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Librarian

Overview  

From books to bytes

The traditional librarian is being redefined as technology progresses from the card catalog and even beyond the CD-ROM. Librarians need to be familiar with all available materials to answer questions. These resources now include paper records, periodicals, and books as well as the Internet, virtual libraries, and other technical programs. Librarian positions encompass three distinct aspects: user services, technical services, and administrative services. Growing quantities of information and developing technologies have affected all three of these areas. However, the title of library technician continues to be misleading, referring only to those who assist librarians with their wide range of duties, technical and traditional.

Information please

Incorporating the three areas of library work results in a position with extensive responsibilities. Working with the public involves analyzing users' needs to determine the appropriate information and then assisting with the search for it. Librarians are instructors as well, assisting patrons as they access data through computer systems. This interaction with the public calls for a consistently helpful and friendly countenance. Technical services are behind-the-scenes endeavors including acquiring, cataloguing, and preparing resources. Finally, the administrative portion of a librarian's job description runs from negotiating employee contracts to creating publicity and fundraising campaigns to preparing budgets.

In addition to this, school librarians teach students how to use the library and sometimes prepare readings and lessons. They also help teachers obtain instructional materials and assist students with special assignments. The curriculum and syllabus creation process involves both the librarians and the teaching staff. These librarians have the same working schedule as classroom teachers with similar vacations.

Beyond academia

Librarians are classified according to the type of library in which they work: public, school library/media center, academic, and special. Public libraries are more like community centers than simply repositories of information. There are events targeting literacy, censorship, fundraising, and specific groups such as children, young adults, retirees, or the disadvantaged. Often the work includes weekends, evenings, and even holidays, depending on the library's hours.

Medical, legal, religious, and corporate libraries and information centers are classified as special libraries. Their duties vary according to the environment. Essentially, librarians oversee the organization of the special interest information resources and assist others in accessing and utilizing this material. For librarians in the private sector who work with special libraries, the pressure is higher, but so is the salary.

For the love of the work

Starting salaries for librarians are in the low- to mid-$20Ks, increasing to the $30K-$40Ks after about five years in the profession. The average annual salary for a federal government librarian is $56,400. Since libraries are open on weekends, librarians' workweeks often extend past the usual five days, and they work many holidays as well.

Career Path  

After graduating from a four-year college or, in some cases, a two-year associate of arts degree program in library technology, a graduate is qualified to become a library assistant. Library assistants normally perform clerical and registration duties while providing general support to librarians. These jobs, with their minimal training requirements, are appealing to retirees, students, and others with part-time availability. A bachelor's degree and some on-the-job training qualifies a library technician, who helps the librarian acquire, organize, and share information. Library technicians are increasingly familiar with the automation developments in libraries.

The Masters of Library Science (MLS) is needed to become a full-fledged librarian. These advanced degree programs, open to liberal arts graduates of any major, are intended to give librarians a broad base of knowledge. Although many colleges and universities offer these programs, many employers prefer to hire those who have graduated from the approximately 50 schools accredited by the American Library Association. In some states, school librarians are required to have teaching certification as well. Special libraries, such as medical, law, and science, prefer to hire librarians with supplemental, subject-specific education. A Ph.D. in library and information sciences is advantageous for advanced positions such as college professorships and top administrative opportunities. This level of education is likely to become more common in the next few years.

Librarians can find longevity and success beyond traditional settings with information brokers, private corporations, and consulting firms. Many have recently jumped from educational institutions to dot coms where they are data experts. In the current Information Age, their research and organizational skills are highly coveted, as is their growing familiarity with computer database systems. After several years of employment, senior librarians play a strong role in determining the future of the library and its collections and have considerable flexibility in their hours. Running a modern library demands a great deal of responsibility rife with important technological decisions.

Uppers  

Constant access to information;Expertise in multpile topics and technologies;Opportunity for advancement

Downers  

Long workdays with little assistance;High stress level;Clueless customers

Personality Match  

Analytical;Efficient;Literate;Technologically Adept

Personality Miss  

Emotional;Disorganized

Hours  

Average about 40 per week

Salary  

Range from $22,970 to $67,810;Median salary: $39,000;Average for governemnt librarians: $56,400

Skills  

B.A. or B.S.;Master's degree in Library Science (MLS) required for advancement

Our Survey Says  

A librarian's day can consist of "tracking down a 50-year-old, out-of-print monograph on government" or "explaining microfiche to a 10-year-old." The job is "hard" the first year and many librarians remember "wanting desperately to quit." After proving themselves, however, most find that "it was a weeding-out process" and that "after you've proved your mettle, you gain so much more respect."

It takes a certain kind of person to be able to "commit [one's] life to creating order out of chaos," explains one insider about the librarian profession. Librarians are not allowed to recede into a hermetically-sealed environment, "alone with those precious books"; they have to be "ambassadors to learning" and deal with some of the "most difficult personalities imaginable" as a result. The hours can be long and the pay "merely adequate" at first, but after a few years most librarians feel that "the money and the multitude of tasks" make the hard work worthwhile.

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