Library & Information Work | The Careers Service Library & Information Work – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector
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Library, Information and Archival professionals work in many sectors of the economy, although the workforce in total is relatively small.

Information work is not limited to those working in libraries – in fact the majority of professionals can be found in business and industry (particularly law and health), in schools, in central and local government as well as in professional bodies, trade associations and the voluntary sector.

The shared aim of all in the field is to make sure information is acquired, organised and continues to be accessible to those who need it. This encompasses information in all its forms – from texts to images, films to manuscripts, databases to web pages.

Types of job
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Job titles in this field include:

Academic Librarian

Works with academic staff, students and researchers to ensure that they have the material they need to access. Includes teaching information literacy skills, answering enquiries and contributing to the management of the information service.

Archive Conservator

Responsible for the preservation, repair and conservation of archive items (manuscripts, books, photos, film, recordings and more) using manual dexterity, chemical treatments, technological tools and detailed analysis.

Archivist

Works with the owner(s) of the archive to preserve and exploit the heritage and information accumulated by their work. Includes working with users as well as curatorial skills in coordinating, arranging and cataloging archives.

Cataloguer

Creates structured descriptions of resources (from books to images to electronic resources) to enable discovery by users and accurate collections management. Increasingly technological work, working with recognised metadata standards.

Information/Library Assistant

Assists information/library staff in their work, which often involves the ‘grass roots’ of the information service. This could include providing customer service to users and maintaining the basic functioning of the service, such as shelving, retrieving or replacing resources.

Information Officer/Manager

Researches and sources to meet the information needs of the setting, and can include ‘packaging’ or collating the information in ways which are accessible to the end user.

Knowledge Manager

Responsible for developing and managing complex information systems. In some settings ‘Information Manager’ can be used to refer to this role too, but ‘Knowledge Managers’ may also have responsibility for data protection, or policies for knowledge management within the organisation.

Learning Resources Manager/ School Librarian

In an educational setting, this role combines aspects of an academic librarian’s work, with information officer tasks and perhaps greater responsibility for IT facilities, or budget management.

Public Librarian

Works for a government or council-funded library, open to the general public. As well as managing the development of the collection, they also work to support readers and local organisations to make the most of the resources available, which can include organising events, surveys, or partnership working with other businesses or public bodies.

Records Manager

Designs systems, processes and schedules to help an organisation maintain operational efficiency and meet legal obligations for the retention of records, as well as identifying records to be archived (but they aren’t usually responsible for the work of archiving them).

Entry points
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‘Assistant’ work

It’s possible to work in the field without further study, particularly in ‘entry-level’ roles as a library assistant, information assistant, or archival assistant. To access these roles, you will often need some evidence of your communication and organisational skills – volunteering, customer service roles or work experience in an information setting can help demonstrate this. Salaries will often be relatively low – c.£16,000 to £22,000 a year, depending on the employer.

Graduate traineeships

These are not mandatory to progress in the field, but where they are offered they can provide a more structured piece of paid experience, often a one-year job during which more training and support is offered than would be available to someone in an ‘assistant’ role. You can find these roles for libraries at Information Professional Jobsthe job board for CILIP.  A summary list for archival roles is held by the Archives and Records Association. Oxford runs a Bodleian graduate trainee programme (closing date is usually in early February for a September start).

Graduate traineeships are offered sporadically between October and March – so it’s worth checking regularly for new opportunities.

Further study

To move on and up as a professional working in libraries, information management or archives, most staff will at some point take a professional qualification, usually accredited by either CILIP (for library or information professionals) or the ARA (for archives and records work).

More information about both is available at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and the Archives and Records Association at both their Careers in Archives webpage and their Careers in Archive Conservation webpage.

The subject of your first degree is usually not relevant, but experience in the sector (usually a minimum of 4-8 weeks) is commonly cited as essential. Funding in the form of bursaries can sometimes be found; the place to look would be on the institution’s website (at the time of writing –August 2016 – neither CILIP nor the ARA offered funding, although the National Archives has in the past offered funding for some courses). Despite relatively low levels of bursaries available, many courses have part time or distance learning options, which can enable students to work to support themselves while on the course.

Skills and experience
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 Skills needed

Each role will have a unique combination of skills required, and a few will have some skills that are not required in other roles (for example, chemistry knowledge for Archival Conservation).  However, in general, working in library and information work requires:

  • Good organisational skills
  • Analytical thinking; the ability to synthesise ‘big picture’ issues and remember small details
  • Interest and ability in working with IT systems and tools
  • Good interpersonal skills, with a desire to help users of the information service
  • Adaptability and flexibility, particularly in response to changing user needs
  • Good communication skills, both written and oral
  • High-level accuracy and attention to detail, as well as seeing the value of precise work
  • An investigative mind that seeks to solve problems laterally and imaginatively

You don’t, however, need Latin to become an archivist. According to the ARA “whilst knowledge of Latin is undoubtedly a useful skill to have as an archivist, most medieval records have already been catalogued and translated, so it is not as essential as it may have been in the past”.

Getting experience

Libraries

There are lots of ways to get good quality work experience in libraries, and if you’re studying at Oxford you’re in an ideal place to access it. Talk to your college or department/faculty librarian about their job, and find out what the opportunities might be to get involved.

If you’re outside of Oxford, there are often ways to get involved in your local public or school libraries, either through paid work as a library assistant, or by supporting library events, groups or promotional activities.  Usually the first thing to do is to get in touch with the service to ask what might be possible.

Libraries and archives in other sectors of industry can be harder to research. Although there are strong societies for people who work in law libraries who you could contact – see the British and Irish Association of Law Libraries webpages, it’s less the case than in other industries. You could research people on LinkedIn to find out who’s working as a ‘librarian’ or ‘information manager’ within your region (and even who’s an Oxford graduate too), and these could be good people to approach about work shadowing or work experience.

A hot topic in the world of libraries is ‘job substitution’. This is where work that would previously have been undertaken by a paid staff member is now undertaken by a volunteer. You will find very few ‘volunteering opportunities’ promoted by professional library bodies.

Archives

Two main areas to explore when looking for archival work experience are:

  • The Archives and Records Association – which has a list of placements that is updated annually, ranging from paid one-year roles, to two-week voluntary opportunities. However, many opportunities are arranged by directly contacting an archive to ask for experience, and so…
  • The National Archives Database – can be used to explore 2,500 archives.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer as well as on the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Living Wage.

Getting a job
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When job hunting, either for entry level work, or post-qualification roles, combine searching for advertised vacancies with methods which increase your access to unadvertised roles:

  • Explore the ‘Sector Vacancy’ websites listed under ‘external resources’ below.
  • Join LinkedIn groups that relate to your area (often jobs are posted as discussions).
  • Make sure that those you know in the field are aware that you’re job hunting. Ask them for further advice, or even other people it would be good to contact.
  • Explore whether a specialist recruitment agency (listed under ‘external resources’) might suit your needs.
External resources
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Associations, societies and news

Sector vacancies

Occupational information

Recruitment agencies

  • Glen Recruitment – Information sector specialist
  • Sue Hill – Information and market, insight and analysis sector specialist
  • TFPL – Information, knowledge and data specialist
Equality, diversity and positive action
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A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

In library and information work, CILIP has in the past run ‘ENCOMPASS’, a positive action training initiative, which may be revived in the future.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, as well as what you need to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

This information was last updated on 08 November 2019.
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