What Does a Career in Library Science Entail?
What is library science? It’s more than just about understanding the libraries you’ll work in. It’s about making life better in your community, school campuses, and schools at all levels while also strengthening the connections between individuals, technology, and information. Libraries and their services have changed dramatically this century. Today, the skills you need for academic, public, and specialized libraries tend to be much more digital than in decades past.
When you choose a degree in Library Science (at any level), you know you’re going to be working shortly after graduation. Depending on the specialization you choose, you’ll provide legal, medical, or business information; curate rare collections for museums; and design and implement collaborative projects meant to benefit your community. Your career path may lead you to be an academic, a medical professional, law professional, a librarian in a public library, technology coordinator, technical services specialist, media archivist, youth services librarian, or digital archivist.
Liberal Arts Degrees & Career Paths
Components of A Successful Career as a Library Major
There are many different career paths available for library science degree graduates. The skills and experience needed can and will vary from job to job.
Here are some skills that you may need:
- Desire to meet and serve the library's user community
- Ability to exercise initiative and independent judgment
- Knowledge of computers
- Ability to make administrative decisions
- Ability to organize
- Ability to communicate well
- Accuracy and skill in typing
Library Science Degrees, Associate to Doctorate
At the associate level, a Library and Information Technology (LIT) degree is what you are most likely to find available. If you have a passion for working in a library and are also interested in technology, this degree may be a close fit for your interests.
Once you graduate, you’ll be able to obtain an entry-level position in private or public libraries. Expect to work in library technical services or public services, where you can use your new technical skills to assist clients or help in library operations. You’ll request library materials, catalog, or work in collection management. You may work in a media and learning resource center or other library-related activities. You should be ready for a position with any organization that employs technology to process, manage, and communicate information.
A well-rounded Bachelors of Library Science degree program should give you the chance to develop your technical skills and earn a solid liberal arts education. You’ll also learn about increasing your critical thinking and creative abilities. When you graduate, you will be a specialized paraprofessional, ready to work independently in several employment settings. If you choose to pursue a bachelor of science, you’ll reward yourself by advancing professionally. You may be required to complete an internship as a part of your senior capstone course before you graduate.
At the master’s level, you’ll be expected to exercise your leadership and innovation skills in the library environment. You’ll be taught how to develop the skills needed in a knowledge-intensive environment. You’ll be able to grow your career and confidence to make decisions as your knowledge grows and evolves.
If you choose not to work as a librarian, you may want to work as an information architect, metadata specialist, taxonomist, or a web content manager. Depending on your circumstances, you may choose to attend classes on-campus or online. No matter which you choose, you’ll get the benefits and educational material you need to expand your learning and your career.
Comparisons Between Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. Library Science Programs
Should you earn an associate degree in library science or a bachelor’s degree? While you may think the answer is easy, the same choice won’t work for everyone. You may choose to pursue your associate degree simply because you’ll graduate early. That’s a valid choice.
Another thing to consider in this equation is the amount of schoolwork and your credits. An associate degree requires completing 20 or so credits in library science. That doesn’t include your general education or electives credits. As you look at the depth of the required studies, you’ll find that a bachelor’s degree requires you to learn information at a deeper level.
In the job market, you may be disappointed to find that more librarian positions are reserved for those who have earned bachelor’s degrees. Your salary will reflect this as well, as a graduate of a bachelor’s degree program will earn more.
At the bachelors level, you’ll have a wider range of career choices. From job fairs to professional conferences, the positions you’ll see are likely to require at least a bachelor’s degree. Even if you aren’t sure you want to advance into a master’s degree program in library science, a bachelor’s degree is an important step toward that goal.
If you are thinking of earning your master’s degree in library science, remember that beyond pay, it also offers additional benefits. Even if you don’t ultimately land a high-level job in a library, the knowledge you gain can be put to good use in other careers. In your coursework, you learned how to access, navigate, and manage information. This skill lends itself well to information resource management, research, meta-data analysis, and creative project careers. If you do choose to work in a library, all of these skills are something you will be able to do at a level that goes beyond what you learn at the associate level.
Finally, the doctoral (Ph.D.) Information and Library science requires you to use leadership skills that you may not be able to use as effectively at the associate level. It will allow you to be thought of as a thought leader within your sphere of influence.
What Should I Know About Library Science Programs?
The material you learn during your library science degree opens up several career paths to you. If you plan to move into a librarian’s job after graduation, your new knowledge will be ideal. You may also choose to pursue more nontraditional career tracks in fields such as information management, user experience, and design.
If you choose not to work as a local librarian, you may instead work as a market analytics specialist, data analyst, youth librarian, technical service librarian, digital archivist, information architect, corporate taxonomist, or other career choices.
You should understand the media, internet, computer/technology, and publishing trends. It’s vital to be able to work well with others, have excellent written and oral communication skills, research and computer skills, intelligence and curiosity, a good eye for small details, and a love of learning.
In your program, you should maintain a high GPA and find faculty who will give you strong recommendations. When you can, find work in community or campus libraries, either part-time or full-time during summer breaks. This will give you needed exposure to the work.
Will an Associate Degree in Library Science Teach More Technical Skills?
Yes. As a graduate of an Associate of Library Science program, you’ll need to have more technical knowledge and skills, so that you can assist more senior or advanced librarians. Expect to be asked, not only whether your library has a particular book, but also how to find specific information online.
The days of card catalogs are long gone. We no longer have to visit them to find a specific book. Now, everything can be located with a few clicks of the keyboard. Even so, every book is still shelved according to the Dewey Decimal system. You’ll need to master this and memorize how this system works. This is a proprietary system that uses call numbers and it has been put into an online system that every library uses. Once you are familiar with the Dewey Decimal System, you’ll learn how to catalog books. Your classes will teach you about new trends in technology which will include library management software.
As a library technician, you’ll be expected to know that a book on Philosophy or Psychology falls within the 100 category in the call numbers. You’ll also have to be familiar in maintaining and retrieving print, digital, and audiovisual resources. Your classes will teach you how to use different research strategies for databases, the internet, and library catalogs.
Currently, most libraries are experiencing ongoing budgetary constraints. As a result, they are turning more toward librarian assistants and technicians to provide needed services to patrons. It’s typical for an assistant or technician to work part-time and they also earn less than librarians.
Will a Bachelor’s Degree in Library Science Help Me to Meet My Career Goals?
A Bachelor of library science allows you to choose a career in user experience or information management and design, in either the private or public sector. You may also choose to work within a library.
Your degree program will teach you to collect, classify, store, retrieve, and disseminate recorded knowledge in many formats. Because students in library science or information sciences come from a range of undergraduate academic disciplines, they have the versatility to move into more than one career track.
You should already have good people skills, curiosity, intelligence, and computer and research skills. If you have good oral and written communication skills, your time in this degree program will help to refine them. If you already understand media trends, the internet, and computers or technology; this degree program may be a good fit for your career plans. You should also have a good idea about publishing trends.
It’s always a good idea to supplement your library sciences program with business, media, communications, or technology courses. If you have aspirations for a particular position in the library sciences, know whether you need a bachelor’s or master’s degree to qualify. While openings are available in traditional library settings, don’t discount opportunities in corporations, information brokers, consulting firms, or environments that involve handling internet-based information.
Is a Library Science Degree Program Closely Related to an Education Program?
It can be, for specific settings. For public school librarians, they may be required to hold a teaching certificate. They may also be required to take a standardized test (PRAXIS II - Library Media Specialist Test). Because these librarians work in a public school, their job roles and requirements adhere more closely to “education” than they do to simple “librarian” services.
Public school librarians may be called “School Media Specialists,” working from the elementary grades through high school. They do have a specific teaching role: to teach school students how to find and access resources needed for school assignments. They may also be required to help teachers develop their lesson plans by finding source materials for classroom instruction.
In a postsecondary setting, university librarians may be called “academic librarians.” If they work on a university campus with more than one library, they may be required to specialize in one subject. Their subject matter expertise will allow them to use their knowledge to help university students research their class assignments.
Being a librarian may be close enough to education that some universities house their Library and Information Science programs within their College of Education. Or they may be housed simultaneously in the Education college and the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies.
One university offers three graduate programs in Literacy, Elementary Education, and Secondary Education with School Library endorsements. Students who earn their master’s degrees from this program will be qualified to direct a school library media program.
Career Options for Librarians
Once you graduate with your degree in library science, you don't need to work in a library. Instead, you can use any other skill or knowledge you may have and put both of them to work in a different career.
- Market Researcher
You might go into market research. This is an ideal field for library science graduates, who have had to learn how to research and access information. Even better, you can develop specific expertise that will make you and your resume even more attractive to marketing employers.
- Computer Systems Manager
Computer systems management is a second excellent choice for library science graduates. People need information, and they need it right now. With your attention to detail and skills in finding that information, you would be a natural for this career field.
- Architecture librarian
This is just what it sounds like. In this career field, you would conduct careful research and help to plan out public spaces and buildings. Your efforts would help developers and municipalities to create careful, intentional growth as opposed to urban sprawl.
- Toy librarian
It may not sound real but this is a career. Librarians who love organization, games, toys, and children are ideally suited for developing toy libraries and operating them.
- Wine librarian
If you have detailed knowledge of wines, the history of wine, how it’s produced, and the challenges the wine industry faces, this will be an ideal position for you.
You may also consider working for science or medical companies, corporations, content management firms, web design firms, research firms, or non-traditional academic organizations. Your librarian skills will be useful in all of these areas.
Job Outlook for Librarians
Librarians will always be needed. As of 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the overall employment of librarians will grow about 9% by 2026, which is about the same rate as for every other occupation within the U.S.
Libraries are becoming ever more important for the services and activities they can offer. Libraries will lean even more heavily on library techs and assistants to help operate them and find information for patrons every day. Parents look to libraries because of the programs they offer and because their children can find the information they need, either for school assignments or because they want to satisfy their curiosity. If families don’t have access to the internet at home, this makes the services libraries provide even more valuable.
The easier access to electronic information is, the higher the demand for specialized libraries and research. For patrons who aren’t easily able to navigate electronic information or the internet; libraries, librarians, technicians, and assistants are a necessary resource.
Five states post the highest employment of librarians: New York, Texas, California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. New York employs about 13,000 librarians; Pennsylvania, 5,000.
Can a Graduate of an Associate’s Library Science Program Transfer into a Four-Year Program?
Yes. You don’t have to follow a specific path to get into a Master’s of Library Science degree program. Look for schools with library science programs that will articulate to a four-year degree program. This way, you’ll be able to earn your credits in an associate library science degree program, then, upon graduation, articulate into a bachelor’s of library science degree program.
Once you are in an associate degree program, look for courses that offer a high level of hands-on learning. These may be your elective courses, such as business management or computer applications. Transfer of your associate degree library science credits depends on how easily they will transfer. You may need to take similar course in your four-year program. Talk to your advisor so you can determine which credits will transfer. You can make this process easier by starting with a program that allows you to transfer from your associate degree program to a four-year program—then into your master’s of library science. Up to 16 of your associate’s credits may transfer. In the senior year of your library science program, you may be able to take two master’s degree level classes, leaving only 10 credits remaining.
At the four-year library science level, one university offers a senior articulation program. This is offered to qualified seniors, who may take one or two graduate-level courses while they are still in their undergraduate program. These graduate courses count as electives toward their bachelor’s degree. If the student is admitted into the graduate program after finishing their bachelor’s program, those credits will be applied toward their graduate degree.
Also, consider what specialization in library science you are thinking of. If you are interested in the digitization of historical materials, then you need to look for this specific program. Other general programs do not teach you how to maintain historic documents or other necessary skills for this type of position.
Library Science Certificate Programs, all Levels
Certificate programs offer a small number of credits toward your eventual graduation. One certificate program is an especially good fit for those who plan to work in library positions that don’t require a graduate degree in library science. This is a library technology certificate, which will expand your technology skills or even begin your library career. With this certificate, you’ll be able to fulfill most roles within the services a library may offer. The training offered with the certificate will give you the skills and background you need as you serve your library patrons.
Another associate degree level certificate program encourages professional-level engagement with the community, via service-learning opportunities or project options (papers for submission to professional journals). The certificate courses may change, depending on dynamics within the field.
Some Online Library Science Programs
At Doña Ana Community College, the Associate of Applied Science Library Science degree can be completed completely online. This college’s program is created so it meets the needs of library assistants and techs who will be working with library patrons. DACC knows that more and more libraries rely heavily on electronic and information technology. The internet and Web 2.0 tools that students learn about also help them to gain nearly unlimited access to any information patrons want.
The University of Nebraska Online offers nine library science degree programs that are either fully online or blended (hybrid). The degrees offered are bachelor’s and graduate degrees. The credits offered cover entire degree programs.
The University of Kentucky offers an online Master of Science in Library Science. Students are required to earn 36 credits and can do so fully online. Students planning to work in school libraries or media centers may earn the School Librarian Certification. Students can apply for an Alternative Spring Break Internship, offered in Washington, D.C. at the National Library of Medicine, Smithsonian Libraries, or the Library of Congress.
Simmons University offers a Ph.D. in Library and Information Science completely online. Students learn to analyze the informational needs of patrons using several tools and technologies.