Public librarian: job description

Public librarians are responsible for acquiring, organising, managing and distributing library resources, and ensuring that library provision meets the needs of all its users. They are sometimes referred to as information professionals.
Almost 40% of all librarians are employed by public libraries.

What does a public librarian do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Typical duties include:

  • selecting, cataloguing and classifying library resources
  • answering enquiries
  • ensuring that library services meet the needs of particular groups of users (eg children, adult learners and schools)
  • making improvements to accessibility of library resources
  • maintaining statistical and financial records
  • using library systems and specialist computer applications
  • promoting and marketing services
  • developing IT facilities and assisting with the use of computer equipment
  • supporting independent research and learning.

The job normally involves regular evening and weekend work. Prospects for career advancement are good, particularly within larger libraries and for individuals who are willing to move jobs/geographical location.

Typical employers of public librarians

  • The British Library
  • Local authority libraries
  • Information services
  • Central government departments

Vacancies are advertised via the internet, by careers services and specialist recruitment agencies and in local or national newspapers, the Times Higher Education and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) weekly news bulletin. Speculative and early applications for traineeships and postgraduate courses are advisable.

Qualifications and training required

A degree or postgraduate qualification in information science, management or librarianship is usually required. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) publishes an annual list of graduate training opportunities. The Arts and Humanities Research Council funds a limited number of course places.

Further vocational training is necessary to gain chartered status. At least one year of relevant library or information experience is necessary prior to postgraduate study, which can be gained by working as a library assistant, or via a graduate training scheme (CILIP publishes lists of training vacancies).

Key skills for public librarians

  • motivation
  • confidence
  • excellent organisational skills
  • team-working skills
  • strong IT skills
  • verbal communication skills
  • interpersonal skills

All candidates should be familiar with the use of databases and the internet.