What does an Academic Librarian do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2019
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An academic librarian maintains an academic library, a library maintained at an educational institution for the use of students and staff. Academic libraries have some very unique needs which require specialized training and qualifications. People who work as academic librarians are usually graduates of accredited library science programs, and may hold advanced degrees, especially if they work in specialty libraries.

As with other aspects of librarianship, being an academic librarian is about a lot more than shelving books. In fact, most academic librarians aren't involved in the literal shelving process, which is handled by lesser library employees such as work-study students. The librarian is responsible for maintaining the library's collections, which must be of the highest quality in order to compete with other academic libraries.

An academic librarian determines which cataloging system should be used and how it should be implemented, or maintains an existing catalog system, in addition to ordering new books, monitoring the condition of books in the collection, selling and disposing of books which are no longer needed, handling special requests, and providing assistance with research. Academic librarians may also hire staff, handle credentialing of staff and library users, and work with library technology such as computers.


Many educational institutions of education have several libraries which pertain to different areas of scholarship, such as a medical library, music library, humanities library, and so forth. The library system may be overseen by a head librarian who supervises librarians with special skills who are in charge of these special collections on a day to day basis. Part of the head librarian's responsibilities can include making budget and policy decisions about the library system as a whole while balancing the needs of individual branches.

In some academic libraries, the library includes archives and special collections. Access to these must be carefully controlled because they are valuable and sometimes irreplaceable. Usually a specially trained academic librarian is put in charge of focusing on the handling of these collections, making sure that they are only accessed by authorized users, that people follow precautions when handling them, and that the collections are maintained in safe conditions with proper temperature, humidity, and light levels. These librarians also process new material, including material donated and acquired, and occasionally supervise sales of special collections to raise funds or to prune collections to a more manageable size. An academic librarian-archivist works with materials including letters, manuscripts, antique maps, books, and works of art.


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