Technical Occupations in Libraries, Archives, Museums and Art Galleries - What They Do

Library and public archive technicians assist users in accessing library or archive resources, assist in describing new acquisitions, participate in archive processing and storage, and conduct reference searches. They are employed by libraries and public archives.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

Library technicians

  • Assist library users in accessing books, films, photographs, maps, documents, electronic materials and other library materials
  • Catalogue new library acquisitions under the direction of a librarian
  • Perform manual and on-line reference searches and make interlibrary loans for users
  • Assist librarians in giving tours and providing children's and other specialized library programs.

Public archive technicians

  • Assist in developing inventories, forms and finding aids
  • Implement and update classification plans and records scheduling and disposal plans
  • Apply standards and policies for storage of records and archival materials
  • Codify and classify archival materials
  • Put archival materials on microfilm or in databases
  • Transfer materials from current to semi-current status or put into permanent storage
  • Purge, sort, reduce and sample archives
  • Research and retrieve archival materials
  • Participate in instructing and assisting users
  • Ensure that proper procedures are followed in the use of computerized document management systems.

Job titles

  • high school librarian
  • secondary school librarian
  • elementary school librarian
  • technical indexer - library
  • library technician
  • archive technician
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Library technicians usually require completion of a two- to three-year college program in library and information technology.
  • Public archive technicians require completion of a college diploma or certificate program in archive and document management technology.

Essential Skills


  • Read text entries in forms and comments in logs. For example, they may read text entries in catalogue records of sound recordings to learn about ancillary documents. They may read co-workers' notes in daily logs to learn about archival and library materials delivered during previous shifts. (1)
  • Read e-mail from users, co-workers, colleagues and suppliers. They may read questions from library and archives users about the availability of reference and archival materials. They may read responses to questions they have posed to co-workers. (2)
  • Read memos from supervisors and managers. For example, they may read memos from front-desk supervisors to circulation assistants and clerks about changes to documents accepted to authenticate library card applications. They may skim memos from head librarians informing staff of increases in fines for overdue books. (2)
  • Read newsletters, brochures and bulletins from suppliers to stay abreast of new products, plans and events relevant to users and staff. For example, library assistants in public libraries may read about acquisitions for media collections in monthly newsletters. They skim bulletins from publishers to learn about books to be released. (2)
  • Read library and archival manuals, textbooks and policy statements to learn and verify rules and procedures. For example, they may read specific rules in manuals such as the Anglo American Cataloguing Rules, Standards for Archival Description and current editions of the Dewey Decimal Classification system. They read the step-by-step procedures for using on-line databases written for library users to verify their readability and logic. They read their organizations' policies regulating public access to archival materials and copyright infringements to ensure proper application of the rules. (3)
  • Read instruction manuals to learn how to operate, maintain and troubleshoot software and library equipment. For example, library assistants may read user manuals for cataloguing software in order to develop secure backup strategies for program and data files. Media library technicians may read manuals for new microfilm reader printers to learn the basic and advanced functions for viewing, scanning and printing. (3)
  • Study library and archival materials to describe, catalogue and respond to questions about them. They also read these materials to expand their knowledge in fields relevant to library and archive collections. For example, documentation technicians read book jackets, prefaces and introductory chapters in monographs to determine catalogue subject headings. Medical library technicians read article abstracts when searching for journal articles to meet requests made by member physicians. Archival assistants carefully read manuscripts and historical records received from donors to determine their scope and familiarize themselves with archival holdings. Some archival materials may be difficult to read because of poor handwriting and inferior print quality as well as archaic and culturally-specific spelling and vocabulary. (4)
  • Read conference briefs and articles in trade publications such as the Feliciter and Info-documentation to maintain current knowledge of innovations and issues in their field. For example, documentation technicians may read accounts of debates concerning changes to the Canadian copyright law. Library assistants in public libraries may read articles about adapting library services to meet the needs of disadvantaged populations such as those with sight impairments. Archive technicians may read conference briefs about adaptations of archival methods to reflect technological advances in electronic information storage. (4)

Document use

  • Locate data on labels. For example, they scan book spine labels to identify alphanumeric codes, such as the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal code, necessary for their proper placement on shelves or racks. They also scan labels on shelves, racks, drawers and other storage devices to identify the ranges of codes they contain. (1)
  • Locate data in numerous lists, tables and schedules. For example, they locate materials relevant to document searches in lists of catalogued materials. They locate specific book volumes on lists of missing books. They may locate mail rates for specific weights of parcels in rate tables and circulation statistics for specific books in tables when 'book weeding'. They may locate arrival dates for transfers of archival and library materials on delivery schedules. (2)
  • Enter data into lists and tables. For example, they may enter titles of books, authors and dates of publication into lists of books to read for their users. They may enter reference numbers, dates and names into indexes which serve as finding aids to archival materials. They may enter quantities of materials which have been physically counted into year-end inventory tables. (2)
  • Locate data in forms. For example, library assistants locate data such as birthdates and addresses in application forms for new library cards. They identify data such as subjects, dates, names of publications and authors in information request forms. They search several parts of catalogue records to locate data such as secondary subject headings and descriptions of the scope of individual documents in archival collections. (2)
  • Complete various forms such as interlibrary loan forms, book acquisition forms, deeds of gift and catalogue records. For example, library technicians may enter dates, request numbers, users' names and library card numbers, names of borrowing libraries and resource citation information into interlibrary loan forms. They may also enter data such as titles, authors, unit prices and shipping fees into book acquisition forms. Archive assistants may enter information about donations and donors into deeds of gift forms to document the acquisition of archival materials. Documentation technicians locate data in other documents to describe the processing, provenance, sizes, media and subject classifications in archive catalogue records. (3)


  • Write notes to co-workers and entries in logbooks. For example, they may write notes to inform co-workers that shared desk supplies have been relocated. They write entries in daily logs to describe incidents with library and archive users and equipment breakdowns. (1)
  • Write e-mail to users, co-workers, colleagues and suppliers. For example, they may write e-mail to users to answer requests for reference information. They may also write e-mail to colleagues in other libraries and archives requesting information about the availability of specific journals, magazines and other materials. They may write e-mail to book publishers and distributors to report missing materials and to request replacements. (2)
  • Write memos to co-workers and letters to library and archive users and suppliers. For example, media library technicians write memos to inform their co-workers of repair schedules for library equipment such as computers and microfiche viewers. Archive technicians write letters to users regarding their genealogical searches. Library assistants may write letters to artists confirming their services are being retained for summer programs in public libraries. (2)
  • May write the minutes of meetings with co-workers and colleagues. They summarize discussions using clear and concise wording to ensure a common understanding of issues, decisions and timelines. (3)
  • Write library and archival rules of conduct and procedures for the use of tools such as on-line databases for users and co-workers. For example, archival assistants may write overviews of archival practices for potential donors of archival materials. They provide instructions on methods to organize and protect documents. Assistant librarians may write instructions for conducting catalogue searches using library software. Library technicians may write procedures for conducting book inventories and putting together daily newsletters. (3)
  • May write thematic guides, narrative descriptions, newsletters and brochures to describe and promote library and archival resources for their clients. For example, library assistants may write book reviews for monthly newsletters. Archive technicians may write narrative descriptions of holdings, find aids and other reference tools for brochures and user guides. (4)


Money Math

Library and Archive Technicians and Assistants

  • Calculate claim amounts for acquisition trips and travel to conferences. To calculate total claims, they multiply distances travelled in personal vehicles by per kilometre rates and add amounts for meals, hotels and incidentals. (2)
  • Calculate purchase order amounts for books and other materials. They calculate total amounts for goods and apply discounts and federal and provincial sales taxes. They may need to convert costs in foreign currencies to Canadian dollars. (3)

Library Technicians and Assistants

  • May collect payments for photocopy fees and fines for overdue materials and make change. (1)
    • Measure materials to determine dimensions for cataloguing, expedition, storage and repair. For example, they measure books, photographs and maps with tape measures and rulers to determine dimensions for descriptions in catalogue records. They weigh envelopes to ascertain the proper postage. They measure the sizes of equipment and shelves before reorganizing spaces. They measure book cloths and spines with rulers to complete repairs to book bindings. (1)
    • May collect data to describe operations of libraries and archives and the growth and circulation of collections. For example, they may count the types of questions asked at reference desks. (2)
    • Manage inventories of library and archival materials. For example, they compare book quantities in annual book inventories to records to determine book losses. (2)
    • Estimate sizes and distances. For example, they may estimate amounts of shelf space needed for collections and reference materials. (2)
    • Estimate annual changes in numbers of library and archives users and quantities of materials circulated. For example, library technicians may estimate numbers of participants in special programs for budget preparation. (3)

Oral communication

Library and Archive Technicians and Assistants

  • Speak to co-workers and supervising librarians and archivists about schedules, tasks and shared work tools. They request help from co-workers during research, cataloguing and archiving activities and when operating and maintaining equipment. They ask supervisors for second opinions, for example on their evaluations of the quality of archival materials. They may request help with tasks such as managing difficult and disruptive users. (2)
  • Assign tasks and give directions to interns, summer students and other helpers. (2)
  • Discuss the technical aspects of archival and library sciences with co-workers, supervising librarians and archivists and colleagues. They may meet with co-workers and supervisors to discuss improvements to methods and solutions to work problems, brainstorm programming ideas and debate changes to services. They participate in discussions with colleagues in conference workshops, plenary sessions and committee meetings. For example, they may discuss issues pertaining to their field such as the impact of computer networking and the integrated management of information. (3)
  • Provide library and archive users with assistance, directions and suggestions. For example, they help users find materials and demonstrate search techniques for library catalogues and other electronic databases. They often make suggestions for books, articles and search methods once they have ascertained users' needs. They explain the use of equipment such as film projectors, microfilm viewers and checkout scanners. They also explain rules and procedures for matters such as membership, fines, interlibrary loans, copyright rules and access to restricted materials. (3)
  • May facilitate and lead library and archive tours and group activities. For example, university and college library assistants meet with groups of students to explain the use of catalogues and on-line databases. Library aides in school and public libraries may present book talks and facilitate storytelling sessions. Technicians in larger libraries and archives may lead orientation tours to give users overviews of resource materials available. (3)

Library Technicians and Assistants

  • Talk to colleagues and suppliers to order books and journals and enquire about their availability. For example, they ask colleagues about the availability of specific books in their collections for interlibrary loans. They may speak to book distributors to obtain dates for book deliveries and follow up on back orders. (1)

Archive Technicians and Assistants

  • Interact with donors and potential donors of archival materials. For example, they ask potential donors questions to ascertain the value of materials offered to their organizations. They may request permission to discard some materials and modify access to others. They may explain rules concerning schedules for the transfer of official documents such as court records to archives custody. (2)


Problem Solving

  • Encounter computer data losses, system failures and equipment breakdowns. They attempt to rectify defects and repair equipment by searching for troubleshooting methods in user manuals and recalling past experiences with similar difficulties. They may also request help from co-workers and technical support people. (2)
  • Find that uncooperative users disrupt operations in libraries and archives. For example, they sometimes meet with refusals when they ask noisy users to quieten down, attempt to collect fines and ask people to leave when the premises are closing. If they do not obtain results by courteously reiterating the rules, they request the aid of security guards. (2)
  • Lack space to store new materials. They weed out sections of shelves and collections, retaining the more popular materials. They may carry out research and discuss storage options with librarians and archivists in order to develop and implement more efficient ways of using space. (3)
  • Experience difficulties in locating materials in libraries and archives. They identify the people who last borrowed or worked with these missing materials and question them for tips about possible locations. Once the materials are found, they investigate to determine whether mistakes were made classifying or shelving the materials. They may develop and adopt new practices to prevent reoccurrences. (3)

Decision Making

Library and Archive Technicians and Assistants

  • Choose classification codes, subject headings and content descriptions for library and archive materials. They take into consideration applicable standards and past choices for similar cases. They may consult with librarians and archivists for expert opinions on their choices. In consultation with other staff, they may also decide to adapt international cataloguing rules and practice. (2)

Library Technicians and Assistants

  • Decide to apply their organizations' rules with flexibility. For example, they may ignore noisy users rather than ask them to leave, considering the likelihood they will be leaving shortly. They may allow users to maintain borrowing privileges when their accumulated fines only slightly exceed cut-off points for loss of privileges. They may accept plausible explanations about missing books from users rather than insisting on replacement costs. (1)
  • Choose to discard and repair books. They consider the condition and popularity of book titles and the availability of shelf space. When books are damaged but sufficiently popular to retain they compare the costs of repairing and replacing them. (2)
  • May select new materials to purchase for library collections. They analyze current collections, budgets and the interests and needs of users. They may consider acquiring materials which have received positive reviews from reliable sources. They may need to obtain final approval from librarians and library managers. (2)

Archives Technicians and Assistants

  • Recommend to supervisors to accept, reject, acquire and dispose of archival materials. They consider organizational guidelines, accepted archival practices and the pertinence of specific materials to their collections. They may need to obtain permission from the estates of original owners to discard irrelevant items. (2)

Critical Thinking

  • Evaluate the accessibility and ease of use of library and archive materials. For example, they evaluate the organization of materials and use circulation rates to place frequently-used materials in places that are easily accessible. Archive assistants evaluate the ease of use of archival materials in collections to determine whether finding aids would be appropriate. (2)
  • Evaluate the physical condition of library and archival materials. They examine covers, bindings and book spines to ensure pages will hold. They inspect damages such as water marks, mould spots, tears and missing pages. They evaluate the extent of damage in order to recommend repairs. (2)
  • Assess the relevance and quality of materials for different users. They take into consideration users' requests, preferences and capacities as well as recommendations from reliable sources such as professional publications. For example, university and college library assistants evaluate the relevance of journal articles to answer students' research requests. They consider matches on keywords, publication dates and the reputation of source publishers. (2)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Library and archive technicians and assistants have limited latitude for job task planning and organization as they usually carry out specific duties such as responding to front desk queries and receiving document transfers. (1)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Library and archive technicians and assistants sometimes plan and assign tasks to interns, summer students and clerks. (1)

Utilisation particulière de la mémoire

  • Remember common library and archival classification codes, the locations of categories and subcategories, the contents of collections and popular authors and titles in order to assist library and archive users and locate materials efficiently.
  • Remember the contents of manuals, on-line databases and websites to find information quickly.

Finding Information

Library and Archive Technicians and Assistants

  • Search for bibliographic data and background information when cataloguing library and archive materials. They consult various parts of the materials such as front covers and first pages of books to find titles, authors, translators, publishers and dates of publication. In order to allocate classification codes and subject headings, they scan book jackets, compact disc covers, prefaces, tables of contents, indexes and legends for clues to subject matter. They may look up similar items in on-line catalogues and refer to dictionaries, encyclopaedias, registers and documents such as legal deposit declarations for clarifications and missing data. They consult specialists such as librarians, archivists and translators when they encounter difficulties. (3)
  • Search for appropriate cataloguing and descriptive rules to complete cataloguing and description records according to standards. They consult various sources such as policy and procedure handbooks and manuals. (3)
  • Conduct extensive searches for materials and information requested by clients. They use tools such as on-line library catalogues, Internet search engines, on-line databases of journals, magazines, and newspapers, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, almanacs and other specialized reference books. Sometimes they have to help library and archive users clarify requests and work with partial references. They may confer with co-workers and colleagues about the most appropriate information sources. They may develop personal search tools such as timelines for publication name changes and folders of on-line resources organized by category. They may also follow up computer searches with telephone calls to other libraries and archives to inquire about the availability of materials requested. (4)

Library Technicians and Assistants

  • Search for information about books, magazines, journals and other materials by consulting various sources such as the Canadian Book Review Annual. They consult publishers' catalogues and bulletins and visit booksellers' websites to read reviews and suggestions. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use other computer and software applications. They use Acrobat to create portable file formats for documents. (2)
  • Use word processing. For example, they write, edit and format text for memos and letters using word processing programs such as Word. They may write and format newsletters and brochures for users. They may insert tables, photographs and clip art and create hyperlinks to external documents. (3)
  • Use databases. For example, they use integrated databases such as Voyager, Horizon Digital Library and MIKAN to perform various library and archive functions such as viewing users' records, cataloguing new acquisitions and looking up circulation statistics. They produce reports such as lists of records by catalogue code and by collection. (3)
  • May use spreadsheets. For example, they may use programs such as Excel to create lists and finding aids and to capture and display financial data. They may maintain spreadsheets to record petty cash disbursements and reimbursements. (3)
  • Use communication software. For example, they exchange e-mail and attachments with co-workers, colleagues and library and archive users using e-mail programs such as Outlook. They may also maintain distribution lists for particular groups of users. (3)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they use browser programs such as Internet Explorer to access the Internet. They employ search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Clusty to locate information needed by library and archive users. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Library and Archive Technicians and Assistants perform many of their tasks in coordination with library and archive staffs. They may work in teams to set up library displays, reorganize storage areas and process large transfers of archival materials. They orient new co-workers and sometimes supervise interns and clerks. (2)

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is important for library and archive technicians and assistants. They are expected to keep up-to-date with advances in search tools and resources. On a day-to-day basis, they acquire new learning by reading bulletins, electronic newsletters and trade publications and through exchanges with co-workers and colleagues. They attend conferences and seminars organized by their employers, professional associations and booksellers and participate in workshops on subjects such as advanced conservation techniques, new library management database systems and the latest publications. (2)