Public Librarianship

Overview Nicole Purviance

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.

Employment Opportunities

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

  • Administration
  • 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 and #13 showcase/highlight the skills most valuable to employers.

  • See the MLIS Skills at Work report, slides #5 through #7 for more detailed information about hiring trends and slide #11 for representative job titles
  • See slide #30 to view sample job titles, job duties, job skills, and technology/standards for Public Libraries
  • See also slides #18 (Collection, Acquisition and Circulation), #19 (Cataloging and Metadata), #20 (Reference and Research), and #21 (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

MLIS Requirements

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.

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