A librarian is an information professional trained in library and information science, which is the organization and management of information services or materials for those with information needs. Typically, librarians work in a public or college library, an elementary or secondary school media center, a library within a company, or another information-provision agency. Some librarians are independent entrepreneurs working as information specialists, catalogers, indexers and other professional, specialized capacities. Librarians may be categorized as a public, school, correctional, special, independent or academic librarian.
Traditionally, librarians have been associated with collections of books, as demonstrated by the etymology of the word "librarian" (< Latin liber, 'book'). However, modern librarians deal with information in many formats, including books, magazines, newspapers, audio recordings (both music recordings and audiobooks), video recordings, maps, photographs and other graphic material, bibliographic databases, and digital resources. Librarians often provide other information services, including computer provision and training, coordination of public programs, basic literacy education, and help with finding and using community resources.
In western nations, the librarian is a professional with a Master's degree in library and/or information science (library science) capable of analyzing information, information needs and of providing information services and materials to patrons in a variety of settings with available and appropriate resources.
In a library, there are many positions other than that of librarian. Such positions include library associate, library technician, library assistant, clerk, page, shelver, and volunteer. Other professional positions, such as manager, director or administrator, are often filled by librarians. In these positions, the worker may be given the title Administrator, Director, Manager or Librarian.
Olivia Crosby described librarians as "Information experts in the information age". Specific duties vary depending on the size and type of library. Most librarians spend their time working in one of the following areas of a library:
Experienced librarians may take administrative positions such as library or information center director. Similar to the management of any other organization, they are concerned with the long-term planning of the library, and its relationship with its parent organization (the city or county for a public library, the college/university for an academic library, or the organization served by a special library). In smaller or specialized libraries, librarians typically perform a wide range of the different duties.
Representative examples of specific tasks:
Basic categories of workplace settings for librarians are routinely classified around the world as: public, academic, school, and special. Some librarians will start and operate their own business. They often call themselves information brokers, research specialists, knowledge management, competitive intelligence or independent information professionals. Below are the basic differences between the types of libraries.
Public library: These institutions are created through legislation within the jurisdiction they serve. Accordingly, they are given certain benefits, such as taxpayer funding, but must adhere to service standards and meet a wide group of client needs. They are usually overseen by a board of directors or library commission from the community. Mission statements, service and collection policies are the fundamental administrative features of public libraries. Occasionally private lending libraries serve the public in the manner of public libraries. In the United States, public librarians and public libraries are represented by the Public Library Association.
Academic library: Libraries that serve a post-secondary institution. Depending upon the institution, the library may serve a particular faculty or the entire institution. Many different types, sizes, and collections are found in academic libraries and some academic librarians are specialists in these collections and archives. A university librarian, or chief librarian, is responsible for the library within the college structure, and may also be called the Dean of Libraries. Some post-secondary institutions treat librarians as faculty, and they may be called professor or other academic ranks. Some universities make similar demands of academic librarians for research and professional service as are required of faculty. Academic librarians administer various levels of service and privilege to faculty, students, alumni and the public.
School library media center: Libraries which exclusively serve the needs of a public or private school. The primary purpose is to support the students, teachers, and curriculum of the school or school district. In addition to library administration, certificated teacher-librarians instruct individual students, groups and classes, and faculty in effective research methods, often referred to as information literacy skills. Audio-visual equipment service and/or textbook circulation may also be included in a school librarian's responsibilities. Often, teacher-librarians are qualified teachers who take academic courses for school library certification and/or earn a Master's degree in Library Science.
Special library: News, law, medical, government, nongovernmental organization, prison, corporate, museum or any other type of library owned and operated by an organization are considered as special library. They can be highly specialized, serving a discrete user group with a restricted collection area. In an increasingly global and virtual workplace, many special librarians may not even work in a library at all but instead manage and facilitate the use of electronic collections. Funding for special libraries varies widely. Librarians in some types of special libraries may be required to have additional training, such as a law degree for a librarian in an academic law library or appropriate subject degrees for subject specialties such as chemistry, engineering, etc. Many belong to the Special Libraries Association. There are also more specific associations such as the American Association of Law Libraries, Art Libraries Society of North America, the Medical Library Association, or the Visual Resources Association.
In the UK and some other countries, a librarian can have a three- or four-year bachelor's degree in library and information studies or information science; separate master's degrees in librarianship, archive management, and records management are also available. In the United Kingdom, these degrees are accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and the Society of Archivists. In Germany and some other countries, the first step for an academic librarian is a PhD in a subject field, followed by additional training in librarianship.
In Australia, a professional librarian must meet the requirements set out by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). There are three ways in which these requirements can be met: the individual must obtain an ALIA-recognized bachelor degree in library and information studies, complete a first degree in any discipline followed by an ALIA-recognized postgraduate diploma or masters course, or gain an ALIA-recognized library technician qualifications (undertaken at TAFE) followed by an ALIA-recognized bachelor degree in library and information studies. ALIA is responsible for accreditation of library specific qualifications for both librarians and library technicians. Professional Australian teacher-librarians require slightly different qualifications. In addition to having a degree that meets ALIA's accreditation process, teacher librarians must also hold recognized teaching qualifications.
It is also possible to earn a doctorate in library and information science. Graduates with PhDs usually become teaching faculty in schools of library and information science, or sometimes occupy the directorship or deanship of university libraries. Those undertaking research at the doctoral level can pursue a very wide range of interests including information technology, government information policy, social research into information use among particular segments of society, information in organizations and corporate settings, and the history of books and printing.
It is common in academic and other research libraries to require the librarians to obtain Master's degrees in some academic subject, sometimes but not necessarily related to their professional responsibilities; in major research libraries, some of the librarians will hold Ph. D degrees in subject fields.
Library associates, library technicians, and library assistants often have college diplomas but usually do not hold library-related degrees. Occasionally they also hold undergraduate or graduate degrees in other disciplines. These workers, sometimes referred to as para-professionals, perform duties such as database management, cataloging, ready reference, and serials and monograph processing.
Recent issues of concern for U.S. libraries include implementation of the Patriot Act and the Children's Internet Protection Act. Many librarians around the world share American librarians' concern over ethical issues surrounding censorship and privacy. Some librarians join activist organizations like the UK-based Information for Social Change and the North American-based Progressive Librarians Guild. Within the American Library Association (ALA), some also join the Social Responsibilities Round Table. SRRT came into being amid the social ferment of the 1960s and is often critical of the American Library Association for not living up to its professed ideals. Another important activist organization is the Social Responsibilities Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). These activist organizations are viewed as controversial by some librarians, while others view them as a natural extension and outgrowth of their own deeply-held library ethics.
The most significant example of how technology has changed the role of librarians in the last 50 years has been the move from traditional card catalogs to online public access catalogs (OPACs). Librarians had to develop software and the MARC standards for cataloguing records electronically. They had to purchase and run the computers necessary to use the software. They had to teach the public how to use the new technologies and move to more virtual working environments.
The same could be said of other technology developments, from electronic databases (including the Internet), to logistical functions such as bar codes (or in the near future RFID). Many librarians provide virtual reference services (via web-based chat, instant messaging, text messaging, and e-mail), work in digitalization initiatives for works in the public domain, teach technology classes to their users, and work on the development of information architectures for improving access and search functionality. These examples illustrate some of the ways in which librarians are using technology to fulfill and expand upon their historical roles.
Librarians must continually adapt to new formats for information, such as electronic journals and e-books, which present both challenges and opportunities in providing access and promoting them to library patrons.
Increasing technological advance has presented the possibility of automating some aspects of traditional libraries. In 2004 a group of researchers in Spain developed the UJI Online Robot. This robot is able to navigate the library, look for the specified book, and upon its discovery, carefully take it from the shelf and deliver it to the user. Because of the robot's extremely limited function, its introduction into libraries poses little risk of the employment of librarians, whose duties are not defined by menial tasks such as the retrieval of books.