Librarians - What They Do

Librarians select, develop, organize and maintain library collections and provide advisory services for users. They are employed in libraries or other establishments with library services throughout the public and private sectors.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Recommend acquisition of books, periodicals and audio-visual, interactive media and other materials for inclusion in library collection
  • Provide reference services
  • Select, classify, catalogue and weed library materials
  • Prepare bibliographies, indexes, reading lists, guides and other finding aids
  • Develop systems to access library collections
  • Perform manual, on-line and interactive media reference searches to assist users in accessing library materials and arrange for interlibrary loans
  • Develop taxonomies using various information and data sources
  • Provide specialized programs for children, seniors and other groups
  • Conduct library information and orientation training programs and tours
  • Perform related administrative duties and supervise library technicians, assistants and clerks.

Job titles

  • liaison librarian
  • cataloguer - library
  • bibliographer
  • library consultant
  • library supervisor
  • librarian
  • cybrarian
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • A master's degree in library science is required.

Essential Skills


  • Read notes from co-workers. For example, librarians read notes from library assistants explaining why particular books are unavailable. Library supervisors read notes from librarians outlining difficulties encountered by users of the libraries' computers. (1)
  • Read summaries of recently published titles in suppliers' catalogues and professional journals to become familiar with the content of new releases they might order for their libraries' collections. (1)
  • Read e-mail from co-workers and colleagues, and memos from managers. For example, they read co-workers' comments and queries about matters such as staff schedule changes and requests for assistance in hosting library information sessions. They read e-mail from colleagues describing new programs and upcoming events at their libraries. They read memos from management containing detailed instructions such as procedures for upgrading computer components. (2)
  • Read library users' e-mail and chat room entries. For example, they read library users' requests for resources on specific topics, suggestions for titles to add to collections and ideas for improvements to library services. (2)
  • Read letters from publishers informing them of new authors and book titles. Librarians in public libraries read letters from individuals and organizations requesting permission to host lectures at their locations. (2)
  • Read monthly, quarterly and annual reports which summarize the operations of their libraries. In these reports, they read about services provided, programs developed and problems encountered at their libraries and within their library systems. They read text explaining and expanding upon quantitative data such as satisfaction survey results. (2)
  • Read policies, procedures and technical manuals. For example, they may read the Biblio Cataloguing Manual for direction in cataloguing monographic series. They may review their libraries' policy and procedure manuals to locate information on issuing library cards to people who cannot produce proper identification documents. (2)
  • Read local and national newspapers and Canadian and international magazines to remain knowledgeable about current events and new publication releases which may generate users' requests. For example, librarians in public libraries read articles of public interest in magazines such as MacLean's and Time and profiles of authors nominated for Giller Awards in newspapers such as the Globe and Mail and the National Post. (3)
  • Read collective agreements and copyright regulations. For example, they may read their collective agreements to ensure they are following proper procedures for requesting personal leave, seconding additional staff and responding to grievances. Librarians in public libraries read copyright regulations governing the showing of movies on digital video discs in libraries and schools. (3)
  • Read professional and academic journals. For example, librarians in public libraries read the journal of the Canadian Library Association, Feliciter, to remain knowledgeable about developments in their profession such as Internet filtering, inter-library loans and literacy theories. Law and medical librarians read journals published in their specific fields. (4)
  • Read a variety of books, reports and other publications critically and purposefully. For example, librarians in public libraries may read novels, plays, biographies and poetry so they can facilitate discussions at book club meetings. They review books for children and young adults to determine suitability for different age groups and interests. They may read current best-sellers and business books so they can advise users about reading selections. Librarians in health agencies such as cancer research facilities read books on the care and treatment of various types of cancer. Librarians in law libraries read books on legal matters and case law. They may identify titles and selections which may be of interest to particular library users and provide insight and detail for particular lawyers' files. (4)

Document use

  • Scan labels, catalogue cards, book spines, periodical covers and copyright notices for publication dates, titles, authors' names, classification codes and other identification data. (1)
  • May refer to a variety of drawings. For example, they may use floor plans to show users emergency exit locations. They may refer to construction drawings and book shelving plans when their facilities are being renovated. (1)
  • Scan graphs displaying use of library resources. For example, they review bar graphs showing the number of books placed on hold per week and pie charts showing the circulation of materials across various collections. (2)
  • Locate information in forms. For example, they scan assistants' shift change and vacation request forms when planning work schedules. Librarians in public libraries scan tour request forms to determine names of organizations, and numbers and ages of participants. (2)
  • Complete a variety of forms. For example, they complete special event attendance, expense reimbursement, personal leave request and time report forms. They complete inter-library and special loan requests by entering users' names, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, dates and book titles. (2)
  • Locate information in a variety of lists, tables and calendars. For example, they locate book classification numbers in the Universal Decimal Classification Lists. They read participants' names and contact information on library programs sign-in sheets. They scan tables showing statistics for weekly, monthly and yearly cataloguing and indexing activities. They view calendars to identify their scheduled times for specific duties such as on-line assistance and floor duty. Reference librarians scan thesauri of descriptors to identify valid search terms. (3)


  • Write reminders for themselves and notes for co-workers. For example, they write notes to remind themselves of users' requests and tasks to be completed. They may write notes to co-workers to relay messages from library users, alert them of misprints in monthly program calendars and advise them of equipment malfunctions. (1)
  • Write e-mail messages. For example, they respond to managers' requests for information on scheduling changes and meeting dates. They write to co-workers and colleagues to request assistance in locating specialized resources. They answer users' questions about hours of operation, times of computer classes and availability of book titles. (2)
  • Write letters. For example, librarians in public libraries write letters inviting users to participate in their guest lecture programs. They write to lecturers to confirm presentation times and dates and to thank them for their participation. They may write letters to respond to library users' complaints and suggestions. (2)
  • Complete incident reports describing unusual occurrences and incidents at their libraries. They describe the incidents in detail, the actions taken and the involvement of emergency services personnel. (2)
  • Write library guides, announcements and press releases. For example, they write instructional brochures on topics such as using their libraries' web-based catalogues and placing on-line inter-library loan requests. They may write press releases and notices for events such as classes, lecture series and book signings. Librarians in public libraries may write brief summaries of books for inclusion in promotional pamphlets. (3)
  • Write reports outlining activities in their locations, work units and departments. In these reports, they identify staffing changes, summarize current program offerings, special events, circulation and acquisition statistics, and new initiatives. (3)
  • May write critiques of selected resources for publication in newspapers, professional journals and newsletters and for distribution to colleagues and co-workers. They reference previous works by the same authors and summarize contents of new releases. They may offer their opinions on the quality of new works as compared to earlier publications. (4)


Money Math

  • Accept cash and make change for a variety of library service fees, fines and charges. For example, they collect fines levied on overdue and damaged materials and payments for printing and photocopying services. (1)
  • Calculate expense claim amounts. They include costs incurred for parking and determine travel reimbursement using per kilometre rates. (2)
  • Calculate dollar amounts of purchase orders and suppliers' invoices. They apply publishers' discounts, add applicable taxes and calculate totals. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • May create weekly and monthly schedules for their libraries, departments and work units. (2)
  • May record and compare expenditures against amounts budgeted for their library departments and work units. They adjust budgets to incorporate unexpected credits and debits. (3)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • May measure furniture such as computer desks and bookshelves when placing shelves and organizing work areas. (2)

Data Analysis Math

  • Count library resources, items in circulation and library users accessing services. For example, they count titles in collections and track numbers and types of resources requested, loaned, damaged and lost. Public and medical librarians count participants attending instructional programs and guest lectures. (1)
  • Create summaries to compare library usage data across days, weeks, months and years to identify trends in library usage. For example, they determine patterns by examining increases and decreases in program attendance and circulation numbers. (2)
  • Compare library usage statistics across departments and locations. For example, they compare circulation and program attendance statistics to determine usage patterns and to plan acquisitions and new programs. (3)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate available amounts of shelving space for new acquisitions. (1)

Oral communication

  • Greet library users and direct them to reference collections, computer stations and meeting rooms. (1)
  • Explain library services to users and assist them with the selection of books and other resources. For example, they recommend specific titles to users and describe library services. They explain procedures such as borrowing non-circulating resources and using library catalogues, databases and computers. (2)
  • Talk to suppliers and service providers. For example, they discuss scheduling arrangements with guest lecturers and negotiate contracts for digitization services. (2)
  • Discuss ongoing library work with managers, co-workers and colleagues. For example, they discuss performance reviews, changes to policies and procedures and upcoming events with their managers. They attend staff meetings to discuss topics such as collection development, archiving, new initiatives, changes to schedules, and users' concerns and suggestions. They participate in meetings and conference calls with librarians at other locations to discuss topics such as library services, collection building and shared service possibilities. They discuss procedures for cataloguing, indexing and digitizing acquisitions with co-workers. (3)
  • Lead tours and facilitate book clubs and storytelling sessions. Librarians in public libraries provide informational tours for new users, facilitate book clubs for groups such as teens, new mothers and seniors, and host children's story sessions. (3)
  • Deliver workshops and presentations. For example, they may present workshops to post-secondary students on the use of library databases for in-depth research. They may present operational updates to library board members and topic-specific information to audiences such as lawyers and medical practitioners. They may deliver presentations on best practices to colleagues at conferences. (3)


Problem Solving

  • Cannot physically locate titles requested by users. They re-check their databases to confirm the status of requested titles and place holds. If users require titles immediately, they check availability at other locations and request inter-library loans. (1)
  • Receive last minute cancellations for scheduled programs. For example, when guest lecturers cancel on short notice, librarians determine if the lecturers can be rescheduled, if alternate guest presenters are available and, if not, offer apologies when cancelling the lectures. (2)
  • Cannot complete assigned tasks due to disruptions. For example, when dissatisfied users constantly complain about long waits for computer access, librarians create and post sign up sheets, monitor the appropriate use of computers and suggest users access computers on other floors. When users are being too noisy, they ask them to respect library rules and be quieter. They may ask unruly users to leave. (2)
  • Are unable to complete job tasks due to process and equipment failures. For example, when users arrive to collect requested resources, librarians may find that there are no records of the requests. They identify causes such as data entry errors and resolve them by teaching the users the proper processes to follow. When equipment fails they carry out basic diagnostic and repair procedures found in service manuals and contact information technology departments for additional assistance. (2)

Decision Making

  • Decide which library programs to offer. They consider the cost of new and existing programs and the staff time needed for each. They review attendance data from programs operated in the past. (2)
  • Choose to repair, replace and cull library resources such as books and videotapes. They review circulation histories, publication dates, reprint availabilities and numbers of titles by the same authors. They check to see if newer editions are available. (2)
  • Choose titles to add to collections. They consider summaries in publishers' catalogues, consult colleagues and question users' about their interests .They consider existing titles in their collections, the value of new acquisitions for library users and the demographics of their library communities. They analyze circulation data for similar titles as indicators of potential usage demand. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • Evaluate performance of library assistants, technicians, clerks and volunteers. They review employment records for data on shifts worked and sick days taken. They observe assistants' interactions with library users. They read and listen to users' comments about assistants, technicians, clerks and volunteers. (2)
  • Assess suitability of titles prior to acquisition. They read all available title reviews and discuss proposed title additions with their managers. Librarians in colleges and universities seek expert opinions from academic department professors. They consider possible users' reactions and potential repercussions when recommending controversial titles. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Librarians organize their own job tasks under the general supervision of library managers. They respond to library users' requests and queries and this interaction disrupts the completion of regular duties and other tasks assigned by their managers. As a result, they must frequently reorganize their schedules. In larger libraries, they may rotate positions to cover various service areas. (2)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Librarians plan work schedules and assign tasks to library assistants, technicians, clerks and volunteers.

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember titles, authors and locations of materials within collections.
  • Remember user names, passwords and procedures for accessing computer systems and commonly used databases.

Finding Information

  • Locate resources in response to users' requests. They conduct searches of databases, library catalogues and web sites. They read title descriptions, journal abstracts, published reviews and consult colleagues. (3)
  • Find background information on a variety of topics when writing articles for publication and preparing presentations. They search databases and catalogues, read journal articles and scan bibliographies. They consult co-workers, colleagues and managers. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use graphics software. For example, they use presentation software such as PowerPoint to create slide shows for computer classes and orientation sessions. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, they exchange e-mail with managers, colleagues and co-workers. They frequently attach documents and add links to articles and web sites and use instant messaging software to chat online with library users. (2)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they enter cataloguing, indexing, program attendance data and volunteer hours into spreadsheets for tracking purposes. They record expenditures against their departments' budgets including costs for programs and special events. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they place orders on-line for resource materials such as journals and books. They access newsletters from other libraries and professional associations. They use various search engines to research new authors, reference requests and reviews of books. They host on-line discussions with users. They may use distance-training software to instruct users and co-navigate virtual tours of databases and web sites. (2)
  • Use word processing. For example, they use programs such as Word to write letters, reviews and monthly reports. They create signs to direct users to specific locations and inform users of available services. They create brochures, library guides, announcements and press releases. (3)
  • Use databases. For example, they use databases for tasks such as cataloguing new acquisitions, culling collections and requesting inter-library loans. They query both their own organizations' and public databases such as EBSCOHost, Medline and Statistics Canada when researching titles and topics. They select fields and set values for a variety of parameters to produce specific reports such as summaries of monthly and annual circulation data. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Librarians work independently, staffing various circulation and reference desks, researching specific topics, cataloguing new acquisitions and instructing computer orientation classes. They coordinate job tasks with technicians, assistants and volunteers. (2)

Continuous Learning

Librarians learn continuously to remain knowledgeable about topics and titles of interest to library users. The majority of learning occurs through their daily activities and interactions with co-workers, colleagues and library users. They may attend courses offered by their organizations to enhance software and research skills and local, national and international conferences sponsored by professional associations.