Public librarians acquire, organise, promote and disseminate a range of resources to meet the diverse needs of the community. They support independent learning and encourage reader development. They also provide a variety of information on:

  • business;
  • the community;
  • careers;
  • learning;
  • recreation.

Public librarians are proficient in the use of ICT as part of the role involves assisting the public in accessing the internet and other web-based services.

They may also spend time talking to, and building up relationships with, members of the public and assisting with specific learning needs or community groups.

Public librarians may run events in the library for the local community and work with local schools and colleges.

Responsibilities

The role of a public librarian usually includes:

  • keeping up to date with newly released publications in order to select library resources;
  • managing budgets;
  • organising resources in an accessible way;
  • stock maintenance, including the weeding out of old resources;
  • anticipating community needs and trends to ensure library services are used as much as possible;
  • promoting the use of the library through displays, talks and community events, which may involve work in the library or going out into the community;
  • providing reader, advisory and information services to the public and local businesses;
  • organising library provision for specific community groups, such as minority ethnic groups, schools, youth organisations, adult learners and pre-school groups;
  • developing the use of ICT to improve service delivery;
  • dealing with enquiries and assisting library users in accessing ICT and other resources;
  • undertaking reader development activities, which may or may not be directed at specific groups;
  • providing services to socially excluded groups;
  • working with other agencies and bodies, such as museums and educational services, to develop services and initiatives in the community.

Some senior librarians are involved in additional activities including:

  • managing and motivating a team of staff who could be working in several libraries;
  • acquiring resources/funding;
  • overseeing the building of new libraries or the refurbishment of existing libraries;
  • giving presentations to groups;
  • strategic development of the service.

Salary

  • Salaries for graduate trainees tend to range from £16,000 to £20,000, depending on the location and area of library work. See CILIP: Graduate Training Jobs for graduate roles providing an introduction to library and information work.
  • Starting salaries for newly qualified public librarians can be around £19,800 to £24,500.
  • Gaining chartership can increase salaries, and with two to five years' experience chartered librarians could earn around £24,000 to £30,000.
  • At management level, senior librarians might achieve a salary of £32,000 to £40,000, while a head of service could earn between £45,000 and £55,000.

Salary levels are dependent on many factors, including local authority (many local authorities have their own independent pay scales), career route/progression, the size and location of the employing authority and degree of responsibility.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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

What to expect

  • Working conditions vary - buildings can be modern and purpose-built or cramped and old. Settings also vary and can include large central libraries, smaller branch libraries serving particular communities, and mobile libraries visiting rural or outlying areas.
  • Self-employment and freelance work is unlikely. However, it might be possible to take on some consultancy work after a number of years of professional practice.
  • Most opportunities are in towns and cities.
  • The work environment can be busy and pressurised, involving constant contact with the general public and handling a large number of enquiries.
  • Travel between sites or in a mobile facility may be required.
  • Absence from home overnight and overseas travel are uncommon.

Qualifications

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

  • computer science;
  • information science/management;
  • librarianship;
  • software engineering.

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. Search for postgraduate courses in librarianship.

Graduates with a non-related degree who have no or little 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.

As public libraries are often vulnerable to local authority reorganisation or spending cuts, post-qualification positions can be difficult to get.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • strong ICT skills;
  • interpersonal, listening and language skills, including the ability to interact with a range of people;
  • written and verbal communication skills;
  • enthusiasm and the ability to motivate yourself and others;
  • teamworking skills;
  • a flexible attitude to work;
  • the ability to prioritise your work and meet deadlines;
  • good presentation skills;
  • versatility;
  • the ability to think logically;
  • organisational and self-management skills.

To work in specialist libraries, for example in a university or hospital setting, you may need specific knowledge of the subjects covered.

Employers

Public libraries are operated by local authorities and offer a variety of services. Schemes may cover areas such as web awareness, homework clubs and reading groups.

Many major cities have large, central libraries with extensive loan stocks, specialist reference collections, rare and valuable materials and possibly music collections, with sub-branches in other cities and counties.

Towns and villages usually have smaller libraries. The role of the library in the community will greatly influence the type of positions available. Many branches are used as community centres and some provide a base for citizens' advice bureaux, volunteer bureaux and other community information services.

Some libraries devote space to town and village festival information, writing and literary events and meetings with authors. Some local authorities also run prison libraries and mobile libraries so access can be given to rural communities.

Other employers include:

  • hospitals;
  • universities and other educational establishments;
  • charities;
  • large companies, chartered surveyors and law firms;
  • government departments;
  • research associations;
  • library technology companies;
  • book aggregation services.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies handle vacancies for full-time, part-time, temporary and permanent positions, both nationwide and sometimes 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: certification, chartership and fellowship and these are provided by the CILIP.

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.

Most members gain chartership two or three years after graduating. 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.

Post-experience Masters degrees for mid-career professionals are available full or part time, or by distance learning, although it is unusual for employers to fund studies at this stage. Research degrees are also offered by university libraries and information studies departments.

Staff may be sent on in-house or external courses to develop specialist skills. CILIP currently delivers on-site training courses in the following areas:

  • business skills;
  • cataloguing and classification;
  • copyright and licensing;
  • library and information management;
  • management and personal development;
  • marketing skills;
  • research skills;
  • teaching and learning skills;
  • web and internet skills;
  • working with children and young people.

Career prospects

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 it may be the case that promotion involves a change of employer or location.

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

Large libraries often have a clear structure for promotion to management positions with responsibility for a specific subject, service or site. Such positions usually require a number of years of professional experience. Managers can be responsible for particular areas of library service, for example, services to minority groups, or take overall responsibility for a specific area, such as acquisitions.

In small libraries, promotion and development opportunities are limited unless you move to other libraries, areas or authorities. Very senior roles are rare and highly competitive.