Public Librarianship — MLIS Career Pathway
Public libraries are a partnership between librarians, clients, customers and stakeholders. Public librarians have evolved from gatekeeper to catalyst, designer, and partner. Librarians are fostering innovation and creativity for the community conversation to flourish in order to maintain the competitive advantage in what is being called the “knowledge economy.”
Forget what you think you know about public librarians. These days a librarian does a lot more than check out materials, shelve books, and answer questions. Technology expert, information detective, manager, literacy expert, trainer, community programming coordinator, reader’s advisor, children’s storyteller, material reviewer, digital resource developer, 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 and often one interacts with multiple age groups.
(Taken from: http://www.ala.org/pla/tools/careers)
Specific duties vary depending on the size and type of library, but will involve:
- Building creative new services that expand access to information to those most in need
- Democratizing online education for global learning without losing tactile and local experience
- Defending the boundaries of privacy and data protection for community resilience
- Promoting a platform for society to be transformed by new technologies
- Building and managing collections to respond to changing community needs or demands
- Introducing users to all types of online social media
- Facilitating and promoting reading groups both in person and online
- Suggesting appropriate books and eContent for children, teens, and adults of different reading levels.
Please see the Public Library Career Environment pages for additional detailed information about public library jobs and work-life, salaries and promotion, tips to ace the interview, and more.
Most public librarians in all but the main branch of a very large system are involved with:
- Collection development and management
- Classes and event development and coordination
- Community development/outreach/advocacy
- Reference and digital curation of local resources
- User services for adults, teens and/or children
- Digital resources and social media access
MLIS Skills at Work
The MLIS Skills at Work includes important trends and data that are needed to prepare for career advancement within the information professions. The following information within the report relates directly to the Public Librarianship career path. However, slides #12 through #15 showcase/highlight the skills most valuable to employers.
- See the MLIS Skills at Work report, slides #5 through #8 for more detailed information about hiring trends and slide #21 for representative job titles
- See slide #43 to view sample job titles, job duties, job skills, and technology/standards for public libraries
- See also slides #25 (Collection, Acquisition and Circulation), #24 (Cataloging and Metadata), #32 (Reference and Research), and #31 (Outreach, Programming and Instruction) for additional roles within this career pathway
Core Theory and Knowledge
- Ability to interact effectively with library users from all walks of life both in person and online
- Ability to learn quickly, adapt to new situations, and thrive in a fast paced environment
- 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, lead projects, and improve changes to services
- Information technology skills, especially ability to use the Internet effectively and to leverage current social media to bring the community together with common learning goals.
- Knowledge of collection development principles and practices, vendors and partnership relationships
- Strong public service orientation; a people person
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.
Faculty pathway advisors are available to help guide you and answer questions about planning a career in their area of expertise. Learn more about faculty pathway advisors.
- INFO 203 Online Learning: Tools and Strategies for Success
- INFO 200 Information Communities
- INFO 202 Information Retrieval System Design
- INFO 204 Information Professions
- INFO 285 Applied Research Methods in Library and Information Science
- INFO 289 or INFO 299 Culminating Experience
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.
- INFO 210 Reference & Information Services
- INFO 220 Resources and Information Science in Professions and Disciplines
Students should select areas of interest, such as Readers Advisory Genres and Techniques, Psychology of the Information User, Data Services in Libraries, Consumer Health Librarianship (1 unit), LGBTIQ Resources and Services,
- INFO 232 Issues in Public Libraries
- INFO 246 Information Technology Tools & Applications: Advanced
Section on Web 2.0 and Social Media [Select class number and then topic]
- INFO 260A Programming and Services for Children
- INFO 261A Programming and Services for Young Adults
- One of the following:
- INFO 263 Materials for Children
- INFO 265 Materials for Young Adults
- INFO 267 Seminar in Services to Children and Young Adults
Section on Outreach Services to Teens and Children [Select class number and then topic]
- One of the following:
- INFO 266 Collection Management
- INFO 275 Library Services for Racially & Ethnically Diverse Communities
- INFO 281 Seminar in Contemporary Issues
Based on interest: Sections on civic literacy, community partnerships, graphic novels, intercultural communication or cultural competence for information professionals, emerging technologies and impacts on the information experience, serving homeless patrons In public libraries [Select class number and then topic]
- INFO 282 Seminar in Library Management
Based on interest: Sections on change management, community leadership, political advocacy, social crisis management: the expanding role of information professionals [Select class number and then topic]
- INFO 287 Seminar in Information Science
Based on interest: Sections on hyperlinked library, user experience, adult literacy, library services in the digital age, design thinking, innovation and participatory practice in libraries (to include Maker Spaces), AI in the Library, Augmented Virtual Reality, Scratch, STEM in libraries, [Select class number and then topic]
- INFO 221 Government Information Sources
- INFO 234 Intellectual Freedom
- INFO 248 Beginning Cataloging and Classification
- INFO 282 Seminar in Library Management
Sections on financial management, grant writing [Select class number and then topic]
- INFO 283 Marketing of Information Products and Services
- INFO 286 Interpersonal Communication Skills for Librarians
- INFO 294 Professional Experience: Internships
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.
- Find out about the public library work environment: types of libraries, positions, salaries, job applications, work-life, 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.