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The Path to Becoming a School Librarian

Katie Moench

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Katie Moench is a librarian, runner, and lover of baked goods. A school librarian in the Upper Midwest, Katie lives with her husband and dog and spends her free time drinking coffee, trying new recipes, and adding to her TBR.

For the past six years, I’ve been lucky enough to work as a school librarian at a school serving students in grades 6 through 12. While, of course, no job is without its hard days, I am lucky enough to love what I do and to connect with others in school librarianship. School librarians come from a variety of educational and career backgrounds, and enter the profession at a wide variety of ages. If you’re interested in how to become a school librarian or are just curious about how the process works, keep reading for a guide on education, career outlooks, and day-to-day librarian life.

What Does a School Librarian Do?

Just like schools themselves, school librarian jobs span a wide range of settings. Public, private, and charter schools all may employ librarians anywhere from 4K to 12th grade, and some school librarians may also work with homeschool co-ops, online schools, or at the administrative level for a school district. Some librarians that specialize in school librarianship use their degrees to work in post-secondary education, with two and four-year colleges looking for school librarians who can help freshmen master using college-level research tools.

Daily routines and tasks for school librarians involve anything from having scheduled library time with classes to supporting teachers in instruction and finding resources to shelving books and troubleshooting technology. Depending on which grade levels you work with, you may be helping grade schoolers learn to type all the way up to instructing high school seniors on how to use scholarly databases. If you’re someone who thrives on tackling new challenges each day and likes thinking on your feet, school librarianship might be a good type of librarianship to consider.

Want more details on what being a school librarian might look like? Check out this day in the life of an elementary school librarian!

What Kinds of Schooling Are Required?

Since U.S. educator licensing is state-based, the requirements for being a school librarian vary from state to state. Many states require that you have a bachelor’s degree in education and a teaching license, though some programs now offer concurrent licensure and master’s degree programs due to the shortage of licensed educators. Generally speaking, you will need to complete a master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences (MLIS), with a concentration in school librarianship, take whatever tests your state requires for licensure, and most likely complete practicum hours under the supervision of an experienced school librarian. Programs vary from entirely online to entirely in-person, and many libraries require that your degree comes from an ALA-accredited institution. Personally, I chose to do my degree through the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, which was an online program. Whether you’re online or in-person, you will need to do your practicum hours in person (there are some exceptions if, for example, the school you were doing your hours in had switched to virtual learning during COVID). Once you are offered a position at a school, there are other requirements of all staff, such as background checks, fingerprinting, and TB testing, that you will need to complete.

Due to teacher shortages, some schools may hire school librarians on emergency licenses. These are generally allowed when the school cannot find an already licensed librarian. Librarians with an emergency license will usually have to show that they are making consistent progress toward obtaining their degree by turning in transcripts and renewing their licenses annually.

Paying for School

My own library program, at a public university where I was an in-state resident, cost $36,000 (keep in mind I graduated several years ago). From what I’ve seen, this is in the ballpark of average costs for in-state students at a public university, though factors like whether or not you work during school and the cost of living in your area will also impact your finances while becoming a school librarian.

I was lucky enough to receive scholarships during my time in school, which helped me pay about a third of my tuition. I recommend looking for scholarships offered by your school or state library organizations. Scholarships.com and the ALA also have lists of scholarships for MLIS students. I was also able to work as a school librarian during most of my time in school, under an emergency license as discussed above. I talked more about working full-time while getting an MLIS degree in this post.

Are School Librarians in Demand?

It’s a little hard to tell if school librarians specifically are in demand since the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists all librarians under the same category. Generally, the job growth statistics vary from 6% to 9%, which is average or just above average, depending on which metrics you use. I can say anecdotally that, at least in my state, school librarians are in demand, especially at the elementary level, and that schools are having to issue emergency licenses or rely on other types of staff to fill gaps in coverage. Your state department of public instruction may be able to give you more specific information about job needs.

What Should Prospective School Librarians Consider?

Like other types of librarians, school librarians need to be knowledgeable about topics like collection development, weeding, and information retrieval. However, I do think there are important and unique aspects of being a school librarian that are important to think through before deciding to pursue it as a career path.

First, you need to ask yourself if you’re someone who genuinely enjoys working with children and teens and if you want to be committed to their learning and growth as much as any other teacher in the school. Especially if you’re not coming to the job from a classroom teacher background, issues like classroom management or meeting state educational standards can seem overwhelming. First and foremost, school librarians should be focused on building relationships with students in order to engage and support them through the school library program. Being a teacher means working with students who may act out or who fall behind academically and school librarians should be prepared to support students in these types of situations.

School librarians, like all librarians, also face pressure on issues of book banning and censorship. One of the first things I recommend doing as a school librarian is getting a policy for book challenges in place and making sure that you, your administrators, and the school board are all on the same page about how challenges will be handled.

Overall, I have found this career path to be an extremely rewarding one. I get to support teachers with resources and co-teaching, develop a love of reading in students, and watch as kids explore the world around them through books. For those who find it’s a good fit for them, it is a meaningful career.

Want to learn more about life as a librarian? Check out this how to become a librarian post and this article on what a librarian’s day-to-day work looks like.