How do I Become a Special Librarian?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
In most libraries, old fashioned card catalogs have been replaced with computer systems.
In most libraries, old fashioned card catalogs have been replaced with computer systems.

Someone who wants to become a special librarian, an information specialist who manages a collection for an organization like a law firm or corporation, needs extensive education. In addition to a master of library science (MLS) degree, the librarian will also need professional qualifications in the field, like a bachelor's degree in art history for a librarian who manages a reference collection at a museum. In some cases, it is necessary to have a master's or PhD in the field, depending on the library. Special librarians may spend as much as 12 years in school before pursuing careers.

Law librarians may need to earn a full law degree in addition to training in library science.
Law librarians may need to earn a full law degree in addition to training in library science.

Special librarians manage a particular collection of media items including books, works of art, audio recordings, and other references. They need all the skills of a regular librarian along with familiarity with the field so they can serve people appropriately. A librarian managing a collection for a hospital or medical research center, for example, needs medical education. Someone handling a technical library for an engineering or scientific firm needs qualifications in that field.

Some academic libraries maintain archives and special collections.
Some academic libraries maintain archives and special collections.

A person who plans to become a special librarian can start with getting a bachelor's degree in the field of interest, like medicine, art history, engineering, law, and so forth. It is important to get good grades, which will be necessary when the student applies to library school for an MLS. While in school, it is advisable to pursue employment and internship in special libraries to get work experience and start making professional connections. Some special libraries may allow a person to become a special librarian with the MLS degree and a related bachelor's.

Other libraries may require additional qualifications. To become a special librarian, it will be necessary to pursue an advanced professional degree in the field. Some library schools allow people to get joint degrees, working on an MLS while they also fulfill qualifications for a master's degree in a field related to their work. People who know they will need advanced degrees should consider this when applying to library school so they can select the best program.

After qualifying to become a special librarian and starting work, it is important to receive continuing education. Belonging to a professional organization is a good idea, as it will allow people to keep up with events in the field. Special librarians attend conferences, workshops, and other events to pick up new professional skills, scout new talent for their library staffs, and interact with people in the field to establish connections.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • In most libraries, old fashioned card catalogs have been replaced with computer systems.
      By: Andrey Kuzmin
      In most libraries, old fashioned card catalogs have been replaced with computer systems.
    • Law librarians may need to earn a full law degree in addition to training in library science.
      By: kanvag
      Law librarians may need to earn a full law degree in addition to training in library science.
    • Some academic libraries maintain archives and special collections.
      By: WavebreakmediaMicro
      Some academic libraries maintain archives and special collections.