Academic librarians work to make academic information and knowledge resources accessible to students and staff

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 completing other functions such as:

  • resource ordering
  • loans
  • specialist collections
  • IT 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 webpage development. The role is very customer focused.

Job titles vary, so it's important to look beyond the title to the actual work involved when applying for jobs. Related titles to look out for 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, as well as external bodies such as suppliers
  • 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
  • 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 are typically around £17,000 to £22,000.
  • Salaries for assistant librarians range from around £22,000 to £35,000, with an average salary of £29,000.
  • Subject/liaison/academic or research librarians can expect to achieve salaries of around £28,000 to £35,000, with an average salary of £33,000.
  • Salaries for senior/deputy librarians can range from £38,000 to £81,000 (average salary £53,000), rising to around £93,000 for head or director of library and information services (average salary £59,500).

Your salary will vary depending on a range of factors, including your qualifications, experience, location, the size of the library you work at, team structure and your specialist area of library work.

Income data from the annual Sue Hill and TPFL Knowledge & Information Management Salary Survey. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work a 35-hour week and may be expected to do some evening, weekend and bank holiday 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 with further or higher education institutions.
  • The majority of academic librarian roles include a lot of contact with people, including students and academics.
  • Fewer staff and financial cutbacks within this field may present challenges.
  • 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 CILIP-accredited postgraduate diploma or Masters in librarianship or information science/management.

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 than undergraduate degrees - see CILIP accredited qualifications.

If you have an 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 filled by people gaining experience before taking a postgraduate qualification. It's also possible to take a Level 3 Library, Information and Archive Services (LIAS) Assistant apprenticeship.

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 you're applying for funding.

Search postgraduate courses in information science and librarianship.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • customer service and interpersonal skills
  • IT skills
  • communication and presentation skills
  • research skills
  • a flexible approach to work
  • negotiation and problem-solving 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
  • the ability to lead and motivate others (for more senior roles).

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. Look for internships on company websites or advertised locally.

If your degree is unrelated to information and library work and you have little or no library and information work experience, you can find paid experience via CILIP's Graduate Training Opportunities scheme. Jobs are typically advertised between November and May - ready for the next academic year - and will introduce you to the information and library sector, giving you the experience needed to apply for a postgraduate course. Trainee jobs typically last one year, fixed term.

These roles can also be used as a first (or second) job if you're new to the profession to help you build up experience.

Getting relevant experience as early as possible will show your self-motivation and enthusiasm for the work. Search for pre-course experience in a range of libraries - not just academic.

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 support services for 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 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:

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 along with 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 gaining it may open up new career opportunities and higher earning potential.

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 - 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.

Experienced librarians may be able to progress to more senior posts, such as senior librarian. Jobs at the highest level include assistant/deputy director and director of library services. In these roles, you'll have responsibility for strategy, operations and finance.

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.

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