Current Trainees | What we do | Previous Trainees | Events | Library School | Careers | Cambridge | Links | Timeline | Blog | Contact us
The career options available in the library and information sector are extremely wide ranging and diverse. The sections below provide an introduction to many different types of librarianship with links to websites that we hope will prove useful. It is not an exhaustive list but a collection of the types of librarianship that the current trainees have developed an interest in. For those who want to work in the information sector but have decided that librararianship isn't for them the details of alternative careers may prove useful.
A career in academic librarianship can be both rewarding and diverse. Knowing your borrowers and your stock, being patient with students under pressure and the ability to turn your hand to any task are all useful qualities. Working as a trainee in a Cambridge college or departmental library is a good opportunity to find out more about working in an academic environment. The following links may also be of use:
- CILIP has a number of special interest groups you can join. Those interested in a career in academic libraries may find the Colleges of Further and Higher Education Group (COFHE) and the University College and Research Group of interest
- Academic Libraries Worldwide: BUBL Link.
- ARIADNE, SCONUL, Society of College, National and University Libraries, and UCISA,Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association are sites that seem to be targeted at qualified library professionals and information scientists in academia. But if you feel brave the links are provided.
Art libraries collect, preserve and make available for study materials relating to the visual arts, architecture and design. Collections may include books and journals but also less conventional library materials such as films, photographs and graphic art. Art librarianship also encompasses the study of the book as artefact. Many art libraries, particularly museum libraries, collect contemporary artists' books as well as materials representative of the history of publishing, printing, typography, book design and illustration.
Whether you choose to work as an art librarian in a public library, academic library or museum/gallery library, you will be supporting a wide range of users, not only professional researchers and students but also practising artists and designers who gain inspiration from art library collections. Although it is not necessary to have a degree in art history, art librarians are actively interested in art and design and keen to assist the artists and designers of the future.
The UK & Ireland Art Libraries Society (ARLIS) is the professional body which supports art librarians and promotes art librarianship. In addition to organising courses, conferences and visits to libraries, museums and galleries throughout the UK and abroad, ARLIS also provides comprehensive information and advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career in art librarianship, including details of qualifications, courses, training and job opportunities and links to a variety of useful websites. The society organises two annual courses for students, trainees and library assistants: ‘Taking the Plunge : a Career in Art Librarianship’ and ‘Introduction to Art & Design Resources’.
Those interested in a career in art librarianship may find the following links useful:
- Bridgeman Art Library: This commercial picture archive is one of the world's leading sources of art images. It has various offices around the world and offers internships to those with related interests.
- Although there is no library course in the UK specifically for art librarianship, The School of Informatics at City University in London has recently created two new MSc courses: Information Management in the Arts and Information Management in Museums and Heritage.
Emma Laws, Frederick Warne Curator of Children's Literature, Word & Image Department, Victoria & Albert Museum.^
Over the last few years librarians working with children and young people have seen their remit expand into a more educational and social sector. The creation of the People's Network and expansion of Education Action Zones throughout the UK mean that more and more library staff are working to improve children's eduction in new inventive ways that take learning beyond the classroom. Initiatives used include homework groups, reading circles and computer clubs: often these are things that librarians have always been encouraging, but are now being adopted into the wider educational community. Recent reading trends such as Jacqueline Wilson and J.K. Rowling's books (and in non fiction events such as the Mars Beagle lander) have been used to increase readership, and colouring sheets, quizzes and craft activities can reinforce skills in comprehension and enjoyment of books.
Although there are no Graduate Trainee posts that centre specifically on services for children and young people, skills learned in any academic or public library can be applied. A librarian working with young people needs to be particularly adaptable to the changing requirements of this diverse group; moving from helping a teenager with a computing question to helping a younger child with reading and writing. Librarians working with young people are more and more dealing with enquiries about careers, education and health.
More information regarding working with young people can be found on the CILIP's Youth Libraries Group webpage, or have a look at the very informative Blackburn with Darwen Library and Information Service children's webpage.^
Over 600 Information Professionals work in many areas at the heart of modern government. It is an expanding sector, offering many opportunities in libraries and other areas, where information skills are valued just as highly.
Information Professionals aim to assess, improve and facilitate access to information in government departments. As such, they play a supportive role in the drafting of legislation and investigate evidence to back-up policy making and research recommendations. They often carry out research for ministerial speeches or reports by the Press Office. They also support scientific research and are often responsible for the management of information on the internet / intranet.
Information Professionals work in most government departments (e.g. Department for Education and Skills, Department of Health, Home Office and even GCHQ) and there is opportunity for inter-departmental work and transfers with the possiblity of travel abroad. The normal entry level in government libraries is Assistant Librarian and they offer excellent career development and training opportunities. However, it is often necessary to move between departments to gain promotion.
If you are a member of CILIP, you can join their Government Libraries Group to learn more about developments in this area. The group also organises relevant tours, training events and meetings.^
In recent years there has been a growth in the work undertaken by librarians working in the health sector for the NHS. Librarians in this sector are no longer viewed as just providing a support service, it is now recognised that they have an important and beneficial role to play. The growth of electronic resources and the desire for having the most up-to-date information has been the main key to the re-evaluation of the role of the librarian in the health sector. Librarians have both the time and the skills needed to find the evidence and information to make informed decisions and choices in critical situations. Librarians have the skills to formulate questions, locate, judge and appraise evidence that is so vital in clinical situations where the outcome could be life or death.
The demand for evidence based healthcare has led NHS librarians to see their careers as more rewarding and exciting. The downside is career progression can still be limited. At the beginning of 2000, regional librarian posts in England were limited and there were no directly equivalent posts in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. However, the situation is beginning to improve. There are now an increasing number of jobs advertised in the CILIP Library+Information Gazette for positions within the health sector. The most recent advertisements have been for Knowledge Management Librarians, an Information Specialist and a Dermatology Information Specialist. However, the increase in advertised positions seems to be focused on English NHS Trusts. It is wise to visit one of the websites listed below for the most up-to-date information available.
Health Libraries Group on CILIP A forum for all members of CILIP who work in health and community care libraries and information services. Contains information on how to join the group, a quarterly newsletter, details of conferences being held and links to other professional groups and bodies in the health sector.
The Wellcome Library preserves records of medicine both past and present to foster a better understanding of medicine, its history and social implications. The website contains online catalogues and resources, images, details of special exhibitions, online tours, manuscripts and archives and much more. It is a useful starting point for those interested in medicine, its history and the preservation work carried out by libraries.
Health Information Resources
Contains links to specialist health libraries and resources, tours of the key resources offered by the site with links to the news making the headlines in the health world. The site also includes details of upcoming conferences.
This is the website of the Scottish Health Information Network. Contains useful links to other sites, details of career development publications, training resources, NHS e- library and details of study days held across Scotland by SHINE.
There are many opportunities in this rapidly expanding field. Library posts, particularly those in large legal firms, carry attractive renumeration and fringe benefits. Law itself is a fascinating and complex subject thus requiring both imagination and an exacting attention to detail and accuracy from its librarians. Library schools may well offer special options for those interested in pursuing this career but one of the best sources of help, information and support for the practising law librarian is from the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians.
Law libraries, whether they are distinct institutions or smaller specialised collections, are ubiquitous, for law touches every element of daily life. If part of a larger collection, it will probably be classified using Dewey or Library of Congress but discrete collections may use a specialised scheme such as Moys Classification and Thesaurus for Legal Materials devised by Elizabeth Moys.
Public authority libraries house law collections often within larger general reference and business collections. Government departments and any large commercial or public organisation maintain legal collections. Universities and other specialist providers of legal education provide teaching and research collections. The University of Cambridge is home to one of the largest collections of legal material in the UK so those interested in a career in law librarianship may find a visit to the University's Squire Law library, home of this material, useful. Law firms and chambers provide library services for the professional solicitor and barrister. Courts maintain their own collections primarily for the use of judges and courtroom officials but litigants in person, barristers and their clerks may also be provided with access. Additionally barristers have access to libraries at the Inns of Court and solicitors may have access to regional law societies as well as their professional body, the Law Society's, library service.
Law librarians need to be alert to national and international jurisdictions and the interplay between the two. Just within the UK for example the Scottish and English legal systems are entirely separate. Manx law too is unique in that it derives from English common law and Manx statutes. Common law together with statute law and the principles of equity are the three great elements that collectively comprise the English legal system, now increasingly mediated by European law following Britain's membership of the EC in 1973. The common law tradition, which has spread throughout the western world, developed first in England. Put at its simplest it refers to customs, traditions and 'judge-made' law, which has over many centuries become an established corpus of authority. This great authoritative body of case law and custom is far from static as new cases may set aside or overturn a previous decision.
The official body responsible for the compilation of these law reports is the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting founded in 1865 but there are also a plethora of commercial law reports and journals, many of which are subject specific. The majority of the many thousands of cases heard daily throughout the UK are not reported but those which can be considered instructive in that they introduce new principles, modify existing principles or otherwise clarify the law are reported. Increasingly case law resources are CD ROM or internet based e.g. Lexis Nexis and Westlaw. Law reports and law journals account for a substantial part of most law collections and the law librarian needs to be adept in using the variety of apparatus available to navigate the path of any particular case. Similarly law librarians need an understanding of the legislative process and the various means whereby legislation is enacted and brought into force. Law librarianship is a demanding but very interesting career path.
The following sites may also be useful:
Media Librarianship takes place in a fast paced and dynamic environment. Many sectors of the media from television and radio producers, to newspaper editors, need highly skilled, confident and resourceful information professionals to check details or undertake background research on the wide variety of material that is produced by these companies for the general public.
During my graduate traineeship I had the opportunity to attend an open day organised by the Association of UK Media Librarians and the Industrial and Commercial Libraries Group in London where a wide variety of librarians and information professionals spoke to us about what was involved in their work. We discovered media librarianship has many forms, from Media Manager at the BBC Information and Archives, to Data Manager in Picture Services at News International, to Research Manager at The Guardian.
The key to media librarianship is technology and also knowing where to go for information. The media librarians who spoke to us highlighted the importance of being able to access the most appropriate and up to date information. The majority made valuable use of online Internet resources and databases to create their own directory of resources that could then be available to other users through the company intranet. The other key factor was having a thorough working knowledge of the business you are in and to have a sense of what is currently making the news. Media librarians often work to tight deadlines providing journalists with that vital piece of information to complete their news report.
Media librarianship encompasses a wide range of interests, from the tabloids and celebrity gossip magazines to the broadsheets, news programmes and documentaries. Generally the work covers the same areas of responding to enquiries, compiling useful lists of facts and data for future use, and developing, cataloguing and maintaining collections of visual and written resources for future use.^
The work of a music librarian encompasses a wide variety of knowledge, training and skills. As well as a good music degree and technical and practical competence, a working knowledge of Latin and the main European languages (particularly Italian, German and French) is a necessity together with an encyclopedic overview of music history, and both general and specialised library training. Technical abilities (e.g. to read an orchestral score) and practical skills (e.g. playing an instrument to a reasonably high level) are necessary in order to assess the needs and requirements of both libraries and users and to catalogue fully and accurately.
While several well-known music libraries have closed as discrete entities in recent years (with the collections usually subsumed within a general university library) there is still a very wide range of institutions that offer a worthwhile and fulfilling career to the prospective music librarian. Worth looking at are the national copyright deposit libraries (which contain very large collections) the BBC, the opera companies and the music colleges (Royal Academy, Royal College, Royal Northern College, Trinity College, Royal College of Organists and the Guildhall). Some public libraries still retain music libraries or have large collections (e.g. Westminster) and, for the the good music librarian willing to work further afield, employment opportunities exist in Australia, Canada, the USA and in Europe.
For an overview of opportunities within music librarianship (and job vacancies) useful websites include:
- The IAML (International Association of Music Libraries) and their UK branch.
- Music Library Association
- British Institute of Organ Studies
- The American Musicological Society WWW Sites of Interest to Musicologists which includes libraries, archives etc.
- The Directory for Information on Archives, Library and Museum Studies
- Cecilia A project to create an online searchable database of music collections in libraries, archives and museums throughout the UK.
- Music Libraries Trust The MLT exists to provide support for the education and training of librarians, and to encourage and support research into music librarianship, music bibliography and related disciplines.
Reference should also be made to the Music Department pages of university libraries.
Working in a public library can be busy and varied but also very rewarding. There are the usual daily routines of shelving, overdues and returns but otherwise no two days are ever the same. The range of skills and qualities required to work in public libraries would come as a big surprise to most. Unlike in academic libraries, you are not working with subject specialists or experts in research but with people who are sometimes daunted by the vast amount of information available to them. It is amazing how people quickly come to rely on staff they know and trust in their local public library to help them access this information. Patience, understanding and good people skills are therefore essential.
The variety of enquiries in a public library can sometimes make you feel you are expected to know everything. They range from "What's the local population?" or "Where's the Job Centre?" to finding poems for a funeral or setting up a new email account. You must therefore be able to use a range of resources, both print and electronic, to find information quickly and efficiently.
Public libraries play a vital role in the community, hosting courses and classes as well as working with initiatives such as Bookstart, Surestart and others. Community Library Managers in particular work hard at creating links between libraries and local government initiatives. They also plan events to promote libraries and demonstrate how much they can offer to all ages and social groups. It is therefore important to create a welcoming atmosphere so that people who are new to libraries do not feel intimidated or too shy to ask for help. Accessibility for all is a key issue in public libraries.
Finally, you need to be adaptable. With new technology from the People's Network already making a big impact in libraries, staff who respond well to change are essential. It is also important to help library users adapt as some who remember the days of silent, peaceful libraries can be quite disturbed by new technology and the changes it brings. Responding to the varied needs of library users to keep everyone happy is a big part of the job!
CILIP Members can join the Special Interests Public Libraries Group to receive the latest news and keep up to date with current issues.^
Rare Books Librarianship
"Special collections" comprise rare books, manuscripts, collections of personal papers, photographs and artefacts. Such collections can be found in academic, public, cathedral and other libraries all over the UK, and form an important part of our cultural heritage. Working with early printed books, medieval illuminated manuscripts, the papers of eminent literary or scientific figures, and early photographs is extremely interesting and rewarding.
Special collections librarians seek to preserve the collections under their care, make them as accessible as possible, and promote their use. They are responsible for the security of the collections and for supervising visitors while they are consulting material. Much of their work involves cataloguing books and manuscripts and making descriptions available to potential users online. They work with conservators to arrange for the repair of damaged items, and to ensure that material with special storage needs is stored in the appropriate conditions. Special collections are often housed in historic buildings, and maintaining a good storage environment can be challenging.
In order to promote their collections, special collections librarians may produce exhibitions and publications, give tours and talks, and make information and images available online. They may also arrange for the loan of material to external exhibitions in the UK and abroad. Special collections librarians arrange reprographic services to provide images of special collections items to researchers and publishers, and arrange copyright clearance where necessary. They may also have to compile funding applications for cataloguing or conservation projects.
Special collections librarians need good interpersonal and communication skills, to deal with visitors and answer enquiries. They also need good research skills to provide answers to more complex questions. A basic knowledge of Latin is essential, and familiarity with other languages is advantageous, depending upon the nature of the collections. Some knowledge of, and interest in, codicology, palaeography, and the history of printing is also essential.
Some library and information studies courses offer modules in preservation, historical bibliography and manuscript studies, such as that at University College London.
While there are limited positions in special collections, a career path to special collections librarianship might open through a rare books or manuscripts cataloguing post.
The following links might be of interest:
- Rare Books and Special Collections Group of CILIP
- Rare Books and Manuscript Section of the American Library Association
- AMARC - Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections
- The Bibliographical Society
- Centre for Manuscript and Print Studies
- Research Centre for Illuminated Manuscripts
- HoBo - History of the Book events and other resources in the UK
Jonathan Harrison: Special Collections Librarian, St John's College, Cambridge^
Voluntary organisations and charities like commercial and academic organisations need information professionals to organise, catalogue and maintain their collections of books, documents and possibly electronic resources. Librarianship in the charitable sector takes place on quite a small scale, with few paid staff actually being employed. This sector of information work, however, is gaining increasing recognition and this has been recognised by some postgraduate courses. The University of Sheffield now incorporates aspects of voluntary librarianship in its module on public librarianship.
The RNID (Royal National Institute for the Deaf) also have their own library which covers all aspects of hearing, speech and language and specialises in literature on deafness from research reports and academic journals to children's books. It also contains a great deal of historical material on the subject of deafness. This was an area of information work I did not realise existed until a librarian from the RNID spoke to us as part of the Association of UK Media Librarians Open Day in October 2003.
The VSO receives a small number of requests each year for library and information professionals, usually only one per year. Previous projects run by the VSO include: a records management adviser for the National Records Service in the Gambia, a resource centre co-ordinator for an HIV and AIDS business project in Zambia and a librarian at a university in Ethiopia. The duties involved would be much like any other in the library and information sector, improving the existing library infrastructure, assisting with the implementation of a computerised system, record keeping and assisting in staff training.
Working in the library of a voluntary organisation or charity can be highly rewarding and a stimulating experience but it will also prove to be a challenge because you will often be working with limited resources. However, the opportunity is there to develop your skills in all areas of information and library work and it is an experience that will be valued by future employers.^
Created either by an organization or an individual as part of their day-to-day activities and preserved for whatever reason, archives provide us with a historical record of the past. They range from the formal records of government and other official bodies, through to the records of business communities, to items and material no doubt considered inconsequential by the families or individuals that originally created or collected them. Originally seen as written documents, archives now include many other formats from sound recordings to photographs and, increasingly, electronic media. They provide us with a collective memory of the past, recording official decisions, tracing human activity and enriching our knowledge of past life. They provide an invaluable resource for historical researchers from the serious academic to the amateur genealogist.
An archivist manages, maintains and, hopefully enhances, these collections for the benefit of users. This involves organising and maintaining procedures and systems for the safekeeping of archives currently held. It is also includes sorting, weeding, cataloguing and describing newly acquired material. An archivist should also be involved in the promotion of access and availability of the material in their care to as wide a range of users as possible. This can entail the arranging of exhibitions, talks and visits, responding to enquiries and advising on access, use and interpretation.
Though this may sound dry and uninspiring, for those with an interest in history the role of an archivist can prove richly rewarding. Building up a picture of the past through contemporary materials, whether it be the documents of an organization or correspondence between two friends, makes history seem more personal and alive. Facilitating access and assisting with research can also be interesting and satisfying.
For further information regarding careers advice, available qualifications and general industry guidelines the following websites are of use:
Frank Bowles: St John's College Library^
Museum and Gallery work
Getting work in a museum or gallery can be a highly competitive business. As such it is necessary to research careers in these sectors in order to give yourself the best chance possible of getting work. Postgraduate qualifications in museum/gallery work are becoming increasingly essential and experience via volunteer work can also be a great help in getting your career started.
The Museums Association website offers some great advice on careers in museums and galleries as well as advice about how to choose the right postgraduate course.^