How to Become a Librarian
Being a bibliophile is only part of what it takes to become a librarian in the 21st century. With the growing use of technology in public and school libraries (often called media centers), being tech-savvy is just as compulsory as a solid understanding of the Dewey Decimal System.
If you want to thrive in the profession, you’ll need a passion for reading and an understanding of modern research methods. Wondering how to become a librarian? Here’s an expert’s guide to navigating a career in the stacks.
Hit the books
Lucye Magill, a public high school librarian, knew she wanted to pursue this career as soon as she learned to read. “When I was in elementary school, my friend’s mom was our school librarian, and we would help her during the summer and after school,” Magill says. “I always loved helping out, and she inspired me to become a school librarian.”
She began by going to college (a requirement) and earning a degree in English. “You should attend a four-year college,” says Magill. “There is no undergraduate librarian degree, but you can major in pretty much anything and still get your Masters in Library Science.” While there’s no librarian degree for college undergraduates, a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) is required for librarians in the United States and Canada.
Choose a path and immerse yourself
It’s important to know the differences between a public librarian and a school librarian. “There are two separate programs in grad school,” says Magill. “If you choose to go the public route, you can only work in a public library. If you go the school library route, you can work in either a school or public library.”
Keep in mind that if you choose the school librarian path, you might also need to obtain a librarian certification from your state.
To decide which path is right for you, Magill strongly recommends job shadowing at both a school library and a public library to gain a better understanding of what’s required.
Magill’s graduate program required an internship, and she urges any would-be librarian to consider doing an internship to help determine your best fit.
To decide which path is right for you, Magill strongly recommends job shadowing at both a school library and a public library to gain a better understanding of what’s required. Magill’s graduate program required an internship, and she urges any would-be librarian to consider doing an internship to help determine your best fit.
An internship provides valuable experience, and it’s a great addition to a well-written resume when you start trying to land that first job. You can use your custom cover letter to showcase why you picked your specific area of interest and what expertise you’ll bring to the job.
“On-the-job training is invaluable in this profession,” says Magill. “I learned a lot in grad school, but I learned much more when I was actually in the library dealing with students.” She also encourages volunteering as a teacher’s assistant in the library at your local college.
Busting the stereotypes
Like most careers, you only fully understand what the role entails once you’re actually on the job. Magill is quick to point out some little-known facts about a career as a librarian. That classic trope of a shy bookworm, Magill says, couldn’t be further from the truth. To excel as a professional librarian, you need to be a people person.
“It involves working with the public much of the time,” Magill says. Assisting avid readers to find what they’re looking for is an essential piece of the librarian job description.
As for that old Dewey Decimal System? Well, there’s no escaping that either. Magill says even with new technologies in libraries and media centers across the country, that book classification system invented by Melville Louis Kossuth “Melvil” Dewey in 1876 still rules the librarian world.
Pro tip: Read up on Dewey and learn his classification rules now for a great tidbit to weave into your cover letter. Not only will this demonstrate your passion for the work, it’s sure to help you stand out from all of the other qualified candidates.
Make your application to become a librarian even stronger by customizing each resume and cover letter with keywords that match those in the job description. Many employers now use applicant tracking systems (ATS) when reviewing resumes and cover letters. These systems automatically scan resumes to find relevant keywords that align with their job requirements. So be sure to closely align your resume and cover letter with a job ad’s top needs, and pay particular attention to the hard and soft skills needed for the job.
Our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Templates can help you create compelling, attractive application documents. With our step-by-step guidance and pre-written text (that’s been written by professionals), we’ll help make your application one for the books.