Frequently Asked Questions

Do you know what a librarian does? Do you know what a librarian is? Do you think you would like to work in a library because you love to read?

Read on to find answers to frequently asked questions about working in a library.

Q: What do librarians do?
A: The answer depends on what you mean by "librarian." If you mean "anyone who works in the library," the answer is still "It depends." A library director has very different responsibilities from a public services librarian. Take a look at our Library Staff page for lists of some things different library staff do.

Q: Is everyone who works at the library a librarian?
A: Customarily, only those who have earned a Master in Library and Information Science (MLIS or MLS) degree are properly called librarians, while those without the degree go by their specific title or simply "library professional."

Most people understand, though, if you call everyone who works at a library a "librarian" because it can be hard to know who does and does not have the degree until you ask us. Just don't ask for "the librarian" when who you want is the library director or another specific person. That would be like going into a school and asking for "the teacher" when you want to talk to the principle.

Usually, the people working at the front desk are "library professionals," also called "para-professionals." These staff do not have a Masters of Library and Information Science degree. These staff are trained to help you locate items on the shelves and to check in and check out items. They can help if you want to know if the library has a specific title or author, but if you want help finding information about a particular topic or want ideas for new authors to read, a librarian (someone with an MLIS) has more training in those areas and can help you more effectively.

Q: What is a librarian?
A: A librarian is someone who has extensive training in the profession of library science. All librarians learn to organize, access, and use information, but there are many different specialties within library science. A youth services librarian would learn about the educational, developmental, and psychological stages of children ages 0 - 17, with a focus on how people interact with reading and information use at different ages. A government documents librarian might not learn about youth, but they would learn the intricacies of working with information created by government agencies. A medical librarian would learn how to quickly search reliable resources to give medical professionals complete, accurate answers as fast as possible. There are many more kinds of librarians and each specialty is unique.

Q: Why do librarians need a Master in Library and Information Science?
A: Librarianship is a professional occupation. That is, it is one that requires advanced, specialized training in order to do it well. This is because the work involves more thought and judgment than it involves creating a product or following directions. Many libraries also want their librarians to engage in frequent continuing education in order to stay accurately trained.  Take a look at the Library Staff page for descriptions of skills and tasks each position in the library uses and think about how many of the items listed could be a profession on its own. Librarians are generalists - they need to know a little about many different things.

Q: If you work in a library, do you get to read all day?
A: Most librarians do not get to read at work. In fact, there is so much work to do to make the library run smoothly and to provide good customer service, that some libraries prohibit their staff from reading while on the clock. The staff at the James L. Hamner Public Library often have long lists of books we want to read and feel jealous of people who read several books a week.