Getting Started – How to Become a Librarian

When I wrote the title for this post, I instantly thought of a superhero. Someone ‘becoming’ a librarian – by a toxic waste spill, by changing themselves in someway, to come out the other side with a shining light and and a book in hand! ‘aaaaaaaaaah’ the angels sing as the light cascades through the clouds…

Clearly it’s not as magical as that, it really is just getting a qualification I suppose. But to me, there is something about being ‘a librarian’. Something that sets you apart. It’s like a special secret world that you know all about, and outsiders view with all these misconceptions. It is like being a superhero, seemingly normal person on the outside, but magical librarian on the inside. And when we all get together, we can see that difference, and understand it like no-one else can. I love being a librarian, and I love that I feel special and different and happy being it.

I’m so lucky to have made so many ‘library pals’. Being such a niche career, you get to know other librarians easily. And it turns out, they’re pretty much all awesome and amazing people! I should probably qualify this with another point – I also really need to be including the whole GLAMR sector here! (That’s Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Records to you laymen) – full of amazing people!! Everyone is always willing to help you learn and share their knowledge, as everyone is so passionate about what they’re doing. And they’re also happy to see more people who care about the same things they love!

So how do you join us? Well, there’s many courses for becoming an archivist, record manager, museum curator, art conservationist and so on. For these however I have little knowledge – as I am Miss LIBRARY Grrrl. So I can tell you about that.

First off, there are many types of library workers with different qualifications. You can also work as a Library Officer (general customer service type stuff) with no formal qualification. This can be a great place to start if you’re not sure whether to commit to more yet. Most public libraries employ a few officers, and some universities too (they do however, usually employ library students for these casual positions). I’ll talk more about working as a student in my next post.

You can work as a Library Assistant without any formal qualifications (I know schools hire Library Assistants) although there are some diplomas and certificates that might make you more desirable. Experience in the field of course is usually the most useful.

Library Technicians require a Tafe course to get a diploma of Library/Information Studies. They have many career opportunities and can sometimes do almost the same work as a Librarian does, but unfortunately with less pay. I’ve been working as a Library Tech to get more work experience, even though I am qualified as a Librarian. The Library Tech’s I have met are super knowledgable and lovely.

To be a Librarian you need to go to university. Most of the courses are now post-graduate. I did meet one person who was studying as a bachelors, so it may still be possible. You will have to enquire at the universities. In Melbourne, there are two universities that offer Library courses approved by ALIA (Australian Library & Information Association): RMIT and Monash.

I went to Monash and did a post-graduate diploma in Information & Knowledge Management in the Library stream. There was also an Archival stream. You can choose to complete the Masters if you stay at uni longer. That is a choice you have to make – I had been at uni for a long time and was keen to work, and felt the Masters wouldn’t offer me many extra career opportunities in what I was seeking to do. This may be different for you.

This course was in the IT faculty and required a lot of high-tech work. Thankfully they have recently changed the course, and I hope this means the subjects are more library and less IT oriented. We had to study all sorts of mostly useless business and IT subjects such as how corporations can leverage IT to get greater profits and add value for customers in the business world :/ we also had to do databases and coding, yet never got to catalogue a book! I wish we’d gotten to do more cataloguing and learn what really being in a library was like! But since there are so many different types of libraries, I suppose this is hard for a course to show you. I’ll talk more in my next post about practical skills and placement opportunities for students.

I recall people at RMIT saying their course had a different focus, and was less about management type library knowledge and more about practical library skills. It’s definitely worth comparing the two courses, looking at the subjects offered and their unit outlines, and even calling the university to speak to the coordinator and express what you are looking for, and see if the course meets those expectations. Sometimes I think an apprenticeship might have given me more of the practical skills I needed for my job! However, I did enjoy all the philosophical lessons discussing social impact, the libraries future, changes in the field and so on. And this broader knowledge has definitely come in handy too.

There are also ‘Teacher-Librarians’ in the school system (who have the Librarian uni qualification and a teacher qualification as well!) There are many pros and cons to this which deserve greater discussion in a future post! Especially since my main experience has been in schools, I am very interested to discuss some of the issues in this area at some point…

It’s also worth noting that the course I did also allows you to be an ‘Information Manager’ or ‘Information Specialist’ – its pretty much a fancy way of saying Librarian for the more corporate world. Basically, any company who has loads of information needs it managed. This info may not be books, but it still requires our knowledge.

One last thing! There are many different types of Libraries: Academic Libraries (universities), School Libraries (primary, secondary etc), Public Libraries (run by the councils), and Special Libraries (Medical, Law, government, corporations etc). Each of these libraries offers different types of work, and hours and expectations! So think about which it is you are aiming for. You never know which you’ll love most, or where you’ll end up, but at least thinking about it is a good start! Do you have a particular passion? I had a law degree but found corporate law libraries where too stuffy and serious for me! I went to schools and loved working with the kids, making displays and having fun and being creative! I loved getting them excited about books and reading fiction and so on. Now I’m moving to a law library in a university which is really the best of both worlds! I can use my legal skills and still help students. I’m excited to see how it all goes – and I’ll be sure to blog about it!

If you’re not from Australia, look up your country’s Professional Library Association and they will be able to direct you to local approved courses. If you’re not in Melbourne, or you’d just like more info – go to ALIA’s page about courses and careers HERE.

I hope this has got you thinking about your options and helped you consider where to start!

Tune in next time when I will talk about great tips for students (that I wish I had known!!) that will make studying and your transition into work as a graduate so much easier!!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Michelle DeAizpurua

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