What Are Librarian Skills? Definition And Examples

Updated 18 March 2023

Librarians ensure the smooth functioning of public and private libraries by handling various tasks like inventory management, customer service requests and maintaining extensive catalogues of books, periodicals, magazines and other publications. They rely on a wide range of skills to manage the library and serve patrons efficiently. If you are interested in a career as a librarian, understanding the essential skills of successful librarians can help you highlight these skills during the hiring process, helping you secure the job. In this article, we describe and give examples of essential librarian skills and also discuss how to improve these skills.

What are librarian skills?

Librarian skills are the essential hard and soft skills that help librarians handle job responsibilities efficiently. Hard skills refer to technical skills like using library software, managing digital databases for cataloguing purposes and other role-specific skills. Librarians can develop and refresh their hard skills by attending training programmes, webinars or online courses. Soft skills refer to behaviour and personality traits that help librarians build positive relationships with customers, colleagues and others at their workplace.

Depending on the library type and nature of the role, librarians require a wide range of skills. Here are some of the common hard and soft skills that employers look for in potential candidates:

  • Examples of librarian hard skills: Familiarity with information management systems, knowledge of library collection development and management, experience in cataloguing, budgeting and accounting, proficiency in spreadsheets and database operations.

  • Examples of librarian soft skills: Punctuality, critical thinking, time management, interpersonal skills, strong communication skills, customer service and organisational skills.

Related: 10 Types Of Library Jobs (With 5 Essential Skills)

Essential skills for librarians

Here is a list of critical skills that can help you excel in your librarian role and advance in your career:

Knowledge of books and passion for reading

Having a deep love for reading and books is a critical requirement for librarians. Detailed knowledge of popular authors, their works and understanding of the different book genres can help you provide the right suggestions to patrons based on their reading preferences. Keeping track of upcoming book releases and other publications can help you keep the inventory fresh by purchasing new releases.

Customer service skills

One of the major job responsibilities of librarians is to interact with current and potential customers of the library. They answer customer questions, suggest the right reading recommendations, fix problems and provide excellent service to all library visitors. Having strong customer service skills can help you build strong relationships with patrons, encouraging them to visit the library regularly and helping improve the business and reputation of the library.

Related: 15 Necessary Customer Service Skills and How To Develop Them

Organisational skills

Librarians organise and arrange books, magazines, periodicals, journals, movies, reference sheets, newspapers and other reading material at the library, making it easy for customers to locate the required materials quickly. Organisational skills can help librarians maintain the library's catalogue by updating new items and marking items patrons check out. Besides organisational skills, patience and attention to detail can help a librarian maintain extensive catalogues accurately and efficiently.

Critical thinking skills

Librarians handle a variety of customer requests as part of their role. This might include solving a customer's request for a rare first-edition book or helping students with research material for their homework assignments. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills can help librarians address these complex challenges and provide creative and relevant solutions to patrons.

Related: Critical Thinking Skills: Definitions And Examples

Communication skills

The role of a librarian requires regular communication and interaction with library patrons, colleagues and supervisors. Strong communication skills can help librarians identify and solve patron needs and provide them with the right suggestions. Developing active listening skills, positive body language and empathetic verbal communication is an immense advantage for librarians as it helps them build good relationships with patrons of all ages. Being proficient in the local language can help librarians interact and connect with patrons from multiple backgrounds and cultures.

Technical skills

Technical skills refer to role-specific skills that help librarians carry out various tasks efficiently. Some of the popular technical skills of a librarian include:

  • Collection development: This is the systematic process of creating and building the library's inventory to meet the needs of patrons. Collection development requires the application of various skills, like budgeting and inventory planning.

  • Cataloguing: Libraries use digital catalogues to make it easy for customers to track and locate reading material. The librarian manages the catalogue by using library management software and databases. Proficiency in working with these digital tools makes it easy for the librarian to build an accurate catalogue.

  • Research skills: Librarians use their research skills to help patrons locate rare books and find information on complex subjects. Besides managing the catalogue and issuing books to patrons, librarians use their research skills to provide added value to patrons and educate the community.

  • Documentation: Librarians rely on documentation skills to organise information and maintain accurate library records. They use various software to process applications for library cards, calculate fine information, maintain patron information and track inventory.

  • Basic computer and digital skills: Besides using various proprietary software for the library, librarians also handle other digital tasks like managing the social media page of the library, organising library events, sending emails and reminders to patrons and completing purchase orders online. Basic computer and digital proficiency can help librarians carry out these tasks efficiently.

Related: Technical Skills: List, Definitions And Examples

How can librarians improve their skills

Here are a few professional skill development tips that can help librarians improve their skills at the workplace:

1. Develop a new skill

Identify a skill that supports you at the workplace and work on improving it. For example, if you organise a community event for school children at the library, you can take an online crash course on event management to improve your expertise in event planning. Alternatively, you can also use online tutorials or video guides to learn the basics of event management by yourself. Acquiring new skills and volunteering for extra responsibilities helps employers recognise your dedication to the role, helping you advance in your career.

2. Gain experience by volunteering

If you are looking to build your career as a librarian, you can gain experience by volunteering at a local public or private library in your neighbourhood. Several libraries hire interns during the summer and these internship programmes admit volunteers with no prior experience. Volunteering helps you build the basic technical skills by helping the senior librarian organise books, catalogue publications and serve patrons. You can also gain practical insights into how libraries work and the various tasks and duties of a librarian.

3. Learn from a colleague

Senior librarians are likely to have plenty of insight, knowledge and practical advice on running a library efficiently. If possible, you can request an experienced colleague to mentor and train you. This helps you gain a deeper understanding of the operations of the library and can help you function independently once you gain the experience and develop the essential skills.

4. Take an online course

Taking an online course in library management or other related subjects like inventory maintenance, budgeting and accounting or information system management can help you progress in your career. Completing an online certification is an asset to your resume and can help in distinguishing your profile from other candidates during the hiring process. Online courses are flexible and can help you balance study and work, even while you are working full time or have prior family commitments.

5. Attend conferences and other industry events

Attending conferences, fairs and other industry events is an excellent opportunity to network and learn more about your field. It helps you widen your professional network by interacting with other librarians. You can exchange ideas with others and learn new skills that can help you excel in your role. Alternatively, you can also subscribe to reputed professional newsletters to keep yourself updated with the latest technology, tools and other developments in library sciences.

Related: What Is A Librarian? Role Definition And Career Tips

Tips for librarians to highlight skills during the hiring process

You can follow these steps to showcase relevant skills on your resume and during the interview process:

  • Review the job posting carefully. Read the job description to identify the specific hard and soft skills that the employer is looking for. For example, if the job description mentions that the ideal candidate has experience working with databases, you can include library database management under the skills section of the resume.

  • Use the right keywords. Make a list of the skill-specific keywords in the job description and include them in the resume's work experience and education section.

  • Include a separate skills section. Alternatively, you can have a separate skills section on the resume where you can list your technical and soft skills relevant to the role in the order of your proficiency.

  • Quantify skills with relevant experiences. While including any skill on your resume, ensure that you can quantify it by providing a professional example during the interview. Be prepared to answer questions on how you utilised specific skills to improve your performance in previous roles.

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