So You Want to Be a Librarian

Alison Peters
Nov 1, 2016 · 8 min read

These days the title of “librarian” doesn’t provide a big enough picture of all the things you can be with the MLIS degree. Here are 25 librarian job titles to inspire you.

Maybe you’ve never dreamed of an exciting career in library and information science, LIS for short. But perhaps that’s just because you don’t know all of the cool stuff librarians do. Because yes, there is an art and a science to the service of meeting information seekers’ needs, responding to changes in searching and information delivery, knowing what books your community must have in its local library (and, it follows, really knowing your local community), determining what programs to offer, and understanding how you can make everyone who visits the library or information center more knowledgeable than when they came. Even if they visit online.

Welcome to library life.

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Stockholm Library, courtesy Ben Lee, Flickr

Today’s librarian is a multitasker extraordinaire, cheerfully tackling everything from social media content to website creating and coding, managing physical and e-resources, providing up-to-date, accurate research for second graders and CFOs, and fighting the good fight for open access and intellectual property, all while continuing professional development in the latest trends and technologies — with a smile.

Let’s start with the basics.

Print books are not dead. Libraries are still around and thriving, thank you very much. They are becoming community meeting spaces, continue to provide research and information to the general public, and constantly develop programs and services to meet community’s changing needs.

The librarysphere includes three broad categories of librarian:

  • Public librarians working to provide necessary services to local communities;
  • School and academic librarians brightening the lives of students in grade schools, colleges, and universities;
  • And special librarians posted in a vast range of workplaces you might never have even thought to provide library services. These librarians might have the titles you’d expect, but their work is out of this world.

Beyond the librarysphere, there are information professionals organizing, analyzing, protecting, and presenting information in all kinds of environments, to support all kinds of communities.

The Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree is a crucial component to working in the information field. These days the title of “librarian” doesn’t provide a big enough picture of all the things you can be with the MLIS degree. We’re working as cybrarians at the world’s biggest and brightest corporations, creating code and corresponding databases, giving up high-profile media roles for the glory of the public library sphere, continuing the longstanding librarian tradition of being on the forefront of social justice, collaborating with international partners, and going mobile to reach entire communities.

To give just a brief insight into the word of today’s information professional and keep you thinking about all of the many, many options, here are 25 MLIS job titles and what you can do with them.

1. CEO. Oversee public libraries like the boss you are, from finance to hiring to acquisitions to community partnerships.

2. Development coordinator. Take charge of the library’s marketing, outreach, and fundraising plans. In an academic library, coordinate events with other departments, and make sure all students feel welcome to partake of the library’s diverse holdings and events. For bonus points, become a TedEx speaker.

3. State librarian. When one library is just not enough, be the person to coordinate all of the library resources for the state, including funding, providing access to technology, determining programs, and bringing all the librarians together under one agenda.

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California State Librarian Greg Lucas adds a book to the Camarillo Public Library collection.

4. Librarian of congress. Reaching even higher, as the librarian of congress you can oversee a staggering $620 million budget and 3,200 employees, all working to provide research for the U.S. Congress, along with legal advice, public programs, and assistance to scholars. And they also have the fun of operating the Copyright Office. Carla Hayden is the first woman and first African American librarian of congress.

5. Cybrarian. On the corporate side of library life, as a cybrarian you’ll provide marketing and competitive research with the goal of making information available to everyone in the corporation, quickly, thoroughly, and virtually.

6. Book conservator. Library work frequently overlaps with the world of archives — collecting, maintaining, and making accessible public and private books, records, and ephemera for the benefit of the public. Help save the lives of historical books and texts so current and future generations will be able to enjoy their contents.

7. Illustrator and author. If you’re inspired by something in your own life, write a book about it, and illustrate it accordingly. What better place to share that than in libraries? How I Learned English: The Story of a Brave Mexican Girl is one Brazilian immigrant and librarian’s homage to her English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students and friends, and an English-language learning book.

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Librarian, author, and illustrator Paula Pereira holds her self-published book.

8. Writer. Be the change you want to see in libraries. Counting Down to Kindergarten: A Complete Guide to Creating a School Readiness Program for Your Community is a librarian’s labor of love, helping ensure that the library takes steps to increase literacy and help children make a better transition from home to school.

9. Cybersecurity expert. Every organization needs someone who can ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their information resources. Analyze data to identify suspicious activity, conduct network forensics, understand compliance and regulation requirements, and help keep cyberspace safe.

10. Rare book expert. Preserve rare books — like a 1737 universal etymological English dictionary owned by John Hancock or a 1974 copy of the first draft of George Lucas’s The Star Wars — for future generations.

11. Concierge. Combine customer service, technology troubleshooting and overall library program promotion to be the go-to librarian. As concierge you’ll help promote and foster good customer experiences, ensuring library patrons’ needs are met and their visit is a happy one.

12. Librarian Without Borders. A Canadian-based nonprofit is made up of librarians tirelessly volunteering their time, energy, knowledge, and resources to help libraries in underserved regions across the globe support their communities. Learn about international librarianship by joining the group’s yearly pilgrimage to their partner library in Guatemala.

13. Film preservationist. Hollywood needs librarians, too. Practice the fine art of preserving, curating, and archiving motion pictures and other audiovisual materials — you might even end up holding the very first, uncut version of Star Wars.

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Film preservationist Sarah Smith holds reel three of the original, uncut Star Wars.

14. Curator. Librarians do more for their communities than find books. Read between the lines to discover what your community needs: like the nationally recognized and award-winning War Ink, a virtual art exhibit paying homage to veterans and telling their stories — all through their tattoos.

15. Wikipedian in residence. You use it all the time, so why not make a career of it? Be the library liaison between Wikipedia and the academic, corporate, or other institution, the writer who edits Wikipedia articles about places like Harvard, the Palace of Versailles, and the British Library, for starters.

16. Innovation manager. Are you a maker? Maker faires, virtual privacy labs, a Maker[Space]Ship — these are just a few of the latest offerings from librarians who love to make things, and who are connecting people with technology.

17. Taxonomist. Take information back to its basics and help organizations get the most of and leverage their data with taxonomy, the science of classification of things or concepts.

18. Shoebrarian. Find your happy place and make them understand they need a library, as this intrepid librarian did. She now works at a NAME WITHHELD BUT REALLY BIG shoe manufacturer providing reference services for their fully functioning library, where “instead of books the library has materials needed to make shoes.”

19. Corporate librarian. Support employees all over the world through virtual services including research and analysis for the company’s decision makers, and back at home, provide traditional services through the campus library.

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Corporate librarian Whitni Watkins is having a good day.

20. Prison librarian. In prisons and jails, librarians provide inmates with the skills they need to reenter the civilian populations, teaching them to read, use computers, and apply for jobs. Recidivism, inmates returning to prison after they’re released, has been shown to be greatly reduced when inmates have opportunities to increase literacy during incarceration. Reading truly is fundamental.

21. Culinary school librarian. In addition to providing books for students’ basic studies in English, psychology, nutrition, and history, research trending topics like molecular gastronomy, prepare students for jobs with texts like The Psychology of Restaurant Management, and enjoy a quick sample of the goods.

22. Public librarian. Work with people from across all ages and backgrounds in public libraries as a youth services librarian, a reference specialist, a director in charge of planning, budgets, and overall administration, or a grant writer who gets your library the money for new programs and services.

23. Columnist. Share your library’s programs, services, philosophy, and goodwill with the rest of the community. Libraries look to local publications to spread news, information, and library issues to the public, and these librarians took matters into their own hands by writing regular columns in newspapers.

24. Dance archivist. If your passion (or previous degree) is in a specific area, use that to find a job at a special, nontraditional library. At a world-renowned dance school and festival, this librarian documents the performance season, catalogs the moving images and other materials in the collection (correspondence, photographs, choreographic notes) — and gets to attend the festival itself.

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Dance archivist Brittany Austin leaps for the sheer joy of her job.

25. Professor. Educate the future generation of students and librarians in the art of information science and more. On campus or virtual, today’s LIS professors and academic and school librarians connect through the latest technologies, making their classrooms virtual and open to students across the globe.

One thing most of these folks have in common is that they wanted something more, something more challenging, rewarding, people-oriented — an intangible realization that led them to the MLIS degree.

Information professionals across the spectrum agree that this is an exceptionally exciting time for the field, with changes taking place everywhere you turn as information-seeking systems and services make their way into the 21st century. Librarians can be traditional, they can be virtual, they can be just about anything. The world is an open book, and librarians are filling it up as we make it a more connected place, one question answered at a time.

Alison Peters is a 2016 MLIS graduate from the San Jose State University iSchool. As a student she was introduced to a wide range of information professionals through writing profiles of iSchool librarians, whetting her appetite to discover and explore all types of librarian jobs. And one day to dance through the stacks with glee.

SJSU iSchool

San Jose State University School of Information

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