications in their specialist area.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A librarian needs:

  • Good information and communication technology (ICT) skills.
  • Good general knowledge, or knowledge within a specialised field.
  • Natural curiosity.
  • Organisational and managerial skills.
  • Communication skills and confidence.
  • The ability to skim-read large amounts of text.
  • To be approachable.

Your Long Term Prospects

In large libraries, there can be the chance to progress to a specialist post or into management. The chance of promotion in small libraries may be more limited.

Qualifications and experience in librarianship and information management are recognised by a wide range of commercial organisations outside the sector, so opportunities to diversify into an information management role may be available.

Work abroad is also possible as CILIP-accredited qualifications are recognised in many other countries.

Get Further Information

Aslib, Holywell Centre,
1 Phipp Street,
London EC2A 4PS
Tel: 020 7613 3031

Chartered Institute of Library
and Information Professionals (CILIP),
7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1E 7AE
Tel: 020 7255 0500
Websites: and

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