Exploring this Job
You can get a taste of what this job entails by volunteering or obtaining a part-time job at your local library or school library. Your duties will be clerical in nature—shelving books and periodicals, cleaning or organizing stacks, or working the circulation desk—but each task will give you valuable hands-on experience, as well as an opportunity to interact with library directors and other library professionals.
You can also learn more about library science by reading periodicals such as Library Journal (https://www.libraryjournal.com) and American Libraries (https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org).
Professional associations can also provide a wealth of information about this career. Visit http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/careers for articles on different library careers and profiles of librarians already established in their fields. You may want to also participate in online discussion groups to get an insider's view of this industry. Additionally, people interested in libraries and the work of librarians can join the American Library Association via a personal membership.
Library directors are the head of a library organization and are responsible for all library operations, such as planning and assessing the collection, staff development, and providing service to customers. They manage and help train employees working in reference, collection development, technical services, cataloging, circulation, and other areas of the library.
In addition to managing staff, library directors also must manage the various types of resources offered at the library: from CD-ROMs, to Internet information, to audio and video resources, to traditional media such as periodicals, magazines, and books. Directors set policies for circulation staff to carry out, such as signup systems for membership, record keeping protocol, and the tracking of lost books.
Directors work with acquisition staff to help develop, maintain, and replace items in the library collection. The director must work within the boundaries of his or her predetermined budget and is the point person for any financial decisions within the library. Many directors seek out and write grants for financing new purchases above and beyond what tax dollars or school budgets can pay for and even seek out financial or book donations from community members to offset budget deficits.
Library directors work in four main types of libraries—public, school, academic, and specialty.
Public libraries range in size from the New York Public Library with millions of volumes and many branch libraries to town libraries with 10,000 to 15,000 volumes. Public library directors direct and manage the staff and operations of these community-based libraries. Their job is unique in that they must make sure information is made easily accessible to anyone who holds a library card: from the fourth-grade student who is working on a book report, to a parent researching college financing, to a senior looking to make the most of retirement. Public libraries must have a little something for everyone, and directors of these libraries must be familiar with all this information. There are approximately 9,057 public libraries in the United States.
School library directors oversee the operation of a library hosted within a school for student, faculty, and staff use. They work with their staff to help promote and encourage literacy and teach research skills so students can find information for school projects. There are about 98,460 libraries in elementary, junior high, and high schools.
Although the job of academic library director may sound similar to that of library directors working in school libraries, the career is actually quite different. Academic libraries are found in higher places of learning like universities, rather than a local elementary or high school. These libraries range from a 10,000-volume library to the many millions of volumes in large private and public university libraries. Their clientele ranges from beginning college freshmen to university professors engaged in research. Directors of these libraries oversee staff that document and store this important research and help students, professors, researchers, and other academics find and use this information. There are approximately 3,094 academic libraries of all types serving millions of students enrolled in institutions of higher education: junior colleges, colleges, and universities.
Special libraries provide specialized information services to trade organizations, research laboratories, businesses, government agencies, art museums, hospitals, newspapers, publishers, and others. Examples of special library collections might be a medical library in a hospital or a music library in a museum or at a record company. Most large corporations also have special libraries for employee use. The library of a pharmaceutical company, for example, may contain 10,000 to 15,000 volumes carefully selected to aid the scientists who conduct research and testing of new medicines. Special library directors manage the resources and employees in these libraries. There are approximately 5,150 special libraries.
Regardless of the type of library in which the director works, he or she must be able to wear many hats to ensure that the library is well used, well managed, and fiscally sound.