Academic librarians manage, organise, evaluate and disseminate information, providing support to members of an academic community including students, researchers and lecturing staff.

They may be responsible for a specific academic subject, developing specialist knowledge and other functions, such as:

  • resource ordering;
  • loans;
  • specialist collections;
  • ICT systems;
  • library projects.

The role involves facilitating and supporting learning by teaching information retrieval skills to students and staff within classrooms or virtual learning environments. Academic librarians spend considerable time working with electronic resources, involving database management and web page development. The role is also very customer-focused.

Job titles vary, so it's important to look beyond the title to the actual work involved in the role. Related titles include:

  • learning centre manager;
  • learning resources manager;
  • library services manager;
  • subject librarian.

Responsibilities

Academic librarians often have specialist responsibility for an academic subject or function, even at basic-level posts. Other librarian roles include research, electronic, resources, systems and other professional posts within the fields of acquisitions and cataloguing.

Typical tasks include:

  • developing and managing collections of books and journals (both paper and electronic), as well as websites;
  • establishing and maintaining effective working relationships with academic staff and students;
  • contributing to academic course development and liaising with academic departments;
  • coordinating and delivering information and digital literacy sessions to staff and students;
  • creating, updating and managing electronic and printed information resources;
  • selecting, acquiring and cataloguing information using library and information software;
  • assisting researchers with literature searches using databases, printed resources and the internet;
  • managing and supporting the provision of reading lists and allocating length of loans;
  • dealing with user enquiries, which may involve one-on-one advice sessions;
  • dealing with budgets in relation to your allocated subject areas/departments and, in some cases, purchasing resources;
  • liaising with library colleagues on other campuses;
  • carrying out staff management, which may involve recruitment and selection, appraisals, support and development, disciplinary action, staff rotas and training, as well as allocating daily tasks;
  • maintaining relationships with external bodies, such as suppliers;
  • managing buildings, furniture and equipment;
  • keeping up to date with relevant professional developments in the library sector;
  • participating in professional groups or networks.

Some senior librarians may be involved in additional activities such as:

  • managing and motivating a team of staff who could be working in several libraries;
  • overseeing the building of new libraries or the refurbishment of existing libraries.

Salary

  • Salaries for graduate trainees tend to range from £16,000 to £20,000, depending on the location and area of library work.
  • Newly qualified academic librarians working in higher education can earn between £23,000 and £28,000.
  • Experienced chartered librarians can expect to achieve salaries of £30,000 to £36,000 and senior faculty librarians can earn up to £48,000.
  • Salaries for heads of departments and directors can be in excess of £50,000.

Salaries for academic librarians working in further education may be lower and salaries will vary depending on a range of factors including type of employer, location, experience and level of responsibility.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Academic librarians can work a typical 9am to 5pm day, but the working week may also include some evening and weekend work. Part-time work and job-share opportunities may be available.

What to expect

  • Some universities have merged their library services with IT departments or learning support, which may offer further opportunities for progression at the highest levels.
  • Work takes place in a variety of locations and environments within an academic institution. As well as the library, academic librarians may also work in teaching or seminar rooms.
  • Self-employment and freelance work are unusual, but some librarians do become consultants.
  • Most opportunities are in towns and cities where there are further or higher education institutions.
  • The dress code is generally informal/smart casual.
  • Most roles include a substantial amount of contact with people, for example students and academics, which can be demanding.
  • Fewer staff and financial cutbacks can also be challenging.
  • Travel between sites may be necessary if working for an institution that has more than one library on different campuses.
  • Overseas travel is uncommon.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree in one of the following subjects may be particularly useful:

  • computing;
  • information science/management;
  • language studies;
  • librarianship.

Posts for subject librarians may require specialist subject knowledge, i.e. a degree in a relevant subject or fluency in a language.

For professional posts, you need to have one of the following:

There are currently more accredited postgraduate courses, with relatively few undergraduate degrees. Details of all accredited undergraduate and postgraduate courses are available at CILIP Accredited Qualifications. Full-time, part-time and distance learning options are available. CILIP-accredited courses allow you to obtain chartership further along in your career.

Postgraduate courses usually require candidates to have relevant work experience. If you haven't obtained this as part of your first degree, you will need to arrange something within a library or information service, either paid or voluntary, to build up some experience.

Graduates with a non-related degree who have little to no library and information work experience can gain entry to the profession via CILIP's Graduate Training Opportunities scheme. This scheme provides traineeships, usually lasting ten months to a year, after which graduates complete a Masters-level qualification accredited by CILIP. There is the chance that you will be offered a job by the placement provider once the training is complete. For current opportunities see CILIP: Graduate Training Jobs.

With an HND or foundation degree only, it may be possible to enter as a library assistant and then work up to a full librarian position by gaining extra qualifications and undertaking further training. Library assistant posts are often used by people gaining experience before taking a postgraduate qualification.

Competition is tough for pre-course training posts, postgraduate courses and first professional posts, so be prepared to be flexible about geographical location.

Check with individual institutions about the availability of any postgraduate course funding. Early applications are advised, especially if applying for funding.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • customer service and interpersonal skills;
  • ICT skills;
  • communication and presentation skills;
  • a flexible approach to work;
  • negotiation skills;
  • the ability to work as part of a team but also on your own initiative;
  • capability to prioritise your work and meet deadlines;
  • versatility;
  • the ability to think logically;
  • organisational and self-management skills;
  • an appreciation of the pressures and demands within the academic work environment.

Work experience

It is important to demonstrate your motivation by gaining relevant experience as early as possible. Search for pre-course experience in a range of libraries, not just academic ones or those in the CILIP scheme. Part-time or voluntary work in a library or information setting before graduating is a good start.

Employers

Academic librarians work in higher and further education institutions, as well as in research institutes attached to academic institutions.

The size and arrangement of academic institutions vary considerably, but an institution's learning resource centre consists of both information and computing facilities and provides support to academic departments. Subject librarians often enjoy a close rapport with their academic department and staff.

Some institutions have qualified librarians working on different sites and in different specialisms. This may involve travel between sites and possibly the use of different classification schemes and procedures. Central procedures, such as resource ordering, cataloguing and an inter-library loans facility, may be housed in a central location.

In smaller institutions with fewer staff, there may be only one information or resource centre and academic librarians may find themselves undertaking a mixture of qualified and non-qualified tasks. However, they are likely to be closely involved in management decisions due to the small size of the team and are therefore in a good position to get an overview of the entire operation.

Look for job vacancies at:

  • CILIP: Graduate Training Jobs - paid traineeships for graduates with little or no experience of working in library and information work.
  • Jobs.ac.uk
  • Lisjobnet - library and information jobs in a range of settings including academic, higher and further education.
  • National and local press.

Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies for full-time, part-time and temporary and permanent positions both nationwide and abroad. See:

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Three levels of professional registration are available with CILIP: certification, chartership and fellowship.

For all three levels you must undertake a range of continuing professional development (CPD) activities reflecting on your personal performance, organisational performance and on your knowledge of the wider library and information service profession. You need to have a mentor and must submit a portfolio to evidence your training and development.

CPD activities can include reviewing and contributing to professional literature, taking part in email discussion lists, teaching on relevant postgraduate courses as practitioners, networking and attending relevant conferences.

Most members gain chartership two or three years after graduating. Although not all academic librarians have chartership, there are many benefits and it may open up new career opportunities.

Fellowship, the highest level of professional registration available, is open to those who hold a senior position within a library service or have made a significant contribution to the profession. The criteria for all levels of professional registration are available on the CILIP website.

Many universities will have their own staff training programmes. Research degrees are also offered by university libraries and information studies departments. Training and development is also provided by CILIP.

Career prospects

Academic librarians may specialise early on in their careers, usually becoming a subject librarian. Other options include specialising in particular functions, such as IT development or electronic resource management.

Career progression is possible but it is important to update your skills regularly and be willing to take on new tasks and develop more specialised roles and knowledge.

Obtaining higher-level professional qualifications will also help you progress.

Competition at all levels is keen, so perseverance and dedication are essential, not only to find a first post but also any subsequent promotions.

Geographical mobility and a willingness to change posts are essential for promotion and career progression. You may need to move between jobs in order to experience more than one type of work or setting and promotion may involve a change of employer or location.

There may be opportunities to undertake secondments with different institutions, take on special projects or move to another job on the same grade in order to increase your skills and experience. This demonstrates initiative, particularly in preparation for more senior posts.

Becoming a chartered member of CILIP may help when applying for senior positions, which is usually possible after having gained a minimum of five years' experience.

An information management qualification is recognised in many other sectors and some academic librarians move into posts in other settings, either in an information management or related role. Relevant settings include:

  • commercial organisations;
  • government departments;
  • healthcare organisations;
  • law courts;
  • professional practices;
  • public libraries;
  • schools;
  • voluntary organisations.