Academic librarian: job description

Academic librarians are responsible for acquiring, organising, managing and distributing library resources, and ensuring that library provision meets the needs of all its users.

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As academic librarians are responsible for providing support to academic departments, job vacancies may demand a degree that is relevant to a particular subject area.

What does an academic librarian do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Academic librarianship is a people-focused role, requiring individuals to manage learning resources while keeping the library users' needs in mind. Duties vary considerably according to the size of library, but typically include:

  • selecting, developing, cataloguing and classifying library resources
  • answering readers' enquiries
  • using library systems and specialist computer applications
  • management of staff, including recruitment, training and/or supervisiory duties
  • liaising with departmental academic staff, external organisations and suppliers
  • ensuring that library services meet the needs of particular groups of users (eg staff, postgraduate students, disabled students)
  • managing budgets and resources
  • supporting independent research and learning
  • developing IT facilities
  • assisting readers to use computer equipment, conduct literature searches etc
  • promoting the library's resources to users

Depending on where you work, some travel between libraries on different campuses can be necessary.

Working hours are generally nine to five from Monday to Friday, however, some services are increasingly open during evenings, weekends and sometimes even on a 24-hour basis. Despite this, there is scope for shared work and flexible working hours.

Most academic librarians enjoy finding out more about a sector, subject area and helping others with their research. Responsibility for specific library functions or subjects is common even in basic level posts, and developing skills and expertise through increasingly specialised or advanced roles will steadily advance career prospects.

Typical employers of academic librarians

  • Universities and their academic departments
  • Research institutes
  • Public libraries
  • Higher and further education colleges
  • Professional and learned societies
  • Specialist departments within government, hospitals, and large professional firms

Self-employment is uncommon; however, secondments with different institutions and fixed-term contracts are increasingly common. Flexibility regarding geographical location may be helpful for career advancement.

Qualifications and training required

You are eligible to become an academic librarian with any degree, but if your first qualification isn't related to information management you will need to do a postgraduate qualification with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

Some postgraduate courses require applicants to have a certain amount of relevant work experience in library or information management. This can be gained by working as a library assistant, or via a graduate training scheme (the Lisjobnet website publishes lists of training vacancies). The Arts and Humanities Research & Council may provide funding for a limited number of course places through the Professional Preparation Masters Scheme (PPM).

Traineeships and postgraduate course places attract strong competition, so early applications are recommended. Further vocational training and continuing professional development is necessary in all posts, leading to more senior positions and the granting of chartered and fellowship status.

Key skills for academic librarians

Employers seek confident individuals with excellent organisational and interpersonal skills. Other key skills include:

  • strong IT skills and familiarity with the use of databases and the internet
  • teamworking and management skills
  • assessment of resources and library users' needs
  • presentation and verbal communication skills
  • subject-specific knowledge or expertise in a particular function, for example ICT resources or resource ordering
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