Monday, December 1, 2008

Introduction to libraries: Types of library workers

Classifications of library personnel
To most people, anyone who works in a library is a librarian. However, libraries have different levels of employees. Although the titles may vary from library to library, there are primarily four classifications of library personnel.
1. Librarian / Teacher Librarian
2. Library Technician
3. Library Assistant
4. Library Clerk

Educational qualifications
The chart below describes the minimum educational qualifications for each level.


Minimum level of education required

Master’s Degree in Library Science (MLS) or Bachelor’s Degree in Library Science (BLS) (no longer granted) from an American Library Association (ALA) accredited program.


Bachelor’s Degree in Education plus additional specialized courses in school libraries. Must also possess a valid teacher’s certificate. Some teacher librarians also have an MLS.

Library Technician

Two year diploma or one year certificate (no longer offered) from community college or technical institute. Lakehead University’s Department of Library and Information Studies program offer s a Bachelor’s Degree in a subject area with a Minor in Information Studies. However, Lakehead’s diploma in Library and Information Studies is being phased out (According to their Website “This program will continue only until those students previously registered have completed the program of study”).

Library Assistant

High school diploma. Some libraries may prefer or require a Library Technician Diploma or Certificate or Bachelor’s Degree in any discipline.

Library Clerk

Often no level of education required. Some libraries may prefer a high school diploma.

Librarians may also possess a Ph.D. and a second master’s degree in another field (such as a Masters of Business Administration). Library technicians and library assistants offer have undergraduate degrees. Some may even have a graduate degree.
Most university libraries have library assistants and will often prefer hiring individuals who have a bachelor’s degree, especially if it is in the same discipline (e.g. arts or sciences) in which that library specializes. The reason for this is the belief that employees with degrees will better understand the mission of a university library and will learn specialized library skills on the job. As more graduates of library technician programs in Canada have also completed several years of university or a degree, university libraries hire library technicians more frequently. The position title, however, has not changed.
There is no level of education required to be a library clerk because the duties tend to be quite basic (e.g. shelving, processing, etc.) and can be readily learned on the job. Some libraries hire high school students on a part-time basis to shelve materials or work at circulation.

Library technician training in Canada
Red River College was the first in Canada to have a Library Technician Program (1962). As early as 1966, the Canadian Library Association studied the training requirements of this new level of library staff. The first edition of their guidelines was published in 1981. Library technician training across Canada follows the second edition of the Canadian Library Association’s Guidelines for the Education of Library Technicians (also known as the CLA Guidelines), published in 1993.
Canadian Library Association Task Force on the Professional Review Process for Library Technicians in Canada, Guidelines for the Education of Library Technicians, 2nd ed. (Ottawa: Canadian Library Association, 1991)

Types of duties
The types of duties each staff level performs varies from library to library. There is, however, a general consensus that when more than one level of library staff exists, there is a breakdown in duties.For more information on the duties performed by different levels of library staff, refer to:
1. CLA’s Guidelines for the Education of Library Technicians, 1991 edition.
2. Manitoba Association of Library Technicians brochure, “Why Hire a Library Technician?”
3. Manitoba Library Association document “Library Careers in Manitoba”

Duties of professional librarians and teacher–librarians
Professional librarians usually manage a library department or entire library. As managers, they develop policies and ensure that the policies are implemented consistently and appropriately. Librarians report directly to library boards, senior management within a company or to academic administrators. In some organizations, in-depth research or requests for information in highly specialized subject areas are only performed at the professional librarian level.
Teacher-librarians do much more than simply manage school libraries. As teachers first, teacher-librarians lead in the implementation of resource-based learning at the school level. In collaboration with classroom teachers, teacher-librarians integrate information literacy skills throughout the curriculum. Teacher-librarians assist other teachers with curriculum development and provide advice regarding appropriate resources to support existing curriculum. Like professional librarians, teacher-librarians design and implement such library policies as collection development. Usually reporting to school principals, teacher-librarians are also delegated such front-line supervisory tasks as managing school library budgets and staff.

Duties of library technicians
Library technicians support professional librarians and teacher-librarians and perform duties requiring specialized library training, such as cataloguing, bibliographic verification, answering basic reference questions, or instructing library patrons in the use of the OPAC, CD-ROM resources, or library equipment, such as microfiche readers. Library technicians often supervise other staff members, including library technicians or library clerks. Library technicians may sometimes also manage small (often one-person) libraries or departments within larger libraries, under the supervision of professional librarians.

Duties of library assistants
Library assistants also support professional librarians or teacher-librarians. The only major difference between them and library technicians is that they do not necessarily possess a certificate or diploma, but rather receive “on-the-job” training. As they gain more specialized training and experience, they can move into supervisory positions.

Duties of library clerks
Library clerks perform duties that require little specialized training. Such duties include shelving, processing and checking out or discharging library materials.

Staffing levels in small libraries
In small or one-person libraries, there may be professional librarians shelving library materials, or library technicians reporting to senior level administration within a company. The emphasis is on providing quality library service within existing staffing levels rather than assigning specific duties to specific positions.

Effect on library automation on staffing levels
Before computers were available, much of library work was labour intensive and required special skills. Only libraries with few staff allowed library technicians, assistants and clerks to perform non-clerical tasks. Computer technology streamlined many repetitive tasks, such as checking out and discharging materials, and most importantly, allowed libraries to easily share bibliographic records. No longer was it necessary to have professional staff interpreting complex cataloguing rules if cataloguing copy was available from another library or a commercial source. Well-trained library technicians or library assistants were able to search for bibliographic records and to make minor modifications to reflect the local library’s cataloguing practices and holdings.

Effect of fiscal restraint on staffing levels
In recent years, financial pressures have necessitated that library administrators find more economical methods of providing library services. This often results in re-evaluating which duties should be performed at the professional level and which should not. This is not only a trend in libraries. Throughout society organizational structures are flattening, often resulting reductions in mid-management level positions. To compensate the loss of mid-management, team building is frequently emphasized in organizations. Although assignment of new duties can lead to more challenging and rewarding work for library technicians, it is often accompanied by re-deployment of staff, rather than large salary increments or increased managerial responsibilities. As a result, library workers can experience burn-out and a sense of frustration.

Alternative careers
Many library workers are seeking out alternative careers. This began to take off in the 1980s when publicly funded libraries (i.e. academic, public and school libraries) began to experience significant budget cutbacks. Ironically, this occurred in the midst of a rising deluge of information which more and more people found increasingly difficult to access and manage. Although the need for information professionals has increased by leaps and bounds, the demand for traditional library workers has remained constant or it has even fallen. The problem is that many do not recognize that library workers are precisely people who are in the best position to help them wade through information and develop their own information literacy skills.
For this reason, library workers are increasingly taking their futures into their own hands, marketing their valuable skills and creating their own opportunities. Thus, alternative careers is still a growing trend today. Librarians and library technicians have obtained positions as information consultants, webmasters, sales representatives for publishing firms, to name a few.
For more information on this entrepreneurial spirit among library workers and the ways library workers are finding∕creating their own employment, see the article “The New Information Pros” by Lisa Peryman from the November 1997 issue of Quill & Quire. It discusses skills library workers possess to enable them to work in other areas. Françoise Hébert’s article “Looking for work” accompanies Lisa Peryman’s article. It offers guidelines to assist library workers use their skills as they embark on the adventure of their alternative careers. The American Library Association’s Guide to Employment Sources in the Library and Information Professions (2001) includes a section, “using information skills in non-library settings”. The Website for this resource is at:
Finally, the Toronto Chapter of the Special Libraries Association maintains a Webpage on “Alternative Careers and Personal Development” at:

Employment outlook
The employment outlook for library workers overall is expected to be about “average” through 2010. For an explanation as to what this means and a detailed analysis of the Canadian market for library workers consult Job futures 2000, outlooks by occupations at produced by Human Resources Development Canada. Enter “library” as the search term and get links to most of the major types of library workers. Library workers are included under National Occupational Code no. 521 “Technical Occupations in Libraries…”
For a similar analysis of the U.S. market, consult the Occupational outlook handbook (2002-03 edition) at published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Labor. Enter “library” as the search term and get links to most of the major library staffing levels, including library technicians.

Contact list
For more information on library workers, library science and library technology programs, library careers and employment in libraries, contact the following sources of information:

Canadian Library Association

328 Frank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0X8
Phone: (613) 232 9625
Web site:

Manitoba Association of Library Technicians
Box 1872
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 3R1
Phone: (204) 885-7581 (Job Bank)

Manitoba Association of Health Information Providers
Box 232, Postal Station C
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3M 3S7

Manitoba Library Association
606 100 Arthur Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 1H3
Phone: (204) 943-4567
Fax: (204) 942-1555

Manitoba School Library Association
c/o Manitoba Teacher’s Society
191 Harcourt Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3J 3H2
Phone: (204) 888-7961

No comments: