Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Questions about becoming a librarian (Part 3)

From: Part 2
# 1 - I'm not quite sure how many parts there will be to this series. More than 2 but less than 10, I think. Thanks for those who've left comments in the earlier posts. Your responses gave me more ideas for additional posts to this series.

# 2 - I use the term "librarian" in a general sense, but am mostly referring to Public Service Librarians, 'cos that's my background.

# 3 - I don't know all there is about "becoming a librarian". I'm sharing my thoughts, hoping you'd share yours too, regardless of whether you're a librarian or not.

Question: How does one become a librarian?
Response: You want a philosophical answer to this one? (I'm answering a question with yet another question... it's an occupational hazard).

Even today, I have problems trying to give a clear and simple answer to this question. One could interpret the question in at least three ways:
  1. "How does one get hired as a librarian"
  2. "How does one develop the necessary skills to be able to do what a librarian does"
  3. "How does one get recognised as a librarian"

#1 - Getting hired
Some people are hired with a general first-degree (i.e. any discipline) while some are only hired if they have library qualifications. Obviously, different libraries (in Singapore or otherwise) have different hiring policies, and even for the same organisation, the policies change depending on the circumstances.

Some people obtain a library degree (first degree or Masters) before seeking employment in a library, while some people decide to take up academic qualifications after they've worked for a few years.

To my knowledge, whatever the hiring policy, it's fairly consistent that a Masters Degree is generally considered as the professional qualification (please correct me if I'm wrong here).

#2 - Being able to carry out the duties as a Librarian
"You don't really need academic qualifications to be able to carry out the duties of a librarian".

It's a logical statement. If given enough training and practice, and with the right aptitude and attitude for the job, anyone can carry out the duties of a librarian (or any other job in the world) without paper qualifications.

In that same vein, I'm also saying that possessing library qualifications does not necessarily mean you can carry out the duties assigned. Librarianship is way more than just a piece of paper.

OK, you might now be asking, "Do I need to get library qualifications then?". You'd better check what the HR department people say, but my take is that you do them. It's why hospitals hire nurses and doctors with qualifications rather than accept those without. Those qualifications show that you possess some basic skills and/ or understanding of what you'd be asked to do, which saves the organisation time.

#3 - How does one get recognised as a Librarian?
I'll quote what BeAReader commented in Part 2:
The people using our library had a satisfying experience and gained access to the information they sought. As Librarians we made that happen - that is what we do.
I think as a Librarian, the recognition comes when our customers acknowledge that they've received good service and obtained the information and/ or material they wanted.

It doesn't matter if customers know what academic qualifications the librarian's got, or the specific tasks librarians do, or how much work goes into getting that book on the shelf or programme in the library.

The crux is their acknowledgement; their awareness and recognition that there are Librarians who made it happen, as opposed to "people who work in the library".

Then Librarians become of us.
(Part 4, next).



  1. don't know if you remember, but u mentioned in your email that some librarians start off in other admin posts (eg. executives) before becoming librarians.
    does that happen alot?
    cause its not really an option for some people to pursue the degree first.

  2. Over here in the University at Buffalo, we have a pretty decent Library & Information Science program (LIS). From what I can tell, other than learning the ropes of how information services help librarians help others, serious librarians take up positions at various libraries across the country. I personally know one who is a "visiting librarian", much like a visiting professor.

  3. Speak of the devil, I just spotted this job posting for an experienced librarian at which makes for a higher end example:

    * Master's degree in library/information science.
    * Must have 2-5 years' previous experience with comprehensive chemistry and patent research.
    * Excellent interpersonal, organizational, prioritization and communications skills.
    * Familiarity with scientific/technical and business information, including patents and patent searching.
    * High level expertise with at least one of the following: Dialog, STN, MicroPatent
    * Excellent communication skills in working with clients, including the ability to train clients on the use of information products.
    * Excellent search skills on web-based products.

    Salary: $17-19/hr

  4. To Billy: Yup, some people make a mid-career switch to join as librarians, so they get accepted on the basis of their first-degree but more on their work experience and contacts. Of course as I mentioned, they would be expected to take up formal library studies.

    Kevin - thanks for the link. That's an example of a more specialised requirement for a librarian post. In that example, it seems like a librarian job-posting for a chemical or pharmaceutical-related industry.

  5. about a librarian for specific enres? Like scientific journals and texts? is this option available in spore?

  6. Hi AKK, yes they do (if I understand your question correctly). There are some specialised libraries like Pharmaceuticals, Law libraries. Then there are the librarians over at Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, i.e. National Library, do specialise into subject areas like Business, Arts, Science & Technology. For Public Libraries, we're working towards specialising by genres (like Science Fiction, Romance for example). Ask me again in 6mths time :)

  7. Besides your three interpretations, let me suggest:

    (4) "How were you drawn to librarianship? What happened to you?"

    When I ask such a question of people, I'm always interested in "how they got that way".

  8. Mmm...perhaps this post would answer your question, Paul.

  9. Anonymous2:19 pm

    i've joined the 13th General conference of Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians (CONSAL) at shangrila hotel manila philippines,last March 27-30 2006. one of the speacker shared his paper about Qualitative Analysis of Libraries in Southeast Asia:Commonalities, Challenges, and Opportunities for Regional Cooperation. It was mentioned there the challenges and strengths of the libraries of Southeat Asian countries including Singapore. acording to his survey,Singapore has a lack of Library-skill education at the
    elementary/secondary level, despite well-developed developed
    public libraries. An overemphasis on technology, without the human component. (i.e., just having computers and databases, but no guides/training on how to use them). how true does this survey made by a Faculty Librarian/Instructor of California State Univesity?

  10. Hi Anon,
    I've not read his paper or seen the presentation so I can't really comment on his survey. I'm not avoiding the question, just that I would want to understand the context of the paper. We can discuss further over email if appropriate. Cheers.

  11. Anonymous11:48 am

    Hi Ivan

    I am greatly interested in becoming a librarian. I have applied to NLB for associate librarian post after completing my first degree in business but was never given an interview. I thought of pursuing a master in information studies but I would like to know first do people with master qualification get accepted without any relevant experience in library? Would like to know what are the criteria that NLB use in selecting their candidates.


  12. Hi LC, I know of colleagues who were hired with non-library Masters degree, if that's what your asking. I can't comment on NLB hiring policy. You'll have to enquire with NLB direct for their official view. My take is that selection and acceptance criteria depends on several factors, sometimes in specific situations. E.g. Could have more candidates applying at the same time, or the hirer could have specific qualifications in mind when seeking candidates.

  13. Anonymous9:07 am

    Hi Ivan

    Many thanks for your reply.



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