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What Does a Head Librarian Do?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

A head librarian, sometimes known as a library director, holds the highest position in a library. The head librarian is responsible for the management of the library, its collections, and its staff and is typically accountable to a board of trustees, an academic officer at a school, or a partner or high-level executive in a business. The exact duties of a head librarian vary by the context in which he or she works, but they typically involve the development of library policies and procedures, direct oversight of the work of senior managing librarians, and work as a liaison between the library and the population that it serves.

There are many different types of libraries, so the duties and activities of a head librarian will vary according to the nature of the library in which he or she works. Public libraries, for example, are paid for with taxpayer dollars as well as voluntary donations from community members. These libraries provide a variety of materials for the use of the communities that they serve. School and academic libraries, on the other hand, focus on providing necessary materials to both students and faculty. Special libraries operate in businesses, museums, and other types of organizations and provide various resources to employees, owners, and in some cases visiting scholars.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In all libraries, however, there is a need for carefully developed policies regarding collection development, community relations, and library programming. In small libraries or special libraries in which there may be only one or two library staff members, the director may be primarily responsible for developing, enforcing, and revising these policies. In larger libraries, managers may be more involved in policy development, but the head librarian will be responsible for approving policies and ensuring that they can be enforced.

Accountability for the head librarian depends on the type of library over which he or she has authority. The director of a public library will typically report to the library's board of trustees, which also has the power to hire and fire the head librarian. A school librarian may report to the school principal or assistant principal, while an academic librarian may report to a dean or a other high-level university officer. Directors of special libraries may report to an executive or managing partner of the business.

The qualifications needed to become a head librarian typically include a degree in library science, and in the United States this degree is typically a master's degree. The head of an academic or special library may also need to hold an additional master's degree in a particular subject, such as law. A director of a very large library may also be expected to have a degree in business administration as well as a decade or more of management experience.

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