Misinformation re: working in a library

2) So what do you want to do with that?

Work in a public library or a school library (having just discovered how much fun it is to work with children’s materials!). Which is sometimes followed by the question, “So what do you do, shelve books?”

Surprisingly, no. I don’t often shelve books because there’s really not enough time for me to do that. The  funny thing I realized only after graduating from library school is that not many people realize what it is exactly that librarians (or library technicians, or the other people working in libraries) do. In actual fact, each of the four types of libraries has its own staffing patterns, consisting of different positions that take care of particular tasks (1):

Teacher Librarians

Educational requirements: a Bachelor of Education + courses in school libraries.

Responsibilities: collaborating with faculty, selection and collection development (emphasis on curriculum-related material), and management of the library/libraries.


Educational requirements: undergraduate degree (with subject specialty) and/or Master’s degree + MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science).

Responsibilities: contribute to the profession (writing, research, and committee work), management of the library/libraries (administering budgets, developing policies, managing human resources, etc.), and other public and technical services as needed (collection development, creating programs, etc.).

Library Technician

Educational requirements: high school diploma and/or college diploma and/or university diploma + 2 year Library Technician Diploma.

Responsibilities: (as needed, depending upon the library) public services (Readers’ Advisory, reference service, circulation, etc.), technical services (cataloguing, materials processing, acquisitions, collection development, etc.), some supervision (of other staff, student and adult volunteers).

*People often wonder what the difference is between a “librarian” and a “library technician.” Essentially, the librarian develops a theoretical understanding of library practices, services, and technical tasks but often has more administrative duties. The library technician develops a more practical working knowledge and skills set and often has a mix of public, technical, and some administrative services.

Library assistant

University graduates who work at the desk, in the children’s section, or in technical services.

Library clerk

High school graduates with clerical skills who largely perform clerical work.

Library pages

Students or adults who work part-time and perform basic tasks (shelving, shelf-reading, etc.)

As of right now, I work as a Library Technician in an elementary school library alongside the Teacher Librarian. Because it’s just the two of us, I’m able to perform a mix of public, technical, and supervisory tasks. Thinking about it, there really isn’t a boring moment–something is always  happening, whether it’s me cataloguing new materials, answering students’ questions when they randomly stop in (a common one is: “How many books do I have out?”), checking books in/out during class visits, showing students, their parents, or teachers how to access our databases and eBook collection (we have three: Overdrive, Kobo, and some FollettShelf eBooks).

From my past year working in a school library, I’ve discovered that one of my favourite things is book-talking (I mean conversationally, not an actual book talk presentation) with grades 4, 5, and 6 students. It’s quite entertaining to hear them describe what they liked or didn’t like about a certain book, and responding enthusiastically (whether or not you’ve read the book) triggers a great conversation. I recall one gr. 5 student lobbying her favourite book to me, thrusting it into my hands while insisting, “Read the first page!”

So what is it that we actually do? Well, that depends on the position and library–but I can guarantee you it isn’t boring!

(1) Note: all of the above information regarding library staffing is based off of the content from the Introduction to Libraries and the Information Industry course offered at Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology and used with permission from Professor Dolores Harms Penner.

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