The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







A librarian is a person who develops procedures for organizing information and provides services that assist and instruct people in the most efficient way to identify and access any needed information or information resource (article, book, magazine, etc.). In a workplace, the librarian is usually a professional 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 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, the periodicals or other special collection.)
  • Reference librarians offer special assistance to researchers within reference libraries. The help may take the form of providing direction on the use of information retrieval technology; 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 cataloguing and physical processing of new materials.
  • Experienced librarians may take administrative positions such as library director. Similar to the president 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, or the college for an academic library).
  • Archivists can be specialized librarians that deal with archival materials, such as manuscripts, documents and records, though this varies from country to country.

Common examples

  • Referrals to other community organizations and government offices.
  • Suggesting appropriate books 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.


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 or competitive intelligence 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.

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 librarian are specialists in these collections and archives. A University librarian , or Chief librarian , is responsible for the library within the college structure. 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 state’s 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.

Specialist library : Law, medical, government, corporate, or any other type of library owned and operated by an organization is a specialist library. They can be highly specialized, serving a discrete user group with a restricted collection area. Funding for specialist libraries varies widely. Librarians in some types of specialist libraries are required to have additional training such as a law degree for a librarian in a law library.


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, such as the United Kingdom, it is more common for a librarian to have a three- or four-year bachelor's degree in library and information studies or information science; however, 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 or university librarians.

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 lack the specific Library Science or Information Management Master's degree, but may perform duties such as database management , cataloguing , ready reference, or serials and monograph acquistions.

Librarian organizations

The two largest library associations in the United States are the American Library Association and the Special Libraries Association. Many states have their own library association, as well. Librarians may also join one organizations like the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Public Library Association. Many states have their own library association, as well. 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).

Recent issues of concern for U.S. libraries include implementation of Patriot Act and the Children's Internet Protection Act. Yet all librarians, internationally, share American librarian's concern over ethical issues surrounding censorship and privacy.

The increasing role of technology in libraries is another important issue. Librarians around the world look on in interest when technology changes or eliminates their traditional role. For example, in 2004 a group of researchers in University of Castello , Spain developed UJI Online Robot, a robotic librarian. Currently it is only capable of navigating the library, looking for the needed book and carefully taking it from the shelf; no reference functions are implemented. Similar projects are being implemented in the USA and Japan.


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 fiction

See also

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