How Do I Become a Systems Librarian?

C. Mitchell

In order to become a systems librarian, you must have not only an understanding of basic library science but also a knowledge of computer infrastructures and online library tools. A degree in computer science, or coursework in programming, is helpful, though not always required. Most libraries appoint systems librarians from among their existing library staff. You can get this job in many cases by gaining an expertise in your library’s systems, then making your qualifications and interest known to the board of directors.

Most libraries no longer use old cataloging systems, but online catalogs.
Most libraries no longer use old cataloging systems, but online catalogs.

Most of the time, you can become a systems librarian in one of two main ways: through direct application or through promotion. Extensive experience working with electronic library systems is usually a prerequisite on either track. Sometimes libraries hire electronic resource librarians directly out of degree programs, but more often they look for individuals already qualified through tangible, hands-on experience. In most cases, the systems librarian position is a more senior role.

One of the first things that any prospective librarian should do is to obtain a degree in library science. This degree is often available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and provides comprehensive instruction in cataloging, archiving, and essential library management skills. Most programs also touch on computer databases and electronic file management. Try to take as many of these sorts of courses as you can. An additional degree in computer science, coding, or scripting is always an asset, as well.

The main work of a systems librarian is coordinating the electronic side of a given library. This includes digital catalogs as well as internal infrastructure systems. Libraries are generally connected to larger information mainframes, and often support their own intranets as well. In many ways, a systems librarian acts as a sort of information technology officer for the branch. Getting this job requires skills in both computers and books.

In most cases, the best way to become a systems librarian is to take whatever librarian job is offered to you, then make an effort to master the computer systems at play. Spend time understanding not just how the infrastructures work, but why. Ask to help troubleshoot problems, for instance, or carefully observe when updates and improvements are made. If you can demonstrate a solid working knowledge of library computer platforms and have work experience in circulation and basic research, you will be very competitive candidate to become a systems librarian.

No two libraries are the same, and there is no universal recipe for how to become a systems librarian. Your job search will be more fruitful with the right skills and training, however. Keep an eye on open positions, attend library science workshops, and stay abreast of changes in database software. Being any sort of librarian is about personality and individual curiosity as much as it is about skills and expertise. Systems librarians are information technology experts on the surface, but are still librarians at their core.

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