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"The Librarian", a 1556 painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

A librarian is a person who develops procedures for organizing information and provides services that assist and instruct people in the most efficient ways to identify and access any needed information or information resource (article, book, magazine, etc.). In a workplace, the librarian is usually a professional, with a Master's degree in library science, or information science, who is trained and educated to analyze information needs and use a wide variety of information resources to meet those needs. Although librarians are traditionally associated with collections of books, they can deal with the organization and retrieval of information in many formats such as Internet resources, compact discs, photographs, videotapes, newspapers, magazines and computer databases.

In a library, there are many other positions besides the professional librarian, including library technicians, library assistants, pages, shelvers and volunteers.


Librarian roles and duties

The specific duties vary depending on the size and type of library, but most librarians spend their time working in one of the following areas of a library:

  • Public service librarians work with the public, frequently at the reference desk of lending libraries. Some specialize in serving adults or children. (In larger libraries they may specialize in teen services, periodicals, or other special collections.)
  • Reference librarians help people doing research to find the information they need. The help may take the form of research on a specific question, providing direction on the use of databases and other electronic information resources; obtaining specialised materials from other sources; providing access to and care of delicate or expensive materials.
  • Technical service librarians work "behind the scenes" ordering library materials and database subscriptions, computers and other equipment, and supervise the cataloging and physical processing of new materials.
  • Experienced librarians may take administrative positions such as library or information center director. Similar to the management of any other business, they are concerned with the long-term planning of the library as a business, and its relationship with its parent organization (the city or county for a public library, the college for an academic library, or the organization served by a special library).
  • Archivists can be specialized librarians who deal with archival materials, such as manuscripts, documents and records, though this varies from country to country.

Common examples of tasks:

  • Researching topics of interest for their constituencies.
  • Referrals to other community organizations and government offices.
  • Suggesting appropriate books ("readers' advisory") for children of different reading levels, and recommending novels for recreational reading.
  • Supervising and promoting reading clubs.
  • Developing programs for library users of all ages and backgrounds.
  • Managing access to electronic information resources.

Recent issues of concern for U.S. libraries include implementation of the Patriot Act and the Children's Internet Protection Act. Yet librarians around the world share American librarians' concern over ethical issues surrounding censorship and privacy. Some librarians even join activist organizations like the UK-based Information for Social Change ( and the North American-based Progressive Librarians Guild ( Within the American Library Association (ALA), some also join the Social Responsibilities Round Table ( SRRT came into being amid the social ferment of the 1960s and is often critical of the American Library Association for not living up to its professed ideals. These activist organizations are viewed as controversial by some librarians, while others view them as a natural extention and outgrowth of their own deeply-held library ethics.


Basic categories of workplace settings for librarians are routinely classified around the world as: public, academic, school, and special. Some librarians will start and operate their own business. They often call themselves information brokers, research specialists, knowledge management, competitive intelligence or independent information professionals. Below are the basic differences between the types of libraries.

Public library: These institutions are created through legislation within the jurisdiction they serve. Accordingly, they are given certain benefits, such as taxpayer funding, but must adhere to service standards and meet a wide group of client needs. They are usually overseen by a board of directors or library commission from the community. Mission statements, service and collection policies are the fundamental administrative features of public libraries. Occasionally private lending libraries serve the public in the manner of public libraries. In the United States, public librarians and public libraries are represented by the Public Library Association (

Academic library: Libraries that serve a post-secondary institution. Depending upon the institution, the library may serve a particular faculty or the entire institution. Many different types, sizes, and collections are found in academic libraries and some academic librarians are specialists in these collections and archives. A University librarian, or Chief librarian, is responsible for the library within the college structure, and may also be called the Dean of Libraries. Some post-secondary institutions treat professional librarians as faculty, and they may be called Professor. The school may make the same demands of academic librarians for research and professional service as are required of faculty. Academic librarians may have to administer various levels of service and privilege to faculty, students, alumni and the public.

School library: Libraries which exclusively serve the needs of a public or private school. The primary, if not sole, purpose is to support the students, teachers, and curriculum of the school, or school district. Audio-visual equipment service may also be included in a school librarian's responsibilities. In the United States there are many non-ALA accredited university faculties that exclusively serve their states need for school librarians. More often than not, teacher-librarians are firstly qualified teachers who take additional qualification courses in library administration from faculties of education.

Special library: Law, medical, government, corporate, museum or any other type of library owned and operated by an organization is considered a special library. They can be highly specialized, serving a discrete user group with a restricted collection area. In an increasingly global and virtual workplace, many special librarians may not even work in a library at all but instead manage and facilitate the use of an electronic collection. Funding for special libraries varies widely. Librarians in some types of special libraries are required to have additional training, such as a law degree for a librarian in a law library. Many belong to the Special Libraries Association ( There are also more specific associations such as the American Association of Law Libraries ( or the Medical Library Association (


In the United States and Canada, a librarian normally has a one or two-year master's degree in library and information science, library science or information science (called an MSLS, MLS, MIS, MLIS or MILS) from an accredited university. These degrees are accredited by the American Library Association and can have specializations within fields such as archiving, records management, information architecture, public librarianship, medical librarianship, law librarianship, special librarianship, academic librarianship, or school (K-12) librarianship. School librarians often are required to have a teaching credential as well as a library science degree.

Elsewhere, a librarian can have a three- or four-year bachelor's degree in library and information studies or Information science; separate master's degrees in librarianship, archive management and records management are also available. In the United Kingdom, these degrees are accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and the Society of Archivists (

Doctorates in Library and Information Science are also possible, with graduates of these programs holding Ph.D.s. They often become university faculty (teaching in LIS programs) or university librarians, e.g. directors of Academic Libraries. The PhD is normally required for a library director in an academic setting, though the doctoral degree need not necessarily be in Library Science.

Other degrees often taken in conjunction with a degree in librarianship are law, management, or public administration.

There are para-professionals, such as library technicians and library assistants, who usually do not hold the specific Library Science or Information Management Master's degree, but may perform duties such as database management, cataloging, ready reference, or serials and monograph acquistions.

Professional organizations

The two largest library associations in the United States are the American Library Association (ALA) and the Special Libraries Association ( Many states have their own library association, as well. Librarians may also join such organizations as the Association of College and Research Libraries ( and the Public Library Association. The Canadian Library Association serves Canada and there are provincial associations as well, such as the Ontario Library Association. In the United Kingdom, the professional body for Librarians is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals ( (formally known as the Library Association). The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) ( represents the interests of libraries and librarians internationally. (See also the List of Library Associations.

Technology in libraries

The increasing role of technology in libraries has a significant impact on the changing roles of librarians. New technologies are dramatically increasing that accessibility of information, and librarians are adapting to the evolving needs of users that emerge from the adoption of these new technologies.

The most significant example of how technology has changed the role of librarians in the last 50 years has been the move from traditional card catalogs to online public access catalogs (OPAC). Libarians had to develop software and the MARC standards for cataloging records electronically. They had to purchase and run the computers necessary to use the software. They had to teach the public how to use the new technologies and move to more virtual working environments.

The same could be said of other technology developments from electronic databases (including the Internet) to logistical functions such as barcodes (or in the near future RFID. In the future, it will not be uncommon for librarians to be providing virtual reference services, using digital rights management to distribute documents, work in digitalization initiatives for works in the public domain or working on the development of information architectures for improving access and search functionality - among other things. These examples are merely new ways that librarians are using technology to fulfill and expand upon their historical roles.

For some, there is the belief that technology will eventually make librarians irrelevent. It is not uncommon to find mention of trivial applications of technology as "librarians". For example, in 2004 a group of researchers in University of Castello, Spain developed UJI Online Robot. Many called this a robotic librarian. Considering that the robot was only capable of navigating the library, looking for the needed book and carefully taking it from the shelf, speculation on the potential threat to the job security of this kind of robot to librarians is premature.

Practically, advances in technology move to eliminate more mundane tasks - such as getting books from a shelf - and free librarians for more difficult and valuable work. Those librarians that embrace technology and use it to their advantage only increase their job security - not decrease it.


In the US, Saint Jerome is most often considered the patron saint of librarians and translators.

In Western Europe, Saint Lawrence is most often considered the patron saint of librarians.

Among some Orthodox Christians, Saint Catherine of Alexandria is most often considered the saint (patroness) of librarians.

Librarians in popular culture

See also

fr:Bibliothcaire nl:Bibliothecaris ja:司書 pl:Bibliotekarz sv:Bibliotekarie zh:图书馆管理员


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