“Ignore those who say that an English Major won’t get you a job. I have a job I enjoy that uses my skills. Doing something you enjoy trumps money every time, and if you have a job that gets you both, that’s just icing."
Destry Weaver '03
By Aaron Stewart '09
Yes, we’ve all seen them—television, advertisements, books, all portraying the old, cat-loving spinster with suspicious eyes sitting behind a big sign that says “Shh!” Most kids who think of librarians may come up with an image like JK Rowling’s Madam Pince, the fussy old lady that stalks after all the students in her library, making sure they don’t do anything against the rules. In reality, librarians are not all they are made out to be. Being a librarian these days is a very rewarding career that may not be as easy as you think.
Read an interview with Destry Weaver '03.
According to Sarah Ann Long, “most librarians come to their career decisions later in life, often after considering or even entering another profession” (Shontz 3). You probably won’t find many kids who aspire to become a librarian when they grow up. However, librarians are needed for more than just maintaining and renting out books. They need to catalog incredible amounts of media, from books to journals to newspapers, &c. They are counted on for helping people find the information they need. If, for example, someone wants to know where they can find information on a specific law, the successful librarian ought to know exactly where the right books are located, which is all fine if you’re in a small public library; however, imagine working at the Bodlein Library in Oxford, England, where their collection of books is so vast that most of them are located in underground vaults that span the entire city and must be requested 3 days in advance online!
Libraries are separated into several general categories:
Academic: This category is reserved for higher education, like the Beeghly Library here at Heidelberg University. Many of the books located in an academic library are scholarly, giving students information they need in their research.
Public: According to Erika James, “Whatever library you think you will work at, 60 percent of you will begin your career in a public library” (Shontz 9). This section is made up of the local libraries you’ll find in most every city, giving the general public access to a variety of reading material, from general interest to news-oriented.
School: Libraries offered in grades K-12. Generally, they hold material similar to a public library, though high school libraries may have additional scholarly material to help with papers and research.
Special: These are the libraries that cater to a specific field. For example, there may be libraries that specialize in law, which give resources on laws in general, as well as court cases in the past that help lawyers build their defense. Another may specialize in medical literature, ranging from anatomy to coding and proper procedure.
Like I said, you may be surprised by how much is actually expected from a librarian. The job is so much more than checking out books and putting them on shelves. Librarians need to be extremely knowledgeable. If a person needs to find material on a certain subject and they don’t know where to look, they expect the librarians to point them in the right direction. If a student needs help finding sources for a research project, a good librarian will take them to the section of the library that will be most helpful and recommend books or journals that will provide the best material.
Librarians also have to be good leaders. They need to maintain order in the libraries, make sure that books are catalogued and placed on the right shelves, enforce rules in order to create a positive learning atmosphere, and remain patient if a visitor becomes unruly. Similar to the journalism field, being a librarian can be very stressful, so if you have trouble handling pressure, this may not be a great career path for you. If, however, you enjoy reading and love to share your knowledge with others, this could be the right choice.
Qualifications and Training
Believe it or not, most positions require their librarians to have a Master’s degree in Library Science. Due to the vast qualifications required of a librarian, it is important that they learn all the skills necessary, from cataloging to using the Internet effectively. In order to obtain a MLS, you must look into universities that offer the course, as well as take your GRE. For more information, visit the “Graduate” section of this website. For the highest-paying jobs available as a librarian, it is often required that you also obtain a doctorate in Library Science, requiring additional education beyond the graduate level.
It is also very important that you gain experience in the field. Getting internships at a school or public library is very helpful in preparing for a career in the future, as it gives you first-hand knowledge of how to handle the work load.
Courses at Heidelberg
Though most colleges and universities don’t offer classes specific to librarians at the undergraduate level, librarians need to know a lot of information in various fields in order to be effective. In terms of relevance, our English Literature program is excellent and full of depth. Whether you want to take a general course such as “Literary Genres,” or a more specialized course such as “African-American Literature,” there are many options for building your knowledge of literary works. It might also be helpful to take some Communications courses, as you will be talking to many people on a daily basis.
Perhaps the most important way that Heidelberg can help future librarians is through the University’s library, Beeghly. By working there, students will gain the knowledge and connections necessary to help them pursue their MLS later on. Also, get involved on campus. Be part of our Student Senate or head one of our many clubs. This will give you the experience you need as a leader.
Shontz, Priscilla K. The Librarian’s Career Guidebook. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2004.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook provides sections on librarians, library assistants , and library technicians. The website is also an excellent source for any career you would like to find information on.
American Library Association provides information and networking opportunities for people interested in careers in libraries.