If you have a keen interest in making information and knowledge accessible and enjoy working in an academic environment, then a career as an academic librarian could suit you

As an academic librarian you'll manage, organise, evaluate and disseminate information, providing support to members of an academic community including students, researchers and lecturing staff.

You 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.

Your role involves facilitating and supporting learning by teaching information literacy skills to students and staff within classrooms or virtual learning environments. You'll 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. Related titles include:

  • information adviser
  • learning support librarian
  • liaison librarian
  • subject librarian.

Responsibilities

As an academic librarian, you'll typically need to:

  • develop and manage collections of books and journals (both paper and electronic), as well as websites
  • select, acquire and catalogue information using library and information software
  • create, update and manage electronic and printed information resources
  • coordinate and deliver information and digital literacy sessions to students, researchers and staff
  • contribute to academic course development and liaise with academic departments
  • assist researchers with literature searches using databases, printed resources and the internet
  • establish and maintain effective working relationships with academic staff and students
  • manage and support the provision of reading lists and allocate length of loans
  • take on responsibility, in some cases, for archives and other special collections
  • deal with user enquiries, which may involve one-on-one advice sessions
  • deal with budgets in relation to your allocated subject areas/departments and, in some cases, purchase resources
  • maintain relationships with external bodies, such as suppliers
  • keep up to date with developments in the library sector and participate in professional groups or networks.

Senior librarians often have line management of staff who could be working in several libraries. You might also have responsibility for managing buildings, furniture and equipment and overseeing the building of new libraries or the refurbishment of existing libraries.

Salary

  • Salaries for graduate trainees range from £16,000 to £20,000.
  • Average salaries for assistant librarians range from £25,400 to £29,500.
  • Experienced librarians can expect to achieve salaries from £30,000 to in excess of £40,000.
  • Salaries for chief/head librarians are on average £49,000 to £54,800, but can rise to in excess of £70,000.

Salaries vary depending on a range of factors, including location and area of library work. For more salary information, see the annual TFPL and Sue Hill Knowledge & Information Management Salary Survey.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work a 9am to 5pm day, although you may be expected to do some evening and weekend work. Part-time work and job share opportunities may be available.

What to expect

  • Work takes place in a variety of locations and environments within an academic institution. As well as the library, you may also work in teaching or seminar rooms.
  • Most opportunities are in cities and towns where there are further or higher education institutions.
  • Most roles include a lot of contact with people, for example students and academics.
  • Fewer staff and financial cutbacks can be challenging.
  • If you're working for an institution that has more than one library on different campuses, you may need to travel between sites.

Qualifications

To work as an academic librarian, you'll usually need either a first degree accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) or a degree in any subject plus a postgraduate diploma or Masters in librarianship or information science/management accredited by CILIP. Posts for subject librarians may require specialist subject knowledge, i.e. a degree in a relevant subject or fluency in a language.

There are currently more accredited postgraduate courses, with relatively few undergraduate degrees - see CILIP Accredited Qualifications. CILIP-accredited courses allow you to obtain chartership further along in your career.

If you have a HND or foundation degree, 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'll need to have:

  • customer service and interpersonal skills
  • ICT skills
  • communication and presentation skills
  • research 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
  • the ability to think logically
  • organisational and self-management skills
  • an appreciation of the pressures and demands within the academic work environment.

Work experience

To get a place on a postgraduate course, you'll usually need relevant work experience. If you don't already have this, you'll need to arrange something within a library or information service, either paid or voluntary, to build up some experience.

If your degree is unrelated to information and library work and you have little to no library and information work experience, you 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 you complete a Masters-level qualification accredited by CILIP. There is a chance that you'll be offered a job by the placement provider once the training is complete. For current opportunities see CILIP - Graduate Training Jobs.

It's important to show your motivation by getting 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.

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. 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 be one information or resource centre and you may find yourself undertaking a mixture of qualified and non-qualified tasks. However, you're likely to be closely involved in management decisions and are 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.

Specialist recruitment agencies such as Sue Hill Recruitment and TFPL also handle vacancies.

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 1,000 word statement and supporting evidence.

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. For full details, see CILIP's Professional Registration.

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

Career progression is possible but it's important to update your skills regularly and be willing to take on new tasks and develop more specialised roles and knowledge. Competition at all levels is keen, so perseverance and dedication are essential. 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 shows initiative, particularly in preparation for more senior posts. Some universities have merged their library services with IT departments or learning support, which may offer further opportunities for progression at the highest levels.

You may specialise early on in your career, usually becoming a subject librarian. Other options include specialising in particular functions, such as IT development or electronic resource management. It's usually possible to apply for senior positions after a minimum of five years' experience.

It's also possible to move into other areas of work in an information management or related role. Relevant settings include local or central government, law courts, healthcare, professional practices, public libraries, schools, voluntary or commercial organisations.