Public Librarianship

A Community Hub for Learning and Literacy

The MLIS program requires 43 units for graduation. Within those units, six courses (16 units) are required of all MLIS students and must be taken as part of all career pathways: INFO 203, INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204, INFO 285, and either INFO 289 or INFO 299. Beyond those six courses, a student is free to select electives reflecting individual interests and aspirations. See: MLIS Information.

If you are interested in this career pathway, you may choose to select from the Foundation or Recommended course electives listed below. Foundation courses form the foundational knowledge and skills for this pathway. If you can only select a few electives, then choose from the Foundation courses. The Recommended courses are very relevant, but not as foundational to this career pathway.

The Career Pathway described here is provided solely for advising purposes. No special designation appears on your transcript or diploma. All students get an MLIS degree.

Find an Advisor by Content Specialty


Public libraries are a partnership between librarians, clients, patrons and stakeholders. Public librarians began as gatekeepers, progressed to intermediaries, and are now contributing value-added information in a variety of ways.

Forget what you think you know about public librarians. These days a librarian does a lot more than check out materials and shelve books. Technology expert, information detective, manager, literacy expert, trainer, community programming coordinator, reader's advisor, children's storyteller, material reviewer, and buyer are just a few of the hats a public librarian wears. A job in today's public libraries offers a diverse and exciting range of responsibilities, projects, and opportunities. Jobs in public libraries vary greatly. There is no one list of daily responsibilities.
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Specific duties vary depending on the size and type of library, but will involve:

  • Answering reference questions via telephone, email, and online chat as well as in person
  • Building collections to respond to changing community needs or demands
  • Developing programs (onsite and online) for library users of all ages and backgrounds
  • Digitizing collections for online access
  • Facilitating and promoting reading clubs both in person and online
  • Introducing users to all types of online social media
  • Managing access to electronic information resources
  • Researching topics of interest for their constituencies
  • Suggesting appropriate books ("readers' advisory") for children and adults of different reading levels, and recommending novels for recreational reading
  • Writing grant proposals to gain funding for expanded program or collections

Please see the Public Library Career Environment pages for additional detailed information about public library jobs and worklife, salaries and promotion, tips to ace the interview, and more.

Employment Opportunities

Most public librarians in all but the main branch of a very large system are involved with:

  • Administration
  • Collection development and management
  • Programming
  • Outreach/Advocacy
  • Reference
  • User services for adults, teens and/or children
  • Web and social media access

Core Theory and Knowledge

Qualities employers seek:

  • Ability to interact effectively with library users from all walks of life both in person and online
  • Ability to learn quickly and adapt to new situations
  • Ability to represent the library's services and resources to the public both in person and online
  • Ability to understand, analyze, and solve problems
  • Ability to work in teams
  • Information technology skills, especially ability to use the World Wide Web effectively and to be current with social media
  • Knowledge of collection development principles and practices
  • Strong public service orientation

Recommended Coursework

Required Courses:

Foundation Courses:

Select the courses that reflect your interests – e.g. students wishing to be public children's librarians will enroll in the programming and materials courses for children.

Recommended Courses:

Effective leadership and management (of people and information) is critically important for all types of work environments and clients.

We recommend that students consider also selecting some courses from the Leadership and Management career path to complement or supplement core skills in other areas.

Learn More

Find out about the public library work environment: types of libraries, positions, salaries, job applications, worklife, and more.

Read Community Profiles of students and alumni pursuing this career pathway.

Browse presentations by professionals working in public librarianship.

Search the Alumni Career Spotlights for alumni working in this field. Consider contacting an alum for an informational interview.