Career Development

What Does a Reference Librarian Do?

Find out what a reference librarian does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a reference librarian.

Reference librarians are the information specialists of libraries. They help patrons find books, articles, and other resources on a wide range of topics. They also provide reference services to library staff and other patrons who need assistance with research or other inquiries.

Reference librarians may work in any type of library—public, academic, school, etc.—but they all have one thing in common: they’re responsible for helping people find the information they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Reference Librarian Job Duties

A reference librarian typically has a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Providing reference services to patrons by answering questions regarding topics including literature, history, science, business, technology, or other subjects
  • Assisting patrons with locating materials in the library’s collection through the use of computer databases and other resources such as encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • Assisting researchers by providing guidance on research methods, techniques, and resources
  • Coordinating activities with other library staff members such as cataloging new materials or repairing damaged books
  • Participating in interlibrary loan programs, recommending purchase of new materials, and managing e-resources
  • Interpreting laws regarding intellectual property rights for patrons who are interested in using copyrighted materials for academic or commercial purposes
  • Conducting workshops and other educational programs for patrons on topics such as basic computer skills, using online databases, and using electronic citation formats in academic work
  • Helping patrons find sources of information about their legal rights and responsibilities, government regulations, and other legal matters
  • Maintaining the library’s collection by reviewing materials for acquisition, deaccessioning items that are no longer needed, and processing interlibrary loans

Reference Librarian Salary & Outlook

Librarian salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of library they work in. They may also earn additional compensation in the form of bonuses or overtime.

  • Median Annual Salary: $61,500 ($29.57/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $117,500 ($56.49/hour)

The employment of reference librarians is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

Demand for reference services will stem from the continued use of electronic resources and databases, which require librarians to help patrons navigate these tools. In addition, demand for reference librarians will continue to come from the need to teach information literacy to library users.

Related: Reference Librarian Interview Questions and Answers

Reference Librarian Job Requirements

A reference librarian typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Most librarians have at least a master’s degree. Some librarians have a bachelor’s degree in library science, but many earn a degree in a related field, such as English, history or computer science, and then complete a master’s program in library science.

Training & Experience: Most employers will provide on-the-job training for new reference librarians. This training will include learning the library’s policies and procedures, computer programs and any special collections.

Certifications & Licenses: Reference librarians are not required to have any certifications to get a job, but there are certifications available for reference librarians who wish to increase their earning potential or make themselves more competitive when looking for a new job.

Reference Librarian Skills

Reference librarians need the following skills in order to be successful:

Organization: Librarians use organization skills to keep track of large amounts of information. They use these skills to create and maintain databases, organize books and other materials and keep track of the information they provide to patrons. Organization skills are also important for keeping track of the information patrons request and the resources they use.

Communication: Librarians often communicate with patrons and colleagues to answer questions, provide information and help patrons find resources. They also communicate with other librarians to share information and collaborate on projects. Effective communication skills can help you to be an effective reference librarian.

Technology: Librarians use technology to access information, create digital resources and manage databases. They also use technology to train patrons on how to use library resources and databases. Librarians need to be familiar with the latest technology to perform their job duties.

Research: Librarians use research skills to find information for patrons and compile research for their own projects. They may use research skills to find information on the Internet, in books or in other sources. Librarians may also use research skills to help patrons find information on the Internet.

Customer service: Customer service skills can help you interact with patrons and provide them with the information they need. As a reference librarian, you may be the first person a patron speaks to when they have a question. You can use your customer service skills to help them find the information they need and answer any questions they have.

Reference Librarian Work Environment

The work environment for a reference librarian is usually quiet and sedate. Librarians typically work in well-lit, temperature-controlled areas. They may work in public, school, academic, corporate, government, or law libraries. They may also work in hospital libraries or in special libraries that serve a particular clientele, such as businesses or the military. Many librarians work in libraries that are open to the public, which means they may work evenings or weekends. Librarians typically work a standard 40-hour week, although they may work longer hours to accommodate the needs of their patrons.

Reference Librarian Trends

Here are three trends influencing how reference librarians work. Reference librarians will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Need for More Digital Content

As the world becomes increasingly digital, the need for reference librarians who can provide digital content will continue to grow. This means that reference librarians will need to be able to find and manage digital resources in order to meet the needs of their patrons.

In addition, reference librarians will need to be able to help users find information online through search engines and other tools. They will also need to be able to help users navigate the ever-changing world of social media.

The Importance of User Experience (UX)

The importance of user experience (UX) is becoming more and more evident in today’s economy. Companies are realizing that a good user experience is essential for success, as it leads to happier customers and increased sales.

Reference librarians can play an important role in creating a good user experience by helping users find the information they need quickly and efficiently. They can do this by understanding the needs of their users and providing them with the right resources.

More Collaboration Between Librarians and Other Professionals

Librarians are increasingly collaborating with other professionals in order to provide better services to their patrons.

This trend is especially true in academic libraries, where librarians are working with faculty members to create learning environments that are both effective and efficient. In addition, librarians are also collaborating with administrators to develop new library programs and services.

How to Become a Reference Librarian

A reference librarian career can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to consider your personal goals and interests when planning your career path. Do you want to work in a large or small library? Would you prefer to work with adults or children? Do you want to specialize in a particular subject area?

No matter where you end up working, it’s important to stay current on the latest trends and developments in the field of librarianship. You can do this by reading professional journals and attending conferences. You should also build relationships with other librarians and professionals in related fields. This will help you learn from their experiences and gain new perspectives on the profession.

Advancement Prospects

Many librarians begin their careers as library assistants or technicians. With experience and additional education, they may be promoted to professional librarian positions.

Advancement to a management position generally requires a master’s degree in library science. Many librarians with management experience may eventually become directors of libraries. Some librarians move into related occupations, such as information science, archival science, or museum curatorship. Others become authors, editors, or publishers.

Reference Librarian Job Description Example

At [CompanyX], we are looking for a reference librarian who will provide expert research and reference services to our patrons in person, by telephone, and electronically. The reference librarian will also develop and deliver library programs, maintain the library collection, and provide reference and research assistance to library staff.

The ideal candidate will have a Master’s degree in library science from an accredited institution, as well as excellent communication, customer service, and research skills. He or she will be able to work independently and be comfortable using a variety of electronic resources. The reference librarian will also have the ability to stay current with developments in the library field and to apply new technologies to library services.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Provide high-quality reference and research services to library patrons in person, by phone, and electronically
  • Stay up to date on new resources in the field, as well as changes to existing resources
  • Keep abreast of developments in relevant subject areas
  • Select and acquire materials for the library collection in assigned subject areas
  • Develop and maintain expertise in the use of electronic resources, including databases, e-journals, and other digital resources
  • Train staff and patrons in the use of electronic resources
  • Create and maintain bibliographies, reading lists, and other research guides
  • Plan and implement programs and events related to assigned subject areas
  • Serve on library committees as needed
  • Perform all other duties as assigned
  • Maintain a positive, customer-focused attitude at all times
  • Adhere to all library policies and procedures

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Master’s degree in library science from an ALA-accredited institution
  • 2+ years professional experience working in a library
  • Excellent reference and research skills
  • Superior written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Flexibility and adaptability

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Experience working with children and/or teens in a library setting
  • Bilingual (Spanish/English) skills
  • Experience working with diverse populations
  • Knowledge of early literacy practices


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