How do I get a job as a librarian?

I’m a 25 year-old with a bachelor’s in English. While I was going to school I worked in the university library and loved it. In my last semester of school I decided I wanted to be a librarian as a career, but it was too late to change my major.

Now I work at a large insurance company. I hate how stressed out it makes me, and I want to get back into a library.

The problem now is that most library jobs require a Master’s degree, and I don’t have one. I’m worried that with so few openings, even if I get my degree, I won’t be able to get a position, and that time and money will be wasted.

What’s the best course of action in this case? Is it too late for me to get into an academic field like library science, not having had planned to go into it from the get go?

11 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    You can’t have a career in a library. The Internet is making librarian jobs too precarious — and they will probably require different degrees in the next decade – more focused on information design than on library services.

    You should look at the things you like about being in a library and get those traits in a different type of job. Each of us has certain things we need in a job, but none of us has only one job that is right for us. It’s like finding a boyfriend — there are tons of guys that would be fine. You just need to know the traits you’re looking for.

    To find career ideas, I recommend you look at the book Do What You Are. Here’s a link:

    Find out your Myers Briggs score and then from there (with this book) you can find out the traits you need in a job to feel fulfilled.

    I can’t stress enough how unemployable you’ll be if you set your heart on libraries.


    • Sara Pavao
      Sara Pavao says:

      You’re sadly misinformed. Libraries are just as relevant as ever with technological advancements, research opportunities, vital archives, and yes, even books (some people still like to read books with spines and pages — especially for free).

      Also, information is already PART of library services. Sure, it’s not all about books on musty bookshelves anymore, but that’s actually the great part. The fact that library services are expanding means there are more ways people seeking library jobs can get involved AND find a niche that suits them best.

  2. Darrell Cook
    Darrell Cook says:

    I don’t recommend you listen to Ms. Trunk. She’s obviously clueless about what true librarians are all about. Librarianism is still a valuable, relevant, and rewarding career. Particularly in academia.

    I suggest you pursue your Masters degree on a part-time basis so you can seek and obtain work (full- or part-time) in a library — while you are going to school. Libraries often have paraprofessional positions not requiring the Masters degree. Many Masters candidates mistakenly think they should complete the degree as soon as possible, i.e., full-time. In fact, you will make yourself more marketable by gaining actual library experience at the same time. Also, most Masters programs require or offer practicum credit, or internships. Take advantage of these, as they often lead to job offers.

  3. Kate Capps
    Kate Capps says:

    I appreciate your desire to find more fulfilling work. There is a lot of psychic income in librarianship, i.e., not all of a librarian’s income is monetary. It is a public service field and is often not what a career consultant would consider a lucrative career. The employment world right now is treacherous irrespective of the job you seek. That said, librarians are needed now more than ever to help people make sense of the avalanche of information with which they are bombarded, to assist people who reside on the other side of the digital divide and come to the library to use computers to search and apply for jobs, create resumes, and more. Public libraries continue to be what Ben Franklin envisioned, the people’s university: they are places of lifelong learning as well as reading and viewing pleasure. If you find helping other people in great and small ways rewarding, then the library may well be the place for you. Full disclosure: librarianship is my second career, and I love my work. I look forward to going to work every day because each day is different–new faces, new challenges, new projects.

  4. Sammy
    Sammy says:

    As a second career librarian, I really wish that I had chosen another field. True, as Ms. Capps said, there is a lot of psychic income in librarianship, and much satisfaction when you help someone find that elusive bit of information. As Mr. Cook states, Academia careers in libraries are more relevant now than public libraries. Public Libraries are still extremely busy, but many lawmakers see libraries as an ideal place to make budget cuts.
    When the legislature has a choice between funding schools, prisons, mental health/mental retardation programs, parks, and libraries, who will they cut? They may think of parks and libraries, but soccer, baseball, softball, etc. teams will all petition to keep their parks and play fields open. Hmm, visions of little kids playing sports or sitting quietly reading books? sSports always seems to win. Especially when you consider that librarians and library people are generally quiet spoken (and tend to not speak up until it is too late), vs. sports folks who tend to be very attention getting and out spoken.
    Libraries are needed, but as a mid-level supervisor, I received 35+ Master’s level applicants for our last three paraprofessional jobs. I saw many applicant fresh our of grad school and almost as many with years of professional experience who had been “re-organized our” or simply laid off.
    While I appreciate anyone’s interest in libraries, I suggest evaluating your strengths and weaknesses and going into a field that is still growing and hiring, not shrinking and closing.

  5. Laura
    Laura says:

    So, you think you want to be a librarian? Ok – as has been said, we are still a realistic career option. That said, go into this with your eyes open. Investigate grad school and options for paying for it that won’t leave you with lots of loans to pay off. Talk to librarians, in different types of libraries, to see what our work is really like. We talk online – see us at . Check out the Library Day in the Life program – – to see what we really do and decide if it is for you.

    Do your homework, and if you decide that it is still what you want, apply to grad school, part time, full time, in person or through online programs, whatever fits you best. While in school, gain all the experience you can in work that you can relate to libraries. Listen to the advice you get from that network you’ve still been building in person and online.

    There are good people in libraries and good libraries out there. Is it a changing field? Yes, so many times yes! Does that make it an exciting time to be in libraries? In so many ways, it absolutely does.

  6. Erika
    Erika says:

    It’s NEVER too late to go back to graduate school–in librarianship or in almost any other field. True, if you wait until you’re 55 to go to medical school, it’s unlikely you’ll ever recoup your investment, but for a master’s level professional program such as an MLS, 25 is probably the average. But I’d suggest that before you take advice from someone who knows nothing about libraries, you start by talking to a librarian. See if your alma mater has an alumni network, and find some alumni who are librarians–academic, public, special, etc. Talk to them. Talk to the instruction and reference librarians at a local university or community college and find out what they do, what they like about their job, what they don’t like. Don’t be afraid to try library jobs in areas that you don’t have a background in–work in a medical library, or a business school library.
    And keep in mind that people have been telling librarians that their jobs will be obsolete for at least the last 15-20 years. Most of us are busier than we’ve ever been (although I have to say, I don’t actually use a lot of books in my work…).

  7. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Librarianship is a very rewarding profession. Despite what you hear, it isn’t disappearing in the next decade.

    However, the job market in libraries (academic and public) continues to shrink, as it has over the past decade. It is much more difficult to find full-time professional employment as a librarian than it was in the past, but it can still be done. Many people do so each year.

    Library grad school programs are nowhere near as difficult as most Masters degree programs in other disciplines. You have to work, but it is much less daunting than getting a Masters in most social science or humanities programs.

    One of the best things you can do to help yourself find employment when you leave library grad school is to acquire the skills that most librarians in the U.S. lack – strong IT skills and fluency in Spanish. Don’t expect to learn those in library school, though. You will need to put out the effort to acquire them on your own.

  8. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    I second all of this advice, except Penelope’s. I am also a librarian, and it’s an incredibly rewarding career. And I did get my degree and my job in the last 5 years. I wanted to expand on what Kate said about “make[ing] sense of the avalanche of information with which they are bombarded”. A good librarian knows what kind of information is out there – and it is not just on the Internet – and how to find it. They know how to find what people are looking for and how to communicate the information back to them in a concise, understandable way. They provide good customer service. These are skills that are valuable in other fields as well as in a library, and many librarians are employed in the private sector. Getting a degree in library science can enhance your career prospects even if you don’t work in a library.

    I was in your position. I was 25 years old, I had a husband and a job and a house, and I wanted to be a librarian but didn’t have the master’s degree. I went back to school full-time and worked part-time in a library. It was hard, but Jesse is right – library grad school programs are generally not as challenging, especially if you are prepared with a good undergraduate education. When I graduated, I got a job immediately as a part-time librarian at a local community college and conitnued to work part-time in a public library. Within a year, I got a full-time librarian job.

    It’s a big step. I would suggest pursuing a volunteer opportunity to start, if you’re unsure. You probably only have to commit to a couple of hours a week, and it will give you a better idea of what you might be getting in to.

    Good luck!

  9. Alex Kenzie
    Alex Kenzie says:

    I want to mention that many MLIS degrees will provide you with transferable skills. If you are concerned about the availability of library jobs, take courses that will allow you to become well-rounded, and focus on learning about information rather than library-specific skills.

    I think it would be hard to argue that we are living in the Age of Information – I think a degree in Library and Information Studies would be very relevant.

  10. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Actually I agree with Ms. Trunk’s advice. Unless you know someone who will hire you…or are just darn lucky…you will be looking for a looooooonnnnnngggggg time. Read the annoyed librarian.. Do a google search on worst fields. There is a blog called Agnositc librarian with the title Are we losing the next generation of librarians and those who reply talk about how they cannot find entry level work. Just do your research, acting like a good scholar….Believe me Penelope is right…too bad my daughter didn’t find her sooner…she wouldn’t have an MLS and now be going into web design… and computers….all that money honey, be careful.

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