Career FAQs guide to librarians

© Norman Pogson |

The old-fashioned image of librarians as bespectacled, fusty old women in cardigans bears no resemblance to the librarian of the twenty-first century. Today’s librarians are young and old, male and female, IT savvy, and people oriented. But they still need to be organised, accurate and have a passion for information in all its forms.

Working as a librarian is a varied role that can take you to any number of workplaces and industries. It’s a great job that can offer a fulfilling career path for those with the right skills.

If you’re not quite sure of what modern librarians do, here’s a quick guide to fill you in on this interesting and rewarding career.

What librarians do

Essentially, a librarian is an information professional – someone who catalogues, stores and retrieves information. At the heart of librarianship is a drive to help people connect with the information they need or want – information for work, for study or for pleasure.

For those businesses or organisations that deal with large amounts of data, records or books - both traditional libraries and corporate information organisations – storing and organising information correctly is an essential function. Librarians with expertise in information organisation, record-keeping and archiving are crucial, and with the right training, you could play that integral role.

Where you can find work as a librarian

Being a librarian is not a one-dimensional role. There are a multitude of tasks, as there are a multitude of places you can work – from academic libraries to school media centres, newspapers, arts and community organisations, and corporate information departments. You’ll also need a multitude of skills and be able to work with information in all its forms, including books, magazines, newspapers, audio and video recordings, maps, manuscripts, photographs, bibliographic databases, web searching and digital media.

Academic libraries

Academic libraries are found in universities and colleges and can be general or specialised, as with a law or medical library. In these institutions, librarians catalogue new material, teach students how to access information, maintain online collections and library websites, and assist academics to find materials.

In these settings, librarians also help students and academics access the abundance of information that exists only behind online pay walls, such as academic journals.

Public libraries

Public libraries house information that is available to the general public. In addition to assisting people to find information, librarians in these settings often hold children’s reading sessions, reading clubs, and help the public to access the Internet and use desktop publishing services.

Depending on the size of the library, there can be different kinds of roles. Collections librarians control what makes it into the library’s collection; technical service librarians supervise and organise the catalogue and order new materials; and systems librarians develop, modify and uphold IT-based library systems in line with new technologies.

School libraries

Modern school librarians servicing students from kindergarten to year 12 do a lot more than just catalogue and dispense books. They’re often involved in training students in how to access quality information on the web, how to use social media and online collaboration sites, and how to avoid online threats. They also often assist teachers as ‘teacher-librarians’, supporting the goals of their school through the development of library and information services and programs.

Corporate/public sector libraries

Outside the typical library setting and often working with online databases and records, a librarian of a corporation or government department usually goes by the name of archivist or information manager. Working with different types of data, archivists organise and archive vital information, ensuring that it is correctly identified, stored and disseminated, and easily retrieved.

Information managers can find themselves working in a library within a large corporation, government department, news organisation, museum or an information provision agency such as a hospital or law firm. They can also perform other information services such as computer training, coordinating public programs and literacy education, or assisting people to find and use community resources.

How to become a librarian

To become a librarian, library technician, information manager, records manager or archivist in Australia, you’ll need to study a librarian course that’s recognised by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA).

Depending on whether you want to work in an academic, public or school library, or in a corporate setting, there are three main librarian course options: undergraduate degrees like the Bachelor of Arts (Librarianship and Corporate Information Management); postgraduate courses like the Graduate Diploma in Records Management and Archives or Master of Information Management; or vocational pathways through providers like TAFE.

If you wish to become a teacher librarian, you’ll need recognised teaching qualifications as well as a postgraduate librarian course under your belt.

If you simply wish to gain some experience in the field, you could always try working as a library assistant, for which you often need no more than a high school education. However, if you want to progress in your career, you’ll need to undertake further study and get some qualifications.

Interested in a career as a librarian or information manager? See our range of online librarian courses.

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