Public librarians help provide an information, reading and cultural hub for the local community

As a public librarian you'll acquire, organise and provide access to a range of information and reading resources to meet the diverse needs of a community. You'll support independent learning and encourage reader development, and will also provide information on areas such as:

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

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

You 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 run events in the library for the community and work with local schools and colleges.

Responsibilities

As a public librarian, you'll need to:

  • keep up to date with newly released publications in order to select library resources
  • organise resources in an accessible way
  • manage your stock, including the weeding out of old resources
  • anticipate community needs and trends to ensure library services are used as much as possible
  • promote the use of the library through displays, talks and community events, which may involve work in the library or going out into the community
  • provide reader, advisory and information services to the public and local businesses
  • organise library provision for specific community groups, such as minority ethnic groups, schools, youth organisations, adult learners and pre-school groups
  • develop the use of IT to improve service delivery
  • deal with enquiries and help library users in accessing IT and other resources
  • undertake reader development activities
  • provide services to socially excluded groups
  • work with other agencies and bodies, such as museums and educational services, to develop services and initiatives in the community.

Senior librarians will also need to:

  • manage and motivate a team of staff who could be working across several libraries
  • acquire resources/funding and manage budgets
  • oversee the refurbishment of the library
  • take responsibility for the strategic development of the service.

Salary

  • Salaries for graduate trainees are typically around £17,000 to £22,000.
  • Salaries for assistant librarians range from around £25,000 to £29,000, with an average salary of £27,000.
  • Salaries for senior/deputy librarians can range from £37,000 to £55,000 (with an average salary of £46,000), rising to around £63,000 for head or director of library and information services (average salary £53,500).

Salaries vary depending on a range of factors, including your qualifications, experience, location, size of the library, team structure and the local authority you work for (many local authorities have their own pay scales).

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

Income 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 and weekend work.

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.
  • Most towns and cities will have opportunities.
  • The work environment can be busy and pressurised, involving a lot of with the general public and handling a large number of enquiries.
  • You may need to travel between sites or in a mobile facility.

Qualifications

To work as a public 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 a postgraduate diploma or Masters in a relevant subject accredited by CILIP.

There are currently more accredited postgraduate courses, with relatively few undergraduate degrees - see CILIP - Getting Qualified for more information.

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 used 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. Other relevant apprenticeships include customer services and IT.

Competition is tough for pre-course training posts, postgraduate courses and first professional posts, so be prepared to be flexible about geographical location. Recent years have seen more than one hundred public libraries close, with around 3,000 more voluntary roles created to run remaining services. Public libraries are still vulnerable to spending cuts, so post-qualification positions can be difficult to get.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • customer service and interpersonal skills with the ability to interact with a range of people from the local community
  • listening skills
  • strong IT skills
  • written and verbal communication skills
  • research skills
  • the ability to work as part of a team but also on your own initiative
  • a flexible approach to work
  • the ability to prioritise your work and meet deadlines
  • good presentation skills
  • a meticulous approach to work
  • the ability to think logically
  • organisational and self-management skills
  • an appreciation of the pressures and demands or working in a public library
  • the ability to lead and motivate others (for more senior roles).

Knowledge of one or more community languages may also be useful.

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 local authority websites or advertised locally.

If your degree is unrelated to information and library work and you have little to 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. Search for graduate trainee jobs on Information Professional 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 public ones.

Employers

Public libraries are usually, but not always, 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.

Recent cuts to public spending have impacted on the availability of paid, full-time roles in public libraries, particularly in villages and small towns. This has led to a general reduction in salaries and job opportunities with local authorities.

Look for job vacancies at:

  • Information Professional Jobs - the job board for CILIP librarian and graduate trainee jobs.
  • Local Government Jobs

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'll need to find a mentor and must submit a 1,000 word statement and supporting evidence.

Most members gain Chartership two or three years after graduating. Although not all librarians have Chartership, there are many benefits to gaining it, and doing so may open up new career opportunities and the potential for higher salaries.

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.

Short courses for CPD are provided by undergraduate and postgraduate course providers in a range of subject areas. Research degrees are also available in areas such as library and information science.

You may also be sent on in-house or external courses to develop specialist skills, in areas such as:

  • 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

Competition for posts 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 redundancies in some public libraries periodically due to funding cuts.

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, such as services to minority groups or children, 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.

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, academic libraries, schools, voluntary or commercial organisations.