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The Librarian, a 1556 painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Library confusion in Australia, 1952

A librarian is a person who works professionally in a library, and may hold a degree in librarianship (known either as library science or library and information science).

Duties and functions[edit]

Traditionally, a librarian is associated with collections of books, as demonstrated by the etymology of the word "librarian" (from the Latin liber, "book"). The role of a librarian is continually evolving to meet social and technological needs. A modern librarian may deal provision and maintenance of information in many formats, including: physical books; electronic resources; magazines; newspapers; audio and video recordings; maps; manuscripts; photographs and other graphic material; bibliographic databases; and web-based and digital resources. A librarian may also provide other information services, including: computer provision and training; coordination with community groups to host public programs; basic literacy education; assistive technology for people with disabilities; and assistance locating community resources. Appreciation for librarians is often included by authors and scholars in the Acknowledgment sections of books.


The Sumerians[edit]

The Sumerians were the first to train clerks to keep records of accounts.[1] "Masters of the books" or "Keepers of the Tablets" were scribes or priests who were trained to handle the vast amount and complexity of these records. The extent of their specific duties is unknown.[2]

The Assyrians, Greeks and Egyptians[edit]

Sometime in the 8th century BC Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, created a library at his palace in Nineveh in Mesopotamia. Ashurbanipal was the first individual in history to introduce librarianship as a profession.[3] We know of at least one "keeper of the books" who was employed to oversee the thousands of tablets on Sumerian and Babylonian materials, including literary texts; history; omens; astronomical calculations; mathematical tables; grammatical and linguistic tables; dictionaries; and commercial records and laws.[4][5] All of these tablets were cataloged and arranged in logical order by subject or type, each having an identification tag.[3]

The Great Library of Alexandria, created by Ptolemy I after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, was created to house the entirety of Greek literature.[6] It was notable for its famous librarians: Demetrius, Zenodotus, Eratosthenes, Apollonius, Aristophanes, Aristarchus, and Callimachus.[3] These scholars contributed significantly to the collection and cataloging of the wide variety of scrolls in the library's collection. Most notably, Callimachus created what is considered to be the first subject catalogue of the library holdings, called the pinakes. The pinakes contained 120 scrolls arranged into ten subject classes; each class was then subdivided, listing authors alphabetically by titles.[6] The librarians at Alexandria were considered the "custodians of learning".[7]

The Romans[edit]

Near the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire, it was common for Roman aristocrats to hold private libraries in their home. Many of these aristocrats, such as Cicero, kept the contents of their private libraries to themselves, only boasting of the enormity of his collection. Others, such as Lucullus, took on the role of lending librarian by sharing scrolls in their collection.[8] Many Roman emperors included public libraries into their political propaganda to win favor from citizens. While scholars were employed in librarian roles in the various emperors' libraries, there was no specific office or role that qualified an individual to be a librarian. For example, Pompeius Macer, the first librarian of Augustus' library, was a praetor, an office that combined both military and judicial duties. A later librarian of the same library was Gaius Julius Hyginus, a grammarian.[9]

Middle Ages[edit]

Christian monasteries in Europe are credited with keeping the institution of libraries alive after the fall of the Roman Empire. It is during this time that the first book (as opposed to scroll) enters popularity: the parchment codex. Within the monasteries, the role of librarian was often filled by an overseer of the scriptorium where monks would copy out books cover to cover. A monk named Anastasias who took on the title of Bibliothecarius (literally "librarian") following his successful translations of the Greek classicists.[10] During this period, the lectern system, in which books were chained to desks for security, was also introduced.[10] Classification and organization of books during this period was generally done by subject and alphabetically, with materials inventoried using basic check lists. Later in the period individuals known as librarius began more formal cataloguing, inventory and classification.[10]

In the 14th century, universities began to reemerge which had libraries and employed librarians. At the same time royalty, nobles and jurists began to establish libraries of their own as status symbols. King Charles V of France began his own library, and he kept his collection as a bibliophile, an attribute that is closely connected to librarians of this time.[8]


The Renaissance is considered to be a time of aristocratic enthusiasm for libraries. During this period great private libraries were developed in Europe by figures such as Petrarch and Boccaccio. These libraries were sponsored by popes, royals, and nobility who sent agents throughout Western Europe to locate manuscripts in deteriorating monastic libraries. As a result, Renaissance libraries were filled with a wealth of texts.[11] While materials in these libraries were mostly restricted, they libraries were open to the public. Librarians were needed to plan and organize libraries to meet public needs.[10] A tool to achieve these organizational goals, the first library catalog, appeared in 1595.[12]

16th and 17th centuries[edit]

During the 16th century the idea of creating a Bibliotheca Universalis, a universal listing of all printed books, emerged from well-established academics and librarians: Conrad Gessner, Gabriel Naudé, John Dury, and Gottfried Leibniz.[13] The four librarians responsible for establishing the Bibliotheca Universalis are important figures in librarianship. Gabriel Naude published Avis pour dresser une bibliothèque, the first printed monograph on librarianship.[12] In this monograph, Naude advocated collecting all kinds of books, old and new, of famous, more obscure, and heretical authors. He also contributed to the idea of organization and administration of libraries which led to the development of library collections. It was also in part thanks to Naude that some libraries began to lend books outside of the precincts of the library.[14] John Dury is considered to be the first English library theorist. He wrote two letters to Samuel Hartlib concerning the duties of a professional librarian, which were published in 1650 as "The Reformed Librarie-Keeper". He held that librarians should not only care for the books, but should also be well educated and accomplished to raise the standards of librarianship. Furthermore, he advocated that librarians deserve a living wage in order to use their energy to perform their duties to the fullest extent.[15] Gottfried Leibniz upheld that the librarian was the most important factor in the aid of learning. He is credited as including science texts in addition to conventional literature within library collections.[16] Another key figure of this time was Sir Thomas Bodley, who gave up his career as a diplomat and established Oxford's Bodleian library. He is credited as creating the first functional library of modern times.[17] Subsequent librarians following Bodley were called Protobibliothecarius Bodleianus, Bodley's Librarian. They would earn £40 a year.[18] The ideas formed with these librarians continued to develop into the 17th century. With the approach of Bibliotheca Universalis, libraries changed; the content of libraries became less selective, to include literature of entertainment as well as academic value. At this time libraries also became fully open to the public, with access no longer restricted to a small circle of readers.

18th century – France[edit]

In 18th-century France two librarians, Hubert-Pascal Ameilhon and Joseph Van Praet, selected and identified over 300,000 books and manuscripts that became the property of the people in the Bibliothèque Nationale.[19] During the French Revolution, librarians assumed sole responsibility for selecting books for use by all citizen of the nation. Out of this action came the implementation of the concept of modern library service: the democratic extension of library services to the general public, regardless of wealth or education.[19]

19th century – US and Canada[edit]

Chariton Free Public Library, a Carnegie Library

In the 19th century, librarianship began to emerge as a true profession. Male librarians (called "bookmen") were found in sophisticated academic institutions around the middle of the 19th century.[20] Like the librarians of Alexandria, these librarians were primarily scholars, not custodians of the library in which they worked. At that time there was no formal training for librarians. Education in the field was gained by experience, either self-taught or under tutelage of other librarians. Experienced librarians quite often recruited trainees.[20] In 1872, Publishers Weekly, an instructional publication focusing on the publishing industry, began to regularly devote small sections to librarians.[20] In 1876, The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education published Public Libraries in the United States of America: Their History, Condition, and Management. Aimed at practicing librarians, the study included a manual written by notable authorities on librarianship with articles on management, administration, history, cataloging, popular reading, and library buildings.[20][21]

In the middle of the 19th century, businessman Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of 2,509 libraries throughout the world. These libraries are now commonly known as Carnegie libraries. This substantial increase in the number of libraries created an increased need for librarians to manage them, thus career library workers became an established permanent workforce.[22]

During this period, Melvil Dewey became a primary force in the professionalization of librarians and library education in the United States. Dewey believed that librarians are meant to provide patrons with "better" books to improve people and their way of life.[22] In 1876, Dewey, Justin Winsor, Charles Ammi Cutter and other prominent librarians of the day, founded the American Library Association (ALA). The formation of this professional organization provided national visibility and recognition to the field of librarianship, while substantially strengthening the professional identity among the library practitioners.[23] Around this time, Dewey founded the first major professional publication for librarians, Library Journal.[23] Dewey founded the first library school, The School of Library Economy, which opened at Columbia College in 1887.[24] The coursework programs offered by the library school took three months to complete, following which students had to take an internship of up to 2 years to gain exposure to and familiarity with professional tasks.[23]

Canadian librarianship was progressing in different ways during this time. In the earlier half of the 19th century, Canada had no formal training or library schools to educate potential librarians. The Toronto Public Library held competitive examinations for librarian hopefuls. The first exam was held December 15, 1887 and tested candidates on writing, arithmetic, reading, and English Literature. In 1890, an additional qualification for exam graduation was added: candidates were required to be at least 5'3" (160 cm) tall.[25] Successful candidates were referred to American library schools for training, or given the option of serving as apprentices to complete on-the-job training.

20th century – US and Canada[edit]

Sarah Byrd Askew (1877–1942) pioneered the establishment of county libraries in the USA.

After Dewey's library school, four more library schools were opened by 1900: Albany, Pratt Institute, Drexel University, and the Armour Institute.[26] By 1919, there were 15 more programs in the United States. These programs varied by length of program, type of degree or certificate awarded, and requirements for admission. On completion of most programs, students became Bachelor’s of Library Science. At the time, the degree of Master of Library Science was not awarded anywhere but Albany.[27]

In recognition of the rise of Library education programs, ALA created the ALA Committee on Library Training in which members would review the various educational programs. This led to ALA’s "Standards for Library Education", which established separate standards for the different types of training programs.[27] The neutral approach that ALA took to the Library Schools, however, influenced the schools to band together and create their own organization: the Association of American Library Schools.[27] The Williamson Report, created for the Carnegie Corporation, however, was the most important review of library education programs. In the Williamson report, C.C. Williamson criticises the quality of many established programs, and designates a university graduate degree, not a college bachelor’s degree, as the appropriate education for professional librarians.[28] The Graduate Library School, University of Chicago, 1928-1989. was founded to respond to this need. It was thanks to the Williamson report that librarians were required to receive one year of postgraduate education in librarianship. By the 1950s most library schools in the US awarded a Master’s degree.[29]

It was at this point in history that the notion of library science was established as the study for future librarians. In addition to professional librarians, faculty in Library Science programs included other academics such as sociologists and historians.[30] Because the faculty consisted mostly of scholars, they contributed a considerable amount of research which formed the foundation of the field of library science.[30]

Another notable progression that arose after the “Williamson Report” was the establishment of The Hampton Institute Library School, the first library school to train African-American librarians in the US.[30] After the establishment of the Hampton Institute Library School, more African-Americans were accepted to library schools, including Edward Christopher Williams, a graduate of the New York State Library School, who went on to become the director of the library at Howard University in 1916.[30]

With the expanding economy, the baby boom, and the important federal legislation supporting the development of education institutions and their libraries, library schools reached their heyday in the 1950s to 1960s. These factors lead to an increased need for librarians. By the 1970s, there were more than 70 accredited library schools with master’s programs in US and Canada.[31] By 1999, however, there were only 56 ALA-accredited library school programs in the US and Canada.[31] As library schools were never high-profile departments, these closures were a result of universities' efforts to reduce costs during the recessions of the 1980s.[31]

While library schools were established in the US as early as the 19th century, library schools in Canada were not established until the 20th century. The starting push to establish library schools in Canada came from George Locke, chief librarian of the Toronto Public Library from 1908–1937. When Locke started his reign as chief librarian at TPL, training for librarians was still limited to on the job training. He believed, however, that librarians should be formally trained in educational programs like those of the US. He favoured librarians that had a formal educational background in librarianship. In 1909, Locke recruited Winnifred Barnstead, a Canadian graduate of a two-year training course for librarians at Princeton University, to head the cataloguing department.[32] Locke also hired Lillian H. Smith, a Canadian graduate from the training school at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, to head the Children's department.[33] With the help of Barnstead and Smith, Locke began his own training program through the Toronto Public Library.

A contemporary of Locke was Edwin A. Hardy, secretary of the Ontario Library Association from its inception in 1901 to 1925, then as president from 1925–1926.[34] Hardy was vocal in his opinion of formal educational training for librarians, and desperately desired a library school in Canada for fear of losing Canadian librarians trained in the US to the US. He was active in establishing library institutes, one-day regional workshops, through Ontario departments of Education, the first of which was held in Brantford, Ontario in 1907.[34]

These institutes, however, proved insufficient, and there was a formal request for Departments of Education to begin a summer library school. The first of these summer schools ran in 1911; it was a hybrid program modelled after American schools and normal schools which educated teachers in Ontario.[34] This program ran for four weeks in the summer when libraries were able to spare staff for training and eligible candidates were only those already employed in libraries. In 1919, it was extended to be a 3 month program and became the Ontario Library School.[34]

Library schools in Canada at this time, however, were unique to those in the US because they were under complete control of the Department of Education. For this reason, library schools in Canada fell under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. While the Department of Education always provided funding for the library school, librarians were not able to push their own ideas or agenda. A course was established in the Ontario College of Education, located on the University of Toronto campus, to provide an academic and professional compliment to the already established technical training of librarians. Barnstead became the first director, but all financial, hiring, and curriculum matters were made by the Dean of the College of Education and the Minister of Education. Graduates of the program did not receive a degree; they received a librarian's certificate from the Minister of Education and a diploma from the University of Toronto.[35]

It was not until the 1930s that the library school became a separate entity from the Department and Ministry of Education. In 1937, the library school at the University of Toronto received ALA accreditation and Canadian students began to receive a professional degree – The Bachelor of Library Science.[36]

Roles and responsibilities[edit]

Librarians at work, National Library of Norway, 1946
A librarian's workspace at Newmarket Public Library in 2013. iPad, PC, eReader and laptop computer are required tools.

Positions and duties[edit]

Specific duties vary depending on the size and type of library. Olivia Crosby described librarians as "Information experts in the information age".[37] Most librarians spend their time working in one of the following areas of a library:

Archivists can be specialized librarians who deal with archival materials, such as manuscripts, documents and records, though this varies from country to country, and there are other routes to the archival profession.

Collections development librarians monitor the selection of books and electronic resources. Large libraries often use approval plans, which involve the librarian for a specific subject creating a profile that allows publishers to send relevant books to the library without any additional vetting. Librarians can then see those books when they arrive and decide if they will become part of the collection or not. All collections librarians also have a certain amount of funding to allow them to purchase books and materials that don't arrive via approval.

Electronic resources librarians manage the databases that libraries license from third-party vendors. School librarians work in school libraries and perform duties as teachers, information technology specialists, and advocates for literacy.

Instruction librarians teach information literacy skills in face-to-face classes and/or through the creation of online learning objects. They instruct library users on how to find, evaluate and use information effectively. They are most common in academic libraries.

Media specialists teach students to find and analyze information, purchase books and other resources for the school library, supervise library assistants, and are responsible for all aspects of running the library/media center. Both library media teachers (LMTs) and young adult public librarians order books and other materials that will interest their young adult patrons. They also must help YAs find relevant and authoritative Internet resources. Helping this age group to become lifelong learners and readers is a main objective of professionals in this library specialty.

Outreach librarians are charged with providing library and information services for underrepresented groups, such as people with disabilities, low income neighborhoods, home bound adults and seniors, incarcerated and ex-offenders, and homeless and rural communities. In academic libraries, outreach librarians might focus on high school students, transfer students, first-generation college students, and minorities.

Public service librarians work with the public, frequently at the reference desk of lending libraries. Some specialize in serving adults or children. Children's librarians provide appropriate material for children at all age levels, include pre-readers, conduct specialized programs and work with the children (and often their parents) to help foster interest and competence in the young reader. (In larger libraries, some specialize in teen services, periodicals, or other special collections.)

Reference or research librarians help people doing research to find the information they need, through a structured conversation called a reference interview. The help may take the form of research on a specific question, providing direction on the use of databases and other electronic information resources; obtaining specialized materials from other sources; or providing access to and care of delicate or expensive materials. These services are sometimes provided by other library staff that have been given a certain amount of special training; some have criticized this trend.[38]

Systems librarians develop, troubleshoot and maintain library systems, including the library catalog and related systems.

Technical service librarians work "behind the scenes" ordering library materials and database subscriptions, computers and other equipment, and supervise the cataloging and physical processing of new materials.

A young adult or YA librarian serves patrons who are between 12 and 18 years old. Young adults are those patrons that look to library services to give them direction and guidance toward recreation, education, and emancipation. A young adult librarian could work in several different institutions; one might be a school library/media teacher, a member of a public library team, or a librarian in a penal institution. Licensing for library/media teacher includes a Bachelor or Master of Arts in Teaching and additional higher-level course work in library science. YA librarians who work in public libraries are expected to have a Master's degree in Library and/or Information Science (MLIS), relevant work experience, or a related credential.[39]

Additional responsibilities[edit]

Experienced librarians may take administrative positions such as library or information center director. Similar to the management of any other organization, they are concerned with the long-term planning of the library, and its relationship with its parent organization (the city or county for a public library, the college/university for an academic library, or the organization served by a special library). In smaller or specialized libraries, librarians typically perform a wide range of the different duties.

Representative examples of librarian responsibilities:

  • Researching topics of interest for their constituencies.
  • Referring patrons to other community organizations and government offices.
  • Suggesting appropriate books ("readers' advisory") for children of different reading levels, and recommending novels for recreational reading.
  • Facilitating and promoting reading clubs.
  • Developing programs for library users of all ages and backgrounds.
  • Managing access to electronic information resources.
  • Building collections to respond to changing community needs or demands
  • Creating pathfinders
  • Writing grants to gain funding for expanded program or collections
  • Digitizing collections for online access
  • Answering incoming reference questions via telephone, postal mail, email, fax, and chat
  • Making and enforcing computer appointments on the public access Internet computers.[40]


Southwest Collections / Special Collections Library at Texas Tech, a university in the United States

Basic categories of workplace settings for librarians are routinely classified around the world as: public, academic, school, and special. Some librarians will start and operate their own business. They often call themselves information brokers, research specialists, knowledge management, competitive intelligence or independent information professionals. Below are the basic differences between the types of libraries.

Public library[edit]

Public libraries are created through legislation within the jurisdiction they serve. Accordingly, they are given certain benefits, such as taxpayer funding, but must adhere to service standards and meet a wide group of client needs. They are usually overseen by a board of directors or library commission from the community. Mission statements, service and collection policies are the fundamental administrative features of public libraries. Occasionally private lending libraries serve the public in the manner of public libraries. In the United States, public librarians and public libraries are represented by the Public Library Association.[41] Public library staffing is structured in response to community needs. Libraries bridge traditional divisions between technical and public services positions by adopting new technologies such as mobile library services and reconfigure organizations depending on the local situation.[42]

Academic library[edit]

An academic library is a library that is an integral part of a college, university, or other institution of postsecondary education, administered to meet the information and research needs of its students, faculty, and staff. In the United States, the professional association for academic libraries and librarians is the Association of College and Research Libraries.[43] Depending upon the institution, the library may serve a particular faculty or the entire institution. Many different types, sizes, and collections are found in academic libraries and some academic librarians are specialists in these collections and archives. A university librarian, or chief librarian, is responsible for the library within the college structure, and may also be called the Dean of Libraries. Some post-secondary institutions treat librarians as faculty, and they may be called professor or other academic ranks, which may or may not increase their salary and benefits. Some universities make similar demands of academic librarians for research and professional service as are required of faculty. Academic librarians administer various levels of service and privilege to faculty, students, alumni and the public.

School library[edit]

A school library exclusively serve the needs of a public or private school. The primary purpose is to support the students, teachers, and curriculum of the school or school district. In addition to library administration, certificated teacher-librarians instruct individual students, groups and classes, and faculty in effective research methods, often referred to as information literacy skills. Audio-visual equipment service and/or textbook circulation may also be included in a school librarian's responsibilities. Often, teacher-librarians are qualified teachers who take academic courses for school library certification and/or earn a Master's degree in Library Science.

Special library[edit]

Special libraries include news, law, medical, government, nongovernmental organization, prison, corporate, museum or any other type of library owned and operated by an organization. They can be highly specialized, serving a discrete user group with a restricted collection area. In an increasingly global and virtual workplace, many special librarians may not even work in a library at all but instead manage and facilitate the use of electronic collections. Funding for special libraries varies widely. Librarians in some types of special libraries may be required to have additional training, such as a law degree for a librarian in an academic law library or appropriate subject degrees for subject specialties such as chemistry, engineering, etc. Many belong to the Special Libraries Association.[44] There are also more specific associations such as the American Association of Law Libraries,[45] Art Libraries Society of North America,[46] the Medical Library Association,[47] or the Visual Resources Association.[48]


The Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford University

The US and Canada[edit]

In the United States and Canada, a librarian might have a one or two-year (more common) master's degree in library and information science, library science or information science (called an MI, MLS, MALIS, MSLS, MIS, MSIS, MS-LIS, MISt, MLIS, or MILS) from an accredited university.[37] These degrees are accredited by the American Library Association and can have specializations within fields such as archival studies, records management, information architecture, public librarianship, medical librarianship, law librarianship, special librarianship, academic librarianship, or school (K-12) librarianship. School librarians often are required to have a teaching credential; however, for the most part, a library science degree is not required.[49][50][51] Many, if not most, academic librarians also have a second, subject-based master's degree.[52] This is especially true of four-year colleges. The first doctoral degree in library science was offered by the Graduate Library School (GLS) at the University of Chicago beginning in 1928 until the GLS closure in 1989.


In the UK and some other countries, a librarian can have a three- or four-year bachelor's degree in library and information studies or information science; separate master's degrees in librarianship, archive management, and records management are also available. In the United Kingdom, these degrees are accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and the Society of Archivists.[53] In Germany and some other countries, the first step for an academic librarian is a PhD in a subject field, followed by additional training in librarianship.


In Australia, a professional librarian must meet the requirements set out by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). There are three ways in which these requirements can be met: the individual must obtain an ALIA-recognized bachelor degree in library and information studies, complete a first degree in any discipline followed by an ALIA-recognized postgraduate diploma or masters course, or gain an ALIA-recognized library technician qualifications (undertaken at a Technical and Further Education(TAFE) college/institute followed by an ALIA-recognized bachelor degree in library and information studies.[54] ALIA is responsible for accreditation of library specific qualifications for both librarians and library technicians. Professional Australian teacher-librarians require slightly different qualifications. In addition to having a degree that meets ALIA's accreditation process, teacher librarians must also hold recognized teaching qualifications.[55]

Advanced degrees[edit]

It is also possible to earn a doctorate in library and information science.The first doctoral degree in library science was offered by the Graduate Library School, University of Chicago, 1928-1989.Graduates with PhDs usually become teaching faculty in schools of library and information science, or sometimes occupy the directorship or deanship of university libraries. Those undertaking research at the doctoral level can pursue a very wide range of interests including information technology, government information policy, social research into information use among particular segments of society, information in organizations and corporate settings, and the history of books and printing.

Beta Phi Mu, the international honor society for library & information science and information technology, honors faculty for distinguished service to education for librarianship with the annual Beta Phi Mu Award.

It is common in academic and other research libraries to require the librarians to obtain Master's degrees in some academic subject, sometimes but not necessarily related to their professional responsibilities; in major research libraries, some of the librarians will hold Ph. D degrees in subject fields.

Other advanced degrees often taken in conjunction with a degree in librarianship are law, management, health administration or public administration.

Library-related positions[edit]

Library associates, library technicians, and library assistants often have college diplomas but usually do not hold library-related degrees. Occasionally they also hold undergraduate or graduate degrees in other disciplines. These workers, sometimes referred to as para-professionals, perform duties such as database management, library cataloging, ready reference, and serials and monograph processing.

Professional organizations and activities[edit]

Presenters and recipients of the New York Times-Carnegie Corporation of New York I Love My Librarian awards, presented in association with the American Library Association

The two largest library associations in the United States are the American Library Association (ALA) and the Special Libraries Association.[44] YALSA[56] The Young Adult Library Services Association serves Young Adult librarians, and is part of the American Library Association. Many U.S. states have their own library association as well. Librarians may also join such organizations as the Association of College and Research Libraries[57] and the Public Library Association[58] and the Art Libraries Society.[59] The Canadian Library Association serves Canada and there are provincial associations as well, such as the Ontario Library Association. In the United Kingdom, the professional body for Librarians is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals[60] (formerly known as the Library Association). The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)[61] represents the interests of libraries and librarians internationally. (See also the List of Library Associations.)

Recent issues of concern for U.S. libraries include implementation of the Patriot Act and the Children's Internet Protection Act. Many librarians around the world share American librarians' concern over ethical issues surrounding censorship and privacy.

Some librarians join activist organizations like the UK-based Information for Social Change[62] and the North American-based Progressive Librarians Guild.[63] The Progressive Librarians Guild covers the actions of union library workers in its journal and blog, Union Library Workers.[64]

Within the American Library Association (ALA), some also join the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SSRT).[65] SRRT came into being amid the social ferment of the 1960s and is often critical of the American Library Association for not living up to its professed ideals. Another important activist organization is the Social Responsibilities Special Interest Section[66] of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).[67] These activist organizations are viewed as controversial by some librarians, while others view them as a natural extension and outgrowth of their own deeply-held library ethics. Librarians in the United States who as political actors in our times provide examples of a commitment to equality, the right to know or social justice include Peter Chase, George Christian, Janet Nocek, and Barbara Bailey. In the Doe v. Gonzales case, these librarians challenged the constitutionality of the nondisclosure provisions of the National Security Letters issued by the government under the USA Patriot Act in terrorist or other investigations. The four received the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union in June 2007.[68]


The increasing role of technology in libraries has a significant impact on the changing roles of librarians. New technologies are dramatically increasing the accessibility of information, and librarians are adapting to the evolving needs of users that emerge from the adoption of these new technologies.

One of the most significant examples of how technology has changed the role of librarians in the last 50 years has been the move from traditional card catalogs to online public access catalogs (OPACs).[69] Librarians had to develop software and the MARC standards for cataloguing records electronically. They had to purchase and run the computers necessary to use the software. They had to teach the public how to use the new technologies and move to more virtual working environments.

The same could be said of other technology developments, from electronic databases (including the Internet), to logistical functions such as bar codes (or in the near future RFID). Many librarians provide virtual reference services (via web-based chat, instant messaging, text messaging, and e-mail), work in digitizing initiatives for works in the public domain, teach information literacy and technology classes to their users, and work on the development of information architectures for improving access and search functionality. These examples illustrate some of the ways in which librarians are using technology to fulfill and expand upon their historical roles.

Librarians must continually adapt to new formats for information, such as electronic journals and e-books, which present both challenges and opportunities in providing access and promoting them to library patrons.

Increasing technological advance has presented the possibility of automating some aspects of traditional libraries. In 2004 a group of researchers in Spain developed the UJI Online Robot. This robot is able to navigate the library, look for the specified book, and upon its discovery, carefully take it from the shelf and deliver it to the user.[70] Because of the robot's extremely limited function, its introduction into libraries poses little risk of the employment of librarians, whose duties are not defined by menial tasks such as the retrieval of books.

Popular culture[edit]

Stereotypes of librarians in popular culture are frequently negative: librarians are portrayed as puritanical, punitive, unattractive, and introverted if female, or timid, unattractive, and effeminate if male. The librarian is in charge of a library just as a principal is in charge of a school.

Examples of librarians in popular culture include:

Gender and Librarianship in the United States[edit]

Librarianship manifests a dual career structure for men and women in the United States. While the ratio of female to male librarians remains roughly 4:1,[72] top positions are more often held by men; for example, the position of Librarian of Congress has been held by men since the establishment of the Library of Congress. Women, however, have made continuous progress toward equality.[73] Women have also been largely left out of standard histories of U.S. librarianship, but Suzanne Hildenbrand's scholarly assessment of the work done by women has expanded the historical record.[74]

In 1911 Theresa Elmendorf became the first woman elected president of the American Library Association (which was founded in 1876); she was also the first woman ever to be nominated for this position.[75] She was ALA president from May 24, 1911, until July 2, 1912.[76]

The American Library Association's Social Responsibilities Round Table Feminist Task Force (FTF) was founded in 1970 by women who wished to address sexism in libraries and librarianship.[77] FTF was the first ALA group to focus on women's issues.[77]

The Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL) of the American Library Association,[78] founded in 1976, represents the diversity of women's interest within ALA and ensures that the Association considers the rights of the majority (women) in the library field, and promotes and initiates the collection, analysis, dissemination, and coordination of information on the status of women in librarianship. The bibliographic history of women in U.S. librarianship and women librarians developing services for women has been well-documented in the series of publications initially issued by the Social Responsibilities Round Table Task Force on Women and later continued by COSWL.[79]

The Reference and Adult Services Division of the ALA has a discussion group titled "Women's Materials and Women Library Users," formed in the mid-1980s.[80]

The Library Leadership and Management Association Division of the ALA has a discussion group titled "LLAMA Women Administrators Discussion Group," which exists to provide a forum for discussion of problems of particular concern to women in administrative positions.[81]

The ALA also has the Women & Gender Studies Section (WGSS) of its Division "Association of College & Research Libraries"; this section was formed to discuss, promote, and support women's studies collections and services in academic and research libraries.[82]

The ALA Policy Manual states under B.2.1.15 Access to Library Resources and Services Regardless of Sex, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, or Sexual Orientation (Old Number 53.1.15): "The American Library Association stringently and unequivocally maintains that libraries and librarians have an obligation to resist efforts that systematically exclude materials dealing with any subject matter, including sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. The Association also encourages librarians to proactively support the First Amendment rights of all library users, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. Adopted 1993, amended 2000, 2004, 2008, 2010." [83] It also states under B.2.12 Threats to Library Materials Related to Sex, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation (Old Number 53.12), "The American Library Association supports the inclusion in library collections of materials that reflect the diversity of our society, including those related to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. ALA encourages all American Library Association chapters to take active stands against all legislative or other government attempts to proscribe materials related to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression; and encourages all libraries to acquire and make available materials representative of all the people in our society. Adopted 2005, Amended 2009, 2010." [84]

See also: Role of Women in Librarianship, 1876–1976: The Advancement and Struggle for Equalization, by Kathleen Weibel (Author, Editor), Kathleen de la Pena McCook (Editor), and Dianne J. Ellsworth (Editor), published 1978.

See also[edit]


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