Library and information services: career FAQs
How can I get a job in library and information services?
The most direct entry route into this sector is to complete a specialist undergraduate or postgraduate course. As a high percentage of all vacancies arise in the public sector, a lot of them are formally advertised in the press. However, relevant academic departments are sometimes notified of vacancies. Entry-level jobs are almost always generalist, for example junior librarian or library assistant and, while graduate programmes are not common, further training is always provided.
What are the different areas of work?
This sector can be split into jobs within public libraries, academic libraries and private organisations which have large information management needs. The range of duties include:
- Producing user guides – tools to help people access information easily
- Dealing with enquiries, both ‘face to face’ and by email
- Administration relating to inter-library loans etc
- General referencing and cataloguing
- Lending books
- Assisting clients with literature searches.
Public libraries have other responsibilities including advising the public on library resources, assisting with internet research and promoting the library within the community through talks and activities. Specialist areas include archiving, copyright licensing, cataloguing/classifications.
What’s involved in the application process?
Application forms are usually used within the recruitment process, but CVs are sometimes requested. Assessment centres are not common. Be aware that you may be asked for a number of references, and referees may be contacted prior to interview. Any application should focus on proving that you have demonstrated the key skills required to work in the sector.
When should I apply?
Recruitment is ongoing and, because there are relatively few specialist courses in this sector, employers sometimes recruit direct from the colleges (in which case it will probably be between November and May). Similarly, large professional firms such as law firms may participate in the ‘employers programme’ but their library/information needs are limited and therefore they might not recruit annually.
What qualifications and skills do I need to work in library and information services?
Either a relevant undergraduate or postgraduate qualification is almost always required – it is such a specialist area that people rarely enter it without such qualifications. The key skills required to work in this field can be split into two categories:
The skills required to manage the information resources
- Excellent attention to detail and organisational ability
- A high level of technical proficiency
- An ability to be tenacious and persistent
- Time management – as you are usually dealing with multiple projects simultaneously.
High level interpersonal skills
These skills are also required when you are dealing with customers. They include:
- Listening and interacting with customers to establish their information requirements and imparting the relevant information
- Providing guidance/direction on the best research route to take.
In addition, good general knowledge is required as well as being resourceful, self motivated and enthusiastic.
What are the opportunities for professional development?
Staff working in this sector regularly attend either in-house or external courses to develop specialist skills and to upgrade their existing skill set.
The Library Association of Ireland is one of the key professional bodies.
What is working life like?
In the majority of library and information jobs, shift work will be required (Monday–Saturday). Some academic libraries offer extended opening hours at busy times such as summer and Christmas exams. There is quite a lot of freedom to move within the sector because the systems and procedures tend to be similar across institutions. A willingness to change role and develop your skill set is a requirement for promotion and career advancement. Normally the larger the library is, the greater the opportunity for advancement and specialisation.