What Does a Librarian Do – Academic

by Rebecca Tischler, Senior Editor, INALJ North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon

What Does a Librarian Do – Academic

rebeccatischlerI recently wrote an article about what a librarian does, so I thought I would continue that with a series of articles exploring what different types of librarians do. Because while all librarians share a central duty (information organization), depending on the type of library they work at, their secondary duties can create fairly different job focuses. Let’s start with the academic librarian. I previously worked in an academic library, but not as a professional (I was a graduate student). However, I never fully grasped how much of an academic librarian’s job is focused on research and instruction until I did this article and had to really consider the professional duties of the faculty librarians I worked with..

Academic librarians work in postsecondary education (colleges and universities). The librarian can either serve a specific department, or the entire institution, and the bigger the institution, the more specialized libraries on the campus. So if you want to handle more subjects, and deal with more general reference, either work at the main library, or work at a small institution. If you have very specialized interests and want to work in a subject library (known as a niche collection), go to a big institution.

However, before deciding to work in a niche collection, be aware that you typically need a Master’s of Library and Information Science (that is ALA accredited), as well as a second specialized Master’s to prepare you for specific subject libraries, such as law, science, education, or history, or humanities. Granted, it’s not always a requirement, and some places will accept experience in lieu of a degree, but if you know that your desire is to work in an academic library setting, you should be prepared to see lots of open jobs asking for 2 degrees.

However, many people don’t know if they want to put in that much effort for a library job, because they have no idea what being an academic librarian actually entails. So what does an academic librarian do? Their duties typically revolve around two main purposes: they are there support the research needs of its students, faculty, and staff and to assist in supporting the school’s curriculum. Under that rather large umbrella includes duties such as: showing students how to use computers and find information for their class assignments, helping faculty and staff find information and materials to help teach classes or to complete research, create campus-wide literacy programs, deliver classroom instruction to teach information literacy skills (this means that some librarians have regular classes that they need to prepare for), curate a collection suited to the institution’s learning and research needs, and continuously learn about new developments in information technology (they work a lot with electronic databases and web site maintenance). Whew! That may sound like a lot, but that’s not all folks! Many librarians are considered faculty, and can acquire tenure, which requires the librarian to complete and publish professional research. If you want to become an academic librarian, reference and instruction classes are going to be your friend. And don’t forget the technology classes, because they will be very useful.

Now, remember that I only worked in the academic world as an graduate student, so my experience is limited and this article was meant as a very basic overview. My research helped fill in a lot of the blanks, but I may still be missing what it’s like to really be an academic librarian. So please, in the comments below, help explain what being an academic librarian is really like and what it’s really about.

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