Library assistants help librarians in the work of collecting and organising information in libraries so it is available to people who want to access it.
Librarians deal with information in a number of formats: newspapers and other periodicals and journals; microfiche; videos; DVDs and CDs; digital; and of course, books.
What do library assistants do?
An important part of the work of a library assistant is greeting library users. Library assistants are usually the first point of contact so they have to make users feel welcome. Providing good customer service is a key part of the role.
The work can involve lifting, carrying, bending, stretching and pushing trolleys and may involve standing for long periods. The day-to-day role is likely to include:
- answering users’ queries about the library stock and how to use the services and facilities – queries may be face-to-face, by phone or by email
- processing library material so users can borrow it, either within the library or to take away
- retrieving stock for users – either electronically or physically
- returning stock to shelves or other storage
- circulating periodicals
- cataloguing library material
- collection of data on library usage
- organising publicity and events among users and ensuring potential users are aware of library facilities.
In public libraries, library assistants may organise community events and coordinate other activities in the library.
Library assistants can work in local public libraries, in academic and university libraries and in colleges, schools and prisons. There are also specialist libraries within research organisations, some large companies and legal and professional institutions. Some library assistants work part-time.
The job is sometimes described as being a ‘para-professional’ – working alongside the professionally-qualified library staff.
How to become a library assistant
There are no specified qualifications but some employers ask for GCSE or A level qualifications. Some employers ask for previous customer-focused experience. They may also ask for IT skills or experience.
Employers may ask for some specialist knowledge or interest for work in a specialist library. Some knowledge of library classification systems may be an advantage.
Employers may ask for some specialist knowledge or interest for work in a specialist library.
There are apprenticeships in apprenticeships in libraries, archives, records and information management services at level 2 or level 3.
Some library assistants have a degree, especially those who are intending to become librarians. Others may have A levels, or other equivalent qualifications, and work as library assistants while they study for a degree.
Building a career in libraries
Working as a library assistant can provide useful experience of library work for those wishing to become librarians by taking a qualification accredited by CILIP. Some library assistants study for the necessary qualifications while working - there are part-time and distance learning options.
With experience, library assistants can become senior library assistants especially in larger library services with a promotion structure. They may be able to progress to managing a team of staff or volunteers.