What is a Library Clerk?

Cassie L. Damewood

A library clerk — sometimes referred to as a library technician, library aide or library assistant — is the person responsible for helping library visitors locate the information or services they need. The clerk may work for a school, community or even a private library. Usually, library clerks don't work alone — a team of library workers, managed by the head librarian, often are in charge of helping visitors find what they're looking for at the library.

Libraries have clerks to help visitors.
Libraries have clerks to help visitors.

Libraries are commonly divided into sections to make materials easily accessible to patrons. These areas generally include reference books, periodicals, fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. A library clerk is normally expected to be familiar with all of these departments as well as their subsections. In very large libraries, a clerk may specialize in one particular area of reading materials.

Library clerks may be responsible for reshelving books.
Library clerks may be responsible for reshelving books.

Helping people find the information they are seeking is customarily the main job of a library clerk. He or she is often seated at the library entrance, greeting and offering assistance to patrons as they arrive. If a visitor is unfamiliar with how a library works, the library clerk usually gives them an overview of the system. Next, the clerk will usually take the visitor to a card catalog or computer to show the visitor how to search for the information they desire.

Library clerks may help patrons use a library's computers.
Library clerks may help patrons use a library's computers.

The reference section is commonly an area where a library clerk assists the most people. Since most books in this section cannot be taken off the premises, unlike most books in the average library, the library clerk is generally in charge of keeping track of the reference selections and making sure they are promptly returned to the desk after use.

To become a library clerk, it is typically necessary to have a high school diploma.
To become a library clerk, it is typically necessary to have a high school diploma.

Another important job for a library clerk is processing new books into the system. He or she is typically required to know how to catalog and code the books into the card or computer system. This requires inputting a variety of data points, including the publisher, author, page count, genre and reprint history as well as the classification codes provided by the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems. After the incoming books are processed, the clerk may be required to properly shelve them with similar books and in alphabetical order by either title or author, depending on the library section.

A library clerk may help track and recover overdue books.
A library clerk may help track and recover overdue books.

In addition to helping visitors and checking in books, a library clerk is frequently expected to help keep the library clean and tidy as well as maintain a quiet and subdued environment conducive to reading and studying. He or she may also be required to ensure that the periodicals are up-to-date, removing outdated materials to distribute somewhere else. At some libraries, the clerk may also be required to track and recover overdue books.

Library clerks may help students to use computer databases.
Library clerks may help students to use computer databases.

A high school diploma or equivalent is normally required for this job. Coursework in library science is generally considered a plus for applicants for the position of library clerk. Good organizational skills and computer background are generally desirable attributes for aspiring library clerks.

Some library clerks work at the circulation desk, assisting patrons in checking out books and other library resources.
Some library clerks work at the circulation desk, assisting patrons in checking out books and other library resources.

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