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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 by careers services, specialist recruitment agencies, in local or national newspapers, by the Times Higher Education and by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) on their website Lisjobnet.Speculative and early applications for traineeships and postgraduate courses are advisable.

Qualifications and training required

To become a public librarian you will normally need an accredited degree, although it is possible to become a librarian through a vocational route or an apprenticeship.

To work professionally as a public librarian, you will need either a first degree which is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), or a degree in any subject followed by an accredited postgraduate qualification. While this degree can be in any subject, the following disciplines could prove particularly beneficial: librarianship; computer science; information science/management; or software engineering. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) publishes an annual list of accredited undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The Arts and Humanities Research Council funds a limited number of course places.

It’s possible to become a librarian without a degree by following a work-based route. If you have more than two years’ work experience as a library assistant or with an information service, you could be eligible for CILIP certification. After successfully applying for CILIP certification, you would gain Certified Affiliate status (ACLIP). Following two more years of working, you would then be eligible for chartership, which leads to full qualification.

It may also be possible to enter the profession through an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are advertised on the government website.

To find out about other careers in the public sector that you can get into via a school-leaver route (eg an apprenticeship or school leaver programme), see the public sector section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for public librarians

  • confidence
  • excellent organisational skills
  • team-working skills
  • strong IT skills
  • verbal communication skills
  • the ability to talk to people from all walks of life

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

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