How Do I Become a Document Librarian?

Jennifer Voight

The path to become a document librarian requires a master of library science (MLS) degree or equivalent from a college or university accredited by the American Library Association in the US or a similar accrediting agency in other countries. In addition to a master’s degree, a document librarian should have experience working with the state and federal depository program that provides access to nearly all non-confidential government documents through libraries nationwide. It’s also helpful to have working knowledge of the government document classification systems used to organize these documents, such as the Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc).

A document librarian categorizes and disseminates government documents.
A document librarian categorizes and disseminates government documents.

Document librarians are specialized librarians who categorize and disseminate government documents and information through the federal depository program and help the public gain access to the government information it desires. As these depository locations are frequently in public and academic libraries, document librarian duties tend to overlap with other duties typical of a generalized librarian position, like administrative tasks, writing abstracts, and customer service. As such, the requirements to become a document librarian are to obtain a bachelor’s degree and then an MLS, which prepares individuals to understand established library procedures and information resources.

During the student’s undergraduate or graduate studies, it’s helpful to work as a page or library assistant in a public, government, or academic library. These library jobs are entry level and fairly easy to obtain. They also provide skills and experience with information systems that can be helpful to become a document librarian in the future.

In addition to an MLS degree, it can be useful, but not required, to obtain experience or a degree in a field related to the specialized area, such as law, a foreign language, or political science. A document librarian might confront questions of a very specific and legally sensitive nature that require access to a single paragraph in a particular government document. Familiarity with government agencies and the functions of each can be helpful to become a document librarian who is well equipped to handle these queries. This knowledge can help a librarian find information quickly that may not be available via methods the general public might use, like an Internet search.

Many personal qualities are useful to anyone who wants to become a document librarian. The ability to think critically and work with established classification systems is essential to understanding library systems. Exemplary communication skills and the ability to write clearly are valuable to communicating information in a way accessible to the general public. An understanding of human nature, a desire to help the public, and a passion for knowledge are basic to anyone who wants to become a document librarian.

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