How to Become a Librarian in Today’s Information-Driven World

What Does It Mean to Be a Librarian Today?

Being a librarian in the 21st century—whether in a K–12 school or a public, academic, or special library—is about much more than curating collections and shelving books. Though you’ll still work with printed texts, leading librarians today are also adept technologists, managers, service experts, community organizers, and information advocates.

As a librarian, you can take on an important role in today’s information-driven world as a service professional who connects users with resources through advanced technology.

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Learn more about the online master’s in library science program from Syracuse University.

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What is Library Science?

Library science refers to the methods of managing information and collecting, organizing, preserving, and sharing library materials. Also commonly referred to as library and information science, the field focuses on increasing and accelerating information access through a variety of technologies.

What Skills Will You Develop?

To practice library science and become a librarian or information professional, you will have to develop knowledge across disciplines, including management, big data, computer and information technology, community engagement, and literacy services, in order to connect people with the resources they need.

To become a librarian, you will need to develop the following competencies:

Service expertise: Librarians must be able to interact with and serve everyone from children and students to academic researchers, businesses, nonprofits, or government organizations. Services you will perform for these clients can include  

  • answering reference questions and helping users find research sources, including multimedia materials;
  • teaching community members how to use research databases, information platforms, and other new technologies like those found in makerspaces;
  • organizing community programming and creating a space conducive to education and learning;
  • connecting community members with the information or resources they need in order to create a better future for themselves; and
  • helping researchers gather, store, and analyze data from a broad range of resources.

Analytical, managerial, and leadership skills: You will need to be able to think analytically and develop new or revised systems, procedures, and workflow. This includes

  • implementing new technologies and using cataloging methods in databases to organize media;
  • interacting with business, government, and community leaders to determine the needs of the community and how the library can partner to address those needs;
  • managing systems, services, and staff to maximize the library’s impact on those who need and rely on its services; and
  • demonstrating the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.

Technological know-how: Librarians must also have the ability to work well with computers and expertly navigate digital resources and online reference libraries. Against the constantly evolving backdrop of tech advancement, you’ll need to be skilled in

  • introducing and managing systems that promote equitable information access,
  • interacting with various standards for organizing information,
  • educating users on how to keep their information secure and private,
  • working with library vendors to assure that their systems reflect the ever-changing needs of library users, and
  • learning about the constant changes in information technology and their impact on library services.

What Are the Different Types of Librarianship?

In a public library, librarians ensure access to information is available to an entire community. They curate community programming to help educate people of all ages on new technologies and information resources.

A school librarian in elementary, middle, and high schools will provide library services to students to support all aspects of their education. School librarians may help children develop literacy as well as research skills.

Librarians at colleges or universities are responsible for organizing large amounts of resources and information for students, researchers, and university staff. They frequently work closely with academic researchers on their information needs. These librarians may specialize in a specific subject matter that is aligned with schools or programs on their college or university campuses, such as art, biology, or law.

Librarians devoted to special topics or special situations may work in corporations, hospitals, government agencies, consulting firms, museums, zoos, and a wide range of other situations.

Data librarians work to manage, maintain, and preserve information across a wide range of organizations and professional settings. Typical duties include locating data, using statistical methods to understand what that data can mean for their organization, and organizing data for later use.

Technical service librarians’ main duties include cataloging and classifying new materials, preserving older items, maintaining a library’s online catalog, and helping navigate a library’s learning technologies.

Librarians managing historical materials typically work to curate, preserve, and present a collection for public viewing. They often work within cultural institutions like museums or for special collections within academic institutions to digitize historical materials.

Diverse Library and Information Science Careers

Library science can also be applied to roles outside of the traditional librarian job description. Other positions MLIS graduates may pursue include:

  • Collections development coordinator
  • Instruction librarian
  • Metadata librarian
  • Library consultant
  • Research specialist
  • Open access librarian
  • Archivist
  • Data curator
  • Community manager
  • Information technology specialist
  • Assessment librarian
  • Makerspace operations manager

Develop Librarianship Expertise With a Syracuse Online Master’s

Syracuse University offers online library science master’s programs that will prepare you with the technology, management, and service skills to promote and empower users of information. Delivered through Syracuse’s School of Information Studies—one of the first institutions to integrate information technology with librarianship at the dawn of the digital age— the programs instill in students a larger mission to further human progress through information.

Online programs from Syracuse University’s iSchool include:

Both programs feature live online classes and a sophisticated learning management system for accessing coursework. The programs also offer plenty of hands-on learning that will prepare you for your library and information science career after graduation. This includes work experience opportunities at partner libraries located near you and on-campus immersion experiences where you can connect with classmates and professors in person.

Gain Hands-On Skills in an Online MLIS Program

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Librarian Career Outlook

With greater and faster circulation of information, communities need librarians to manage digital, print, and multimedia resources.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, librarian employment is projected to grow faster than the national average growth rate for all occupations, at 9 percent between 2016 and 2026.1

For aspiring librarians planning to practice in New York State, New York State has the highest employment levels for librarians in the nation, at 12,690.2

Four Things That Make an MLIS More Marketable

Everyone’s path to becoming a librarian is different. Your process of becoming a librarian and how long it may take you can depend on your personal situation, career goals, and location. However, to be eligible to practice in most settings, you may consider the following.

  1. Enroll in an American Library Association (ALA)-Accredited Master’s Degree Program

    Many libraries require that aspiring librarians hold a master's degree from an ALA-accredited program. If you wish to work as a school librarian, you may also be required to obtain certification/licensure in the state in which you wish to practice. To set yourself up for success, earning an ALA-accredited master's degree is the first step to ensure you are qualified. You will learn the skills needed to become a librarian or information specialist in a range of library settings.

    As some states do not offer ALA-accredited programs, you may not have the ability to gain advanced librarianship skills near where you live. If your state does not offer an ALA-accredited master’s program, you may want to consider earning your library science master’s degree online. Syracuse University’s ALA-accredited online MLIS program includes opportunities for students to gain real-world experience and network with their peers.

  2. Gain Experience in the Field

    Even before completing your master’s in library science, you can prepare for a career after graduation by gaining real-world experience at a local university, school, or public library.

    In order to work as a school librarian, states may require candidates to gain a certain amount of experience before obtaining certification/licensure. Pursuing an internship, part-time job, or volunteer opportunity before graduating can give you a head start on certification and your job search, and help you learn important skills outside the classroom.

  3. Earn certification

    Certification requirements vary greatly by state and may also depend on what type of librarian you want to become. For example, a school librarian/media specialist may need to meet a state's educator requirements, while a librarian in a public library setting will not. Please note that states may require candidates to hold a teacher certificate prior to working as a school librarian/media specialist. To learn what is required, reference your state's certification/licensing board.

  4. Pursue Your Librarian Career and Continue Learning

    As you search for roles, stay in touch with contacts in the field, including classmates from your master’s program, professors, mentors, and supervisors from library internships and jobs you have held. Even after you begin your career, you can benefit from the advice or support these contacts can share as you continue to develop your librarianship skills on the job.

Why Do You Need a Master's Degree to Become a Librarian?

Librarians require an in-depth knowledge of technical, managerial, and service practices that a master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program can provide.

Without relocating, you can prepare to become a librarian with Syracuse’s ALA-accredited online Master of Science in Library and Information Science program. Complete the form below to take the next step toward becoming a librarian today.