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Library Careers: Information Organization and Retrieval, Customer Service and More


A seat of learning., Digital ID 1183776, New York Public LibraryLike most people, I never thought I would be a librarian while I was growing up. I tossed around a few ideas periodically: horse trainer, accountant, or psychologist, but I ultimately switched to library science while I was in graduate school. Why? I like working with people, but I do not necessarily want to be a clinical psychologist. I love working in a large urban public library system, providing services to those who need it most. I love working with kids, doing story times, and working at a research library on Sunday. I enjoy blogging and the excellent literary programs that NYPL staff and visiting presenters produce. I have been a librarian since 2003, and I have met a few people who are in library school or who have library degrees and were searching for jobs. This is a blog post for them.

How and Why I Became a Librarian

When I started college I had no idea which career I would pursue. I picked accounting as my major for my first semester since I had done well in a high school accounting class (I was the only junior girl with five senior guys). One semester into accounting... turns out I did not like it much. It is too focused on numbers for me. I wanted to pursue a career with more ambiguity, more room for creativity for me and one with more opportunities to work with people. During second semester, I changed my major to psychology, since I enjoyed a psychology class I had taken first semester. Think that was the end? No. I got an undergraduate degree in psychology, a master's degree in forensic psychology, started a master's program in social work, then switched majors again and eventually ended up with a master's degree in information science.

I like libraries and I wanted to work with people by assisting them with research. My first library job was cataloging my grandfather's rare book collection. Then I got a job as a circulation assistant in my college library and was promoted to reference assistant. I cataloged gay community center libraries in Dublin, Ireland and Albany, NY. I worked in corporate libraries in the banking and health care industry. I also was a solo librarian in a synagogue, music school library and a preschool. I was a branch librarian for a public library and I worked in several public libraries in different counties around the Philadelphia area. Since special library jobs are disappearing, I focused my search on large, urban public library systems. Then I got lucky and came to work for the New York Public Library. We have a great variety of free library ejournals, some of which can be accessed from home.

[Librarian at desk with patron], Digital ID 1151193, New York Public LibraryThe Joy of Librarianship

I love libraries because I like working with people and doing research. My job is very varied in a small public library branch. I provide reference services in the adult, teen and children's rooms. During the summer, I worked with the local camps and provide storytimes to elementary-age children. I do outreach with colleges and universities in Manhattan and the Bronx. I also work with special libraries in the New York City area (eg, New York Historical Society Library & Museum) that are open to the public to set up trainings for our staff (in conjunction with our staff development office). I have the opportunity to staff a public service desk in our main research library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Sundays, which helps me become more knowledgeable about our databases.

Being part of a large urban public library system with its own department of staff development has enabled me to get much training that might not be possible in a smaller library. I can blog and post on the library's website, which potentially can reach many people, since NYPL is a world famous research institution. Working in a public library enables me to have a flexible schedule, which includes working evenings and weekends. Sometimes it is convenient to have a day off during the week to attend to business or medical appointments. I love living in a large city with its diverse clientele and good public transportation. We also have many research services and sources available to us in New York City. We provide services that the public sorely needs, including free job search assistance and career counseling, free use of our computers and free lending of books. Someone once said that the public library is a great equalizer in society; patrons can get access to our materials regardless of socioeconomic status.

One of the other cool things about working with a large library system is that I get the opportunity to work with a lot of other talented librarians. I can network and coordinate services with other libraries and other types of libraries (special, school and academic). I also get the chance to supervise staff in the public library when I am in charge of the library, and I can train new staff members. It can be helpful to consult the American Library Association to learn more about libraries.

Types of Librarianship/Types of Libraries

National Music Camp - Student and librarian in music score library, Digital ID 1678327, New York Public LibraryAdministration/Management: It is good to contemplate the tasks and skills associated with different types of librarianship when considering a career in the field. Careers in library administration and management consist of working through others instead of providing all of the line worker services oneself. This is one aspect of management that can be difficult for librarians to transition through. They have to shift their focus from providing services to the customer to training and supporting other workers to provide those direct services. It can be lonely at times to be the decision-maker, but it can also be a great opportunity to tailor services to the community and be able to ensure that the library operates smoothly and meets the needs of the customers.

In general, management positions pay more than line worker jobs and have greater seniority and prestige in the company; on the other hand, they require that much more time be devoted to the job and they handle much more responsibility in the library. In terms of obtaining management positions, librarians who have not been job searching recently can find it difficult to compete with outside candidates who are actively working on their job seeking skills. Librarians who want to advance may find it helpful to consult a career counselor and/or a plethora of materials on job searching, especially books aimed at librarians. In New York City, Job Search Central at the Science, Industry and Business Library is a great resource.

School Librarianship: Perhaps some librarians who love kids aspire to school librarianship. This career can be great for people who enjoy teaching classes to use the library and take care of books properly. School librarians are teachers as well as librarians, and they may be responsible for developing their own curricula to teach information literacy to the students. School librarians are often solo librarians, and they are responsible for operating the library under the supervision of the principal. They may have limited contact with other librarians.

Librarian with young reader in Browsing Room of the Nathan Strauss Branch for Young People, Digital ID 1151145, New York Public LibrarySchool librarians are often responsible for all aspects of the library, including collection development, providing programs and classes in the library, setting opening hours, handling budgets and spending, and providing reference services. If they are lucky, they can recruit students as volunteers to help with some library tasks. People who enjoy having a lot of autonomy and working closely with teachers and having a lot of variety of library tasks might like being a school librarian. Unfortunately, however, many school libraries are being downsized across the United States, eliminated, or replaced with volunteers. There are still jobs for school librarians, however. This type of librarianship usually requires the applicants to be certified as school media specialists. Schools are much more structured than public libraries. The New York City School Librarians' Association and the School Library Journal web site are good resources.

Special Librarianship: This type of librarianship can often be solo librarianship. Special librarians work in libraries in which the larger organization is not a library. Corporate libraries (eg, medical communications company, banking association, law firm, zoos), museum libraries, and historical libraries all fit into this category. These libraries are very interesting; have you ever though of being a librarian for a veterinary hospital or a Disney librarian? Many corporations, including news and media companies have private librarians that serve the research needs of the staff of the company.

I am always amazed at the wide variety of special librarians that are out there. If people have a distinct subject interest, enjoy working in a corporate environment, and want a variety of job tasks (collection development, budget planning, providing reference and cataloging services), this may be the job for them. One caveat, however — subject specialty rather than having a master's degree in library science may be more important to employers seeking special librarians. Also, firms and corporations seem to be in a trend of downsizing and/or eliminating their corporate/special librarians. The Special Library Association is a terrific resource.

So You Want to Be a Law Librarian? Law librarianship can be especially rewarding for professionals with a strong interest in law and research. These positions are available in law firms and law schools. Most law librarians have a Juris Doctorate (JD) in addition to the Master's in Library Science (MLS). These librarians are also lawyers. The Law Library Association of Greater New York is a good resource.

Kathleen Campbell. [University librarian, Montana State University Library]., Digital ID 1167284, New York Public LibraryAcademic Librarianship is great for professionals who have a strong interest in research and enjoy teaching college students. Academic librarians often have professor status and must achieve tenure. Librarians who have a double master's degree and a subject specialty are required by most academic libraries. If the candidates do not have a second master's degree, they may be required to obtain one within five years of working for the university. I personally love the college learning environment, and I enjoy working at the Schwarzman Building on Sundays, which is our main research library. The Association of College and Research Libraries/ NY Chapter is a good resource.

Public Librarianship: This is great for anyone who loves a less structured environment, and who likes providing public service in a community center-like atmosphere. Public librarians work with community organizations, such as schools, universities, hospitals, senior centers, prisons, etc. to provide information services to the entire citizenry, regardless of socioeconomic status. Public librarians also provide reference services, work in cataloging, acquisitions, administration, events, etc. The questions librarians get at public libraries can run the gamut from how to write a eulogy to where to get child care to how to manage ones finances to authors who are researching for their books and graduate and post-graduate students at our research libraries.

At the neighborhood branches, we have many customers with basic or no computer literacy who benefit greatly from our free computer classes. Librarians in public libraries create attractive displays to promote the use of our materials, they develop fun and educational programs for customers of all ages; they may also end up shelving books or being in charge of the branch for short periods of time. One great thing about the New York Public Library is that the organization is forward-thinking in terms of anticipating the needs of customers and working to fulfill stated needs of customers. The Public Library Association can be a good resource. The pay rate of public librarians is lower in suburban and rural areas than it is in large urban areas.

How to Become a Librarian

Chatham Square Branch, children lined up at librarian's desk, April 11, 1910; "The Night Library", Digital ID 94636, New York Public LibraryVolunteering/Finding a Mentor: I have volunteered in many libraries, and I have learned much from those experiences. I cataloged gay libraries in Dublin, Ireland and Albany, NY. I volunteered in public libraries in Albany, NY and Philadelphia, PA. There, at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia, I met a librarian who was to be my supervisor in one of their research rooms. She gave me interesting tasks, talked to me for hours about different aspects of librarianship in general and public librarianship in particular, and she helped me find other volunteer and paid positions. She has been invaluable. Due to her decades of experience in management, I always find her perspective of what's happening in my job to be enlightening. I value her a lot as a friend and mentor. I probably never would have found this lady if I have not volunteered for her. I no longer volunteer for her, and we are both at different jobs in different cities, but we still keep in touch, and she is terrific.

So volunteering pays back in dividends that you may not achieve otherwise. Of course, it is not going to immediately, directly translate into helping you pay your bills. Volunteering is great because it is often more flexible than paid work; you can get opportunities to do things that you may not get in a paid job. The staff, in general, are more lenient, and they are very appreciative of the help that volunteers provide. If you are lucky, staff members that you are volunteering for will help you find paid work elsewhere or in that company. A caveat, however: people can make themselves miserable by thinking that a company will hire them just because they are volunteering for that company. For one thing, the company is benefiting for free. Volunteers may be lucky and be offered a position, but more often than not, they need to develop their job seeking skills just like the other candidates and apply for positions the same way that other candidates do. If you would like to volunteer for the New York Public Library, visit our Volunteer at NYPL web page.

The Prison Library At The Tombs, New York City, Established By Miss Linda Gilbert., Digital ID 809440, New York Public LibraryAttending Library School and obtaining a Master's Degree in Information Science (MLS) can be helpful for those who most definitely want to pursue librarianship as a career. It can be especially helpful for those who already work in libraries in order to help them obtain new skills and a higher rate of pay. I loved the instruction I got in Albany, NY, and I believe that it gave me a theoretical understanding and a basis of knowledge that has greatly improved the quality of the services that I am able to provide. I totally recommend library school if you can afford it or take out loans; it can give you a perspective on information organization, retrieval, customer service and more that it is hard to get without it. Here is a Directory of ALA-accredited Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies.

Career Counseling

Career counseling can be a terrific way for people to hone their job seeking skills. This aspect of job searching can sometimes be overlooked. Career counselors cannot hand out jobs, but they can help people develop the job seeking skills which will ultimately land them jobs. When job searching, people need to develop their job seeking skills until they are good enough to get offered a job that they are interested in. From that point forward, they are free to engage in their preferred line of work.

Career counselors can offer mock interviews, resume and cover letter critiques, and job search strategy advice. There is nothing like the one-on-one attention that a career counselor can give, and they can be very skilled at uncovering your interests and career paths and strategies that you may love. Do not be bothered by any perceived stigma that counseling may have. Career counseling is not for personal problems that do not relate to careers. It is perfectly okay to obtain some assistance in attaining a fulfilling career. At NYPL, we have career counselors at the Bronx Library Center and the Science, Industry and Business Library. We have a Job Search Central blog channel and job search and career workshops. NYPL also has a web page for job seekers.

I wrote my first resume with the help of career counselors at my undergraduate college, and I really appreciated their help, since I did not know what I was doing. I also utilized a career counselor at my graduate university. She was terrific about talking to me about my career goals; she did look at my resume, but I think that my conversations with her about less concrete aspects of job searching were most helpful. It especially was nice to think that I had a professional who was helping me with my career development. I have also attended many job search workshops at our Science, Industry and Business Library; the career counselors who present at these workshops, as well as the participants, always have enlightening things to say.


Children's Literary Salons

[Rumpelstiltskin], Digital ID 1701252, New York Public LibraryBetsy Bird runs the Children’s Literary Salon, which is held at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, usually on one Saturday a month, from 2 p.m.-3 p.m. I’ve been attending this program since 2009 and I have been blogging about it since 2011. It is extremely eye-opening and at least as good as attending a conference. Betsy always has thought provoking questions for the children’s literature professionals that she has on her panels. 

Children & Libraries

Children & Libraries is free from home or on-site in the library with library card and PIN (personal identification number). You can get access to many free children’s journals, including School Library Journal, which is by far the most important children’s librarianship journal in the United States for school media specialists and also public library children’s librarians. You may also want to look at American Libraries. AL is published by the American Library Association (ALA), and it is good to look in there for info on upcoming conferences and or for job openings, but you can also look on their website, Library Journal another major news source for librarians. It is good to look at these journals to see what trends are occurring in US libraries. Also, you may want to check out Public Libraries. I always find that journal to be a treasure trove of information.


ALA midwinter meeting in Philadelphia in Jan 2014, ALA annual and midwinter meetings have job search classes and recruiters that come from public libraries and you can get interviewed on the spot. I think that they just figure that they want people to work for them who attend conferences. You can just sign up for an interview.

Why not books?, Digital ID psnypl_grd_458, New York Public LibraryBook Expo America: I went to this in 2012 for the first time, and learned so much that I will attend all three days in 2013. We’re lucky that this national conference is staying in NYC for a couple of years. It’s only $100 to attend for three days for librarians. It may be cheaper for library school students.

Comic Con – NYC. If you’re into graphic novels for teens and kids, this is another inexpensive conference to attend in the autumn in NYC at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

SLJ Day of Dialog: I have been to this for several years. It’s a great one-day conference, and it’s only $40 if you want to learn about children and teen library services. It’s usually at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.


  • ACRLog (Association of College and Research Libraries)
  • SLJ A Fuse #8 Production – this is a terrific blog written by Betsy Bird, who works for NYPL. It was nominated for an Edublog of the Year award last year. Her knowledge and the sophistication of children’s works and her literary analysis is unparalleled in any blog I’ve read.
  • One of my Kid Lit Salon blogs.
  • Letters to a Young Librarian


American Libraries Articles

It is great for library job seekers to read articles about job searching that are specific to librarianship. Professional journals can be useful for this purpose.

School Library Journal Articles


"Betsy Goes to Bologna" by Betsy Bird, July 2011


Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers This directory can be used to find special libraries in your area. You can then check their web sites for job openings or call them. These libraries may not advertise their positions nationally, which can make it easier to get a job with them.


Art collection. Librarian at bookshelf with girl, others reading [58th Street Branch], Digital ID 1151153, New York Public LibraryJob seekers can often find job postings on association web sites. Attending conferences of these associations can be a great way to network. The American Library Association has a job center during its annual midwinter meeting and perhaps during its summer annual meeting. Attendees can go to workshops on job searching and meet recruiters and possibly interview with those recruiters at the conference.


Book truck at 40th street entrance of N.Y.P.L. Central building, ca. 1930s, showing it open for display. , Digital ID 434212, New York Public LibraryJob Links


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