The information sector is a hugely diverse one, with roles that require library and information science skills in practically every company. Below are some brief outlines of different LIS roles with links to further information. This list is not exhaustive but we hope it will provide a good introduction to some of the kinds of librarianship that trainees and other professionals may be interested in.
Academic Librarianship ♦ Archival Work ♦ Art Librarianship ♦ Government Librarianship ♦ Health Librarianship ♦ Heritage Roles ♦ Law Librarianship ♦ Media Librarianship ♦ Music Librarianship ♦ Public Librarianship ♦ Rare Books Librarianship ♦ School and Children’s Librarianship ♦ Voluntary/Charity Librarianship
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.
- CILIP Academic and Research Libraries Special Interest Group
- 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.
Archives are collections of materials created by either an organization or individual from their day-to-day activities which have been preserved for future use. Almost anything can be in an archive, from important government documents at the National Archives at Kew to rugby caps preserved in a college archive in Cambridge. Many archives now also contain audio-visual and electronic material.
Archivists are responsible for maintaining, preserving and allowing access to archival materials. This involves organising and maintaining procedures and systems for the safekeeping of these items along with 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.
Art libraries collect, preserve and allow access to material 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.
Wherever they work, art librarians support 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) – Professional body for Art Librarians
- Bridgeman Art Library – Commercial image archive, has offered internships in the past
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 possibility 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 Information 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.
You can read more about the different types of roles that exist within the health librarianship sector on the NHS health careers website (including Outreach Librarians, Evidence Librarians, Knowledge Specialists, and Information Management posts). The work that is done within the sector helps to support decisions about patient treatments and care, funding, policy, research and innovation.
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 the Knowledge and Library Hub, as well as the Health Library & Information Services Directory. The ‘Staff, Learners and Employers’ tab also provides details on Knowledge Mobilisation and Health Literacy, along with information on how knowledge and library specialists can help others to apply and use evidence.
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.
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 – advice on courses and careers
- Leicester University Museum Studies Jobs Desk – postings for heritage internships and careers across the UK
There are many opportunities in this rapidly expanding field. Library posts, particularly those in large legal firms, carry attractive remuneration and fringe benefits. Law is a fascinating and complex subject which requires both imagination and attention to detail and accuracy from its librarians. The professional association for Law Librarians is the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL).
Law libraries can come in all shapes and sizes, from large academic law libraries such as the Squire in Cambridge; to Inns of Court and Court libraries servicing lawyers of all kinds; to smaller collections of material in law firms. These can be classified in various ways, including using the specialised Moys Classification scheme, and law librarians need to be able to find and retrieve information quickly. This is particularly important as law librarians will often be dealing with many different legal systems, as not only do lawyers often need information on international cases, but England, Scotland and the Isle of Man all have different legal systems.
One of the key resources for lawyers and law librarians are law reports, which record the details of cases which are particularly important such as those which set new precedents or clarify law. Many of these are available on the internet but paper copies are also extremely important. 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.
- British and Irish Association of Law Librarians.
- Squire Law library
- Inns of Court
- Law Society
- Incorporated Council of Law Reporting
- International Association of Law Libraries.
- The Scottish Courts Website
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.
The key to media librarianship is technology and also knowing where to go for information. Media librarians emphasize the importance of being able to access the most appropriate and up to date information. Online Internet resources and databases are used to create directories of resources. Media librarians must also have a thorough working knowledge of the business in which they operate and 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 encyclopaedic 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.
- The International Association of Music Libraries
- Music Library Association
- The American Musicological Society
- Cecilia Music Collections Database
- Music Libraries Trust – including grants for study weekends and courses (not general undergraduate/postgraduate study)
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. You will experience a huge range of enquiries on every topic imaginable, and will be seen as a ‘one stop shop’ for a large number of people who aren’t sure where to start their research. Public libraries are above all community centres, and you are almost certain to be involved in a range of initiatives to support the local community.
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
- Courtauld Institute of Art short courses – including some on illuminated manuscripts
- HoBo – History of the Book events and other resources in the UK
Jonathan Harrison: Special Collections Librarian, St John’s College, Cambridge
School and Children’s Librarianship
School libraries vary from being a few shelves of books at the back of a classroom to state of the art, purpose-built learning resource centres. The job of the school librarian can be just as varied. Whilst there is not currently any statutory requirement for schools to have a library, let alone a qualified librarian, many schools in both the state and private sector see the library as growing in importance as more emphasis is placed on students carrying out their own research and becoming information literate.
In some schools there are timetabled library lessons where pupils come to the library to be taught researching and information management skills. These are skills required by many subjects, but often not included in the curriculum of any. The sessions could be taken by the librarian, or the librarian could work with a teacher to prepare them. Indeed, often the librarian’s role will include keeping the staff as well as students up-to-date on the information landscape.
In many schools, the librarian has a key role to play alongside the English department in the literacy strategy, improving pupils’ reading levels and encouraging reading for pleasure. Librarians may organise reading challenges (such as CILIP’s Carnegie Prize shadowing scheme) or organise author visits and writing workshops.
Key to the job is the librarian’s relationship with the school’s senior leadership team and individual teachers. If the head teacher sees the library merely as a repository of books and the librarian as a book-stamper and nothing more, the librarian will struggle to make an impact in the school. Conversely, if a librarian is full of initiatives and ideas but doesn’t work with the staff, they will no doubt run out of energy and feel isolated.
One way to avoid feeling the isolation of being caught half-way between an administrative and teaching role is through school librarian networks. CILIP has a School Libraries group, and the School Library Association offers training, support, and resources.
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 education 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.
Skills learned in any academic or public library can be applied to school librarianship positions. 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.
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.