Guide to College Majors in Library Science
By C Nich
--Dwight D. Eisenhower
What Is Library Science?
Librarians, in the truest sense, are the custodians of information. Whether in the public library or in corporate, faculty, or professional facilities, they provide the community with the knowledge, skills, and resources to find more information on virtually any topic. From the future novelist who spends his childhood immersed in fiction to the doctoral candidate preparing a dissertation on medical treatments, the best source for any recorded material, including CD-ROMs, websites, virtual libraries, and remote access to a wide range of resources, is the library.
Even with the Internet making information resources available at anyone's desktop, the role of the librarian is to sift through numerous databases, refine searches, qualify sources and help verify information. The modern science of library and information studies is largely responsible for the development of high-speed, integrated, and accurate storage of bulk information. Many libraries have access to remote databases and maintain their own computerized databases. Librarians also help train users to develop searching skills for the information they seek.
If you're considering a library science degree, you'll need to decide which area you'd be best suited for. Librarians are classified according to the type of library where they work, such as a public library, school library media center; college, university, or special library. Some librarians work with specific groups, such as children, adults, or the disadvantaged. In school library media centers, librarians--often called school media specialists--help teachers develop curricula, acquire materials for classroom instruction, and sometimes team teach.
Librarians also work in information centers or libraries maintained by government agencies, corporations, law firms, advertising agencies, museums, professional associations, medical centers, hospitals, religious organizations, and research laboratories. A corporate librarian could provide the sales department with information on competitors or new developments affecting the field. A medical librarian may provide information about new medical treatments, clinical trials, and standard procedures to health professionals, patients, consumers, and corporations. Government document librarians preserve publications, records, and other documents that make up a historical record of government actions and decision making.
With a library science degree, you can specialize in a single area, such as acquisitions, cataloguing, bibliography, reference, special collections, or administration. Librarians must have knowledge of a wide variety of scholarly and public information sources and must follow trends related to publishing, computers, and the media in order to oversee the selection and organization of library materials. Other personality traits that will help your career are a love for organizing; inquisitive, probing, and thorough by nature; well read with a broad knowledge and interest base; and a desire to never stop learning.
Degree Programs in Library Science
Library jobs can include everyone from facilities support staff to doctorate-level researchers and directors. The most common educational requirement for professional librarians is the MLS, or Master of Library Science. Associate and bachelor's degrees in library science are also available, usually leading to library technician jobs. Students who wish to begin working in the field while studying for their MLS might choose to pursue an online university degree, allowing them to get a foot in the door sooner and apply their training directly to their library jobs.
Career Options With a College Degree in Library Science
Most of the 167,000 librarians employed in 2002 worked in school and academic libraries; nearly a third worked in public libraries. The remainder worked in special libraries or as information professionals for companies and other organizations. More than 20% of librarians work part-time. Experienced librarians can advance to administrative positions, such as department head, library director, or chief information officer.
Employment of librarians is expected to grow more slowly than average, but job opportunities are expected to be very good because of impending Baby Boomer retirements.
Despite the healthy demand for library professionals, there is a trend in some circles to hire fewer librarians and replace them with less costly library technicians. Computerized systems make cataloguing easier, allowing library technicians to perform the work. If you'd prefer to test the waters with an associate's degree before committing to your MLS, consider applying for library technician careers and plan to work your way up the ladder as you earn your degree.
Library Technician Careers
Library technicians can have other titles, such as library technical assistant or media aide. They direct library users to standard references, organize and maintain periodicals, prepare volumes for binding, handle interlibrary loan requests, prepare invoices, perform routine cataloguing and coding of library materials, retrieve information from computer databases, and supervise support staff. An associate of arts in library technology can include both liberal arts and library-related study. Students learn about library and media organization and operation, as well as how to order, process, catalogue, locate, and circulate library materials and work with library automation.
Given the rapid spread of automation in libraries, computer skills are needed for many jobs. Knowledge of databases, library automation systems, online library systems, online public access systems, and circulation systems is valuable. The increasing use of automated information systems is enabling librarians to focus on administrative and budgeting responsibilities, grant writing, and specialized research requests, while delegating more technical and user services responsibilities to technicians.
Library Jobs in the Information Age
Librarians with computer and information systems skills can work as automated-systems librarians, who plan and operate computer systems. They might also choose to work as information architect librarians, designing information storage and retrieval systems and developing procedures for collecting, organizing, interpreting, and classifying information.
Employment should grow rapidly in special libraries because of the increase in their use by professionals. More and more, librarians are applying their information management and research skills to arenas outside of libraries--for example, database development, reference tool development, information systems, publishing, Internet coordination, marketing, Web content management and design, and training of database users.
Entrepreneurial librarians sometimes start their own consulting practices, acting as freelance librarians or information brokers and providing services to other libraries, businesses, or government agencies. Librarians are valued for their ability to review vast amounts of information and analyze, evaluate, and organize it according to a company's specific needs. Professionals with a library science degree can be work as systems analysts, database specialists and trainers, webmasters or web developers, or local area network (LAN) coordinators.
Archivists describe, catalogue, analyze, exhibit, and maintain valuable objects and collections for the benefit of researchers and the public. Records may be saved on any medium, including paper, film, videotape, audiotape, electronic disk, or computer. As technology evolves, archivists must keep abreast of technological advances in electronic information storage. Archivists work for a variety of organizations, including government agencies, museums, historical societies, corporations, and educational institutions. Archive technicians need a bachelor's degree in library science or history, or relevant work experience.
Certification, Licensure and Professional Associations
State certification requirements for public school librarians vary widely. Most states require school librarians to be certified as teachers and to have some library science coursework under their belts. An MLS is needed in some cases, perhaps with a library media specialization, or a master's in education with a specialty in school library media or educational media. Some states also require certification of public librarians employed in municipal, county, or regional library systems.
There are several professional associations offering career advancement resources and credentials, such as:
- American Library Association
- Special Libraries Association
- American Association of Law Libraries
- Medical Library Association
State library agencies can furnish information on scholarships available through their offices, requirements for certification, and general information about career prospects. State departments of education can provide information on certification requirements and job opportunities for school librarians.
The Academy of Certified Archivists offers voluntary certification for archivists. The "Certified Archivist" designation is obtained by those with a master's degree and a year of appropriate archival experience who pass a written examination.
About the Author
Contributing writer to World Wide Learn