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Academic Reference Librarian Job Description

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Information/Library Services Major Careers

Information/Library Career Information




Academic Libraries

  • Service to Faculty and Students
  • Reference
  • Circulation
  • Technical Services
    • Acquisitions
    • Cataloging
    • System Automation
    • Indexing/Abstracting
    • Archives
  • Serials Management
  • Manuscripts
  • Access/Outreach
  • Music
  • Metadata
  • Web Design/Maintenance
  • Digital Files
  • Digital/Paper Preservation
  • Government Documents
  • Special Collections
  • Media Services
  • Teaching
  • Administration/Management
  • Research Support
  • Cartographic Information Specialist
  • Publishing
  • Bibliographic Support
  • Local Area Network Manager
  • Electronic Services
  • Prospect Research
  • Collection Development
  • Instructional Technology
  • Audiovisual Materials
  • Information Literacy
  • Universities and colleges
  • Junior and community colleges
  • Specialized academic programs e.g., seminaries, optometrist programs
  • Academic librarians may work one-on-one with students and faculty, teach and present seminars, or work in technically- oriented positions such as systems design or database management.
  • Any bachelor’s degree in liberal arts is good preparation. Classes in communications, business/management, computer science and statistics can be helpful.
  • Related undergraduate subject degree is useful when working with particular specialties such as art or agriculture.
  • Develop excellent computer skills.
  • Gain experience in business and management to work in administration.
  • Work part-time in a college or university library to gain relevant experience.
  • Earn a master’s degree in library or information sciences from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA).

School Libraries and Media Centers

  • Teaching
  • Administration
  • Technical Services
  • Administrator (school system level)
  • K-12 schools
    • Public and private
  • Public school districts
  • School librarians or media specialists may help teachers develop curricula, prepare lesson units, team teach or provide staff development.
  • Many states require a master’s degree in library science and some require a specialty certification or an educational endorsement.
  • Some states also require teaching certification or student teaching in a library/media center.
  • Work or volunteer experience related to children and teaching is useful.
  • Become adept with various technologies and develop strong computer skills.
  • Learn to work both independently and with groups.

Public Libraries

  • User/Reader Services
    • Reference
    • Information and Referral Services
    • Youth Services
    • Children
    • Young Adults
    • Special Collections
  • Technical Services
    • Acquisitions
    • Serials Management
    • Collection Development
    • Cataloging
    • System Automation
    • Archives management
  • Web Development/Maintenance
  • Special Collections
  • Administration
  • Genealogical Research
  • Central libraries
  • Library branches
  • Library services to jails, retirement homes, nursing homes, hospitals, senior centers, etc.
  • Some librarians specialize in a particular subject area, such as government collections or technology, or a particular type of materials, such as maps or photography, or with a special population.
  • Creativity, a flair for drama, and an enjoyment of children are important for those working in youth services. Courses in child development and psychology are helpful in this field.
  • Develop a broad liberal arts background and earn a master’s degree in library or information science from an ALA accredited program.
  • Develop strong computer skills and learn to enjoy working with new technology.

Special Libraries and Information Centers

  • Indexing/Abstracting
  • Competitor Intelligence
  • Strategic Information
  • Knowledge Management
  • Records Management/Archives
  • Information Architecture
  • Document Design
  • Information Management
  • Usability
  • Digital Preservation
  • Email Management
  • Hypermedia
  • Visual Resources
  • Reprography
  • Grey Literature
  • Antiquarian Books
  • Large hospitals
  • Medical schools
  • Law firms
  • Law schools
  • Bar associations
  • Large corporations
  • Industrial and scientific collections
  • Research labs
  • Local, state and federal government agencies
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Public libraries
  • Colleges and universities
  • Art schools
  • Museums and art institutions
  • Prisons
  • Galleries
  • Historical societies
  • Publishing houses
  • Advertising and public relations agencies
  • News organizations and electronic media
  • Picture services
  • Motion picture studios
  • Television stations
  • Trade and professional associations
  • Special collections librarians generally have interests, skills, and knowledge related to the collection and may work with a particular population in special libraries, e.g. lawyers or doctors.
  • Most positions require a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the collection topic, e.g. business, science, art, etc. Some require a graduate degree in the field.
  • Many law librarians have a Juris Doctor (law degree).
  • Knowledge of foreign languages may be required in certain fields.
  • Develop skills in research and a solid background in information technologies.
  • Earn a master’s degree in library or information science from an ALA accredited program.

Information Services

  • Research
  • Indexing/Abstracting
  • Online Retrieval
  • Information Architecture
  • Programming
  • Database Management
  • Information service agencies
  • Outsourcing companies
  • Research centers
  • Large corporations
  • Self-employed
    • Consulting
    • Freelance editing
    • Research
  • Information services professionals provide research and services to corporations, writers or individuals needing information or references on a particular subject.
  • Expertise in an industry or subject area may be helpful.
  • Supplement undergraduate curriculum with courses in business to gain an understanding of marketing principles.
  • Develop excellent research, writing and organizational skills.

Information Systems/Technology

  • Design/Development
  • Management/Operation
  • Database Administration
  • Computer Support
  • Network Administration
  • Programming
  • Systems Analysis
  • Web Development/Maintenance
  • Training
  • Reprography
  • Information Architecture
  • Digital Preservation
  • Privacy Regulation
  • Libraries
    • Public, academic and special
  • Data processing centers
  • Corporations
  • Research centers
  • Government
  • Universities
  • Professionals involved in information systems help organizations with the storage, retrieval, and management of records or information and support information technology in an organization.
  • An undergraduate degree in management information systems (MIS) or computer science is the preferred background before earning a master’s in information science.
  • Build a strong computer background in programming skills using several languages, various operating systems, database management, software and networks.
  • Increase employment opportunities through product related certification or by earning Certified Computing Professional (CCP) status conferred by the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals. CCP’s must pass an examination and meet various requirements.
  • Gain related experience through internships, co-ops or part-time employment.
  • Develop excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Learn to work well with both technical and nontechnical staff.

Electronic Publishing

  • Database producers
  • Distributors of electronic publications, e.g. business firms, universities, nonprofit organizations, professional associations, etc.
  • Electronic publishers
  • Self-employed
  • Electronic publishers or publishing professionals create and distribute publications in electronic form.
  • Develop writing skills through classes in English, journalism or technical writing.
  • Learn advanced website design and programming.

General Information and Strategies

  • Qualifications important to the field include the ability to work well with people, good written and oral communication skills, intelligence and curiosity, research and computer skills, an eye for detail and a general love of learning are also essential.
  • Understanding trends in media, computers/technology, internet, and publishing is important to success in the profession.
  • Virtually any undergraduate degree can offer good preparation for ALA accredited graduate programs.
  • Maintain a high grade point average in undergraduate work and work on gaining strong recommendations from faculty.
  • Work in campus or community libraries part-time or during the summers to gain exposure to the library environment.
  • Supplement undergraduate curriculum with courses in communications, media, business or technology. Some areas of information or library sciences may require bachelor’s or master’s degrees related to the job environment.
  • Choose master’s degree programs in library or information science that are accredited by the American Library Association to maximize employment opportunities.
  • Currently, most library science professionals work in school, public, and academic libraries, but employment opportunities are growing most for information specialists in settings such as corporations, consulting firms and information brokers and in environments involving internet-based information.
  • A doctorate, either Ph.D. DLS, or DA may be required for research and university teaching in library and information science programs or to reach the highest levels of library administration.


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