School Librarian Career Guide
School librarians work in academic settings at all levels of the US education system, from elementary schools to universities. School librarians organize media collections, maintain reference services, and assist patrons in finding information. School librarians may specialize in certain areas of library science or collections, including fine arts, law, online reference collections, or serials. This guide provides further information on what librarians do, how to become a librarian, and school librarian salary and outlook.
School Librarian Job Description
School librarians in primary and secondary schools typically teach students how to use the library for research and use its resources. They also help teachers find resources to use for lesson plans in the classroom. School librarians at universities help students conduct research and access information. Similarly, they might assist college professors with finding and using resources for their classroom, or for their own research projects. The day-to-day duties of a school librarian include maintaining collections, organizing materials, and developing index databases. Depending largely on the size of the library, a school librarian might be responsible for managing the entire library, or just one aspect of the library, such as technical services.
School Librarian Requirements and Common Tasks
School librarians should have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, advanced computer skills, reading skills, and the ability to solve problems. Common tasks for school librarians include assisting patrons in learning how to use information retrieval systems, providing suggestions on books and information sources relevant to patron inquiries, and maintaining collections. School librarians may also be responsible for the acquisition of new materials for library collections. With experience, school librarians may also become responsible for supervising junior librarians, clerks, and others within the library. School librarians should be prepared to continue training and developing their skills in the information sciences throughout their careers, as information requirements in the Internet age are always evolving.
How to Become a School Librarian
After earning a bachelor’s degree, prospective school librarians are usually expected to earn at least a master’s degree in library science. Most librarian positions require that candidates have an undergraduate degree in any subject area and a master’s degree in library science. Additionally, in most states, K-12 public school librarians must obtain state licensure; this typically requires an appropriate degree plus a passing score on the Praxis Library Media Specialist test. The typical path towards a public school librarian career is as follows:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in library science or a related subject.
- Complete a master’s degree program in library science, such as a master of library science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS).
- Take your state’s required tests for public school librarians.
- Apply for a license to work as a librarian in K-12 schools.
- Begin applying for open K-12 librarian positions.
Many school libraries prefer that candidates for librarian positions hold a master’s degree from a school accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Accreditation from the ALA shows that a program meets the association’s standards; a list of ALA accredited programs is available on the association’s website. The School Library Connection provides links to current state-by-state requirements for school librarians on its website. Many school librarians also join associations such as the ALA as well as specialty and regional library science associations.
Those who are currently licensed as teachers in another subject may be able to add a school librarian endorsement to their existing license by earning a master’s degree in library science. In some states, current teachers may also be eligible to add a school library endorsement after completing a graduate certificate in library science, rather than a master’s degree. However, due to the small number of openings for librarians overall and the typical graduate education for these positions, a specialized master’s degree program may lead to a greater number of job opportunities.
School Librarian Salary and Job Outlook
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, librarians in elementary and secondary schools earned a median annual wage of $58,480 as of 2015, which takes into account that many K-12 school librarians have summers off.1 Librarians in college and university libraries earned an average annual salary of $60,300 in 2015.1 However, the salary for school librarians can vary widely; salaries tend to be higher in larger libraries and frequently differ from state to state. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts slow jobs growth for librarians, at 2% through 2024.1
Many school librarians begin accumulating career experience by volunteering at local libraries while pursuing an education in library science. Advancement opportunities for school librarians are available to assistant director and library director, where salaries are commensurate with experience and the added responsibilities these positions entail. In large library systems, school librarians may alternately advance to specialist positions such as conservator.
Helpful Skills and Experience
Well-developed organizational skills, excellent communication and presentation skills, and sound problem-solving skills are important for prospective school librarians. They should have a passion for helping people, as their job duties center around other people’s needs. Specialization in one area complimented by a demonstrable skill set in the information sciences can give school librarian candidates an edge in the job market.
Library Science Career Interviews
- Lecturer, San José State University School of Information, Dr. Mary Ann Harlan
- Professor and Director, San José State University School of Information, Dr. Sandra Hirsh
Teacher Librarian Program Profiles
San José State University
Graduate students in the exclusively online Teacher Librarian program at the San José State University (SJSU) School of Information who hold a valid single or multiple subject credential issued by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing can apply for the Teacher Librarian Services Credential from California and other states upon completion of the required coursework. Students outside California are advised to check with their state’s Department of Education for credentialing eligibility. The Teacher Librarian program curriculum at SJSU includes coursework in areas such as information and society, information retrieval, school library media centers, collection management, cataloging and classification, and design and implementation of instructional strategies. Two electives and a school library field experience course round out the 37-unit program. During the field experience, students work in elementary and secondary school library settings. Teacher Librarian program students can also earn a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree by taking two additional courses (6 units). The SJSU Teacher Librarian Program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the SJSU MLIS program is accredited by the American Library Association (ALA).
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- School Librarian
- Media Specialist
- School Library Media Specialist
- Teacher Librarian
- American Association of School Librarians (AASL) – A division of the American Library Association (ALA), the AASL website provides a place for school librarians to learn about grants, continuing education, and national conferences and meetings.
- School Libraries Association – Membership with the SLA connects librarians, allows access to forums, offers local and national events and conferences, and provides information about professional development opportunities.
- American Library Association (ALA) Accredited Programs – Completing an ALA-accredited program may help school librarians find career opportunities. See if your program of choice is accredited by the ALA.
- Top School Library Blogs – Our ranking of the top blogs written by school librarians.
Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a School Librarian
Question: Do I need teacher certification to be a school librarian?
Answer: Certification requirements vary from state to state; teaching certification may or may not be required for school librarians. Most public schools do require certification, but private schools may not. A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is commonly required. You can check with your state Board of Education or college program for further information on certification requirements in your state.
Question: What types of courses do I take to become a school librarian?
Answer: The courses required will vary depending on the school, but school librarians will likely take courses in children’s literature, learning technologies, and library management. Talk to your school’s advisor or refer to your state Board of Education to find out what courses are required in your state.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Librarians: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm