Brash Jobs: Libraries 101

Hey there, friends!

As I’ve started putting together my upcoming series of job posts, I’ve been getting bombarded with questions, comments, concerns, observations, and more. While most of them are from people who are on board with a library job, I get many from people who have no library experience and are on the fence about it. Many of them include:

  • How do I know if a library career is for me?
  • What if I don’t like [insert problem]?
  • What if a library doesn’t have a job for me?
  • What if I don’t have the skills the library is looking for?


I’ll have you know that most of these can be answered just by reading on. Right now, the biggest problem you probably have is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I’ll try to fix that today by breaking down the main types of libraries to help you figure out where you’d be a good fit. Today, I’m going to touch on:

  • Academic Libraries
  • Public Libraries
  • School Libraries (Not to be confused with academic libraries!)
  • Specialty Libraries

Most of the names are fairly self-explanatory, but maybe you just went from “Hmmm…I guess I could work in that library across town” to “Wait, the college has a library across the street from my apartment? I never knew!”

Nowadays in our age of technology, a librarian does way more than just “check out materials” and “shelve books”. Technology whiz and trainer, information detective, project or team manager, literacy savant, community programming coordinator, reader’s advisor/material reviewer, children’s storyteller, and acquisitions agent are just a few of the hats a public librarian wears. A job in today’s public libraries offers a diverse and exciting range of responsibilities, projects, and opportunities.

To give you an idea, let’s say you were living in Gainesville, FL, attending the University of Florida where I went for my Bachelors. Gainesville, which is located in Alachua County, is home to several libraries and collections. How many, you ask? Let’s go through the numbers.

1. The University of Florida, which houses

  • Library West (Humanities & Social Sciences, Judaica Library)
  • Smathers Library East (Maps & Imagery Library, Latin American & Caribbean Collections, Special Studies & Areas Collections)
  • Marston Science Library (Agriculture, Life Sciences, Engineering, Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Earth Sciences)
  • Architecture and Fine Arts Library (Art, Architecture, Building Construction, Interior Design, Urban Planning, Music and more)
  • Education Library (Counselor Education, Educational Administration & Policy, Educational Psychology, School of Teaching & Learning, Special Education, and more)
  • Health Science and Center Library (Dentistry, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Veterinary Medicine)
  • Levin College of Law (Legal Information Center and most manners of Law)

And those are just UF’s main ones. Other sites include:

  • Mead Library (at P.K. Younge Research School)
  • Off-Campus Government Documents Library
  • An online Business Library
  • An online Digital Collections Library (Baldwin Children’s Literature Collection, Samuel Proctor Oral History Collections, Florida Photograph Collections, Aerial Photography Collection and more)
  • The Borland Health Science Library (Located in Jacksonville)
  • The Florida Academic Repository (FLARE)
  • The Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF, where I used to work!)

Think libraries are a dying thing? Then why is UF proposing to build and change more facilities? These would be:

  • Marston Science Library turning a floor into a Collaboration Commons
  • Library West’s Colonnade
  • Historic Newell Hall being turned into a Student Learning Commons
  • A new Shared Storage Facility

For more information on any of the above, you can check UF’s Collection list here.

UF has a handy-dandy map and everything.

UF’s library website has a handy-dandy map and everything.

2. Santa Fe College, a smaller college on the other side of town, is home to the Lawrence W. Tyree Library.

3. Alachua County Public Library System has 12 branches in Gainesville and the surrounding areas.

All told, that makes for 27 library facilities, totaling over 40 collections and libraries.

I wonder what else you might learn today.

I wonder what else you might learn today.

Now that your mind has been slightly blown, let’s dive into these and find the one for you!

Academic Libraries

Academic libraries serve colleges and universities, their students, staff and faculty. Larger institutions may have several libraries on their campuses dedicated to serving particular schools such as law, medical and science libraries. Many academic librarians become specialists in an area of knowledge and can have faculty status – even tenure!

As described by the American Library Association, “Concentration of the main and branch libraries is frequently on the needs of specific fields or departments of study at a research level. The needs of academic library users fall on a spectrum, with use of introductory research materials and instruction in the research process at one end and primary source materials and highly specialized research services at the opposite end…The separate undergraduate library, where it exists, provides a designated place in which undergraduates are the primary focus, for whom the space is specifically designed, and in which they are not displaced by faculty or graduate students.”

So what kind of libraries can you find on campus? A few include:

  • Law Libraries
  • Medical Libraries
  • Architecture Libraries
  • Fine Arts Libraries

Or you can just re-read that bit above on the University of Florida and see how many libraries and collections they have.

Public Libraries

As the name implies, public libraries serve the public and are committed to communities of all demographics – any size and type. Wherever you live, there’s a good chance a local library isn’t too far. Public libraries often have departments that focus on areas of service, such as youth, teens and adults. In other words, we have something for you from the time you’re in diapers until the time you’re back in diapers again. According Foundations of Library and Information Science author Rubin Richards, “There are five fundamental characteristics shared by public libraries. The first is that they are generally supported by taxes (usually local, though any level of government can and may contribute); they are governed by a board to serve the public interest; they are open to all, and every community member can access the collection; they are entirely voluntary in that no one is ever forced to use the services provided; and public libraries provide basic services without charge.” I’m still glad I kept my text books from grad school!

If you really want to get technical, there are different types of public libraries – namely association libraries, municipal public libraries, school district libraries and special district public libraries – whose differences are primarily who governs and funds them. A good example would be in Harris County in Texas, where Houston is located. Let’s separate them out!

  • Houston has its own public library system (Houston Public Library System)
  • Harris County also runs a public library system (Harris County Public Library System)
  • Further south of Houston, the city of Baytown has its own city library (Sterling Municipal Public Library)

It can get very confusing on occasion, but they all serve the public. It also means more job opportunities!

School Libraries

School libraries are usually part of a school system (be it private or public) serving students from K-12. Today, many are called media centers, requiring many school librarians to have a second degree in education or a certificate in school media.

Today’s school librarian works with both students and teachers to facilitate access to information in a wide variety of formats. A good school librarian teaches students (and often teachers) how to acquire, evaluate and use information and the technological tools needed. The goal is to help introduce children and young adults to literature and other resources to broaden minds and skill sets – lifelong skills, I should say!.


Special Libraries

Special libraries go by many names: libraries, information centers, information resource collections, archives, or just about any other name that the institution picks. Special libraries are much more specialized than traditional libraries and deal with more specific kinds of information to better serve particular populations. By that, I mean they are developed to support the mission of their sponsoring organization and their collections and services are more targeted and specific to the needs of their clientele. Some examples could be:

  • Disability Libraries (i.e. libraries for blind, physically challenged)
  • Government Libraries (Library of Congress, Presidential Library)
  • Seed Libraries (usually at said agricultural and botanical centers)
  • Christian/Biblical Libraries (in Rome, think Angels and Demons)
  • Slide Libraries (usually at medical libraries or the Center for Disease Control)
  • Lending Libraries (“take a book, leave a book” places, great for friends!)
  • Green Libraries (Sustainable nurseries designed to help improve building quality)
  • Private Libraries (either belonging to a single person or group)
  • Subscription Libraries (membership-only libraries that charge a membership fee)
  • Drama Libraries (There are libraries just full of theater plays, yay actors!)
  • Research Institute Libraries (for scientists to find the information they need quickly)
  • Botanical and Horticultural Libraries
  • Corporate Libraries
  • Hospital Libraries
  • Military Libraries
  • Museum Libraries
  • Prison Libraries

Special libraries may or may not be open to the general public, and those that are may offer services similar to public, academic, or children’s libraries; some of these libraries will have restrictions (only lending books to patients at a hospital, restricted areas in parts of a military collection, etc). These libraries offer unique opportunities to work in a specialized environment and may or may not have a traditionally trained/qualified librarian on staff.. In other words, your boo-hoo “I can’t be a librarian, my Masters is in chemistry!” story won’t work on me. You could be a university medical librarian or a chemistry librarian at Dow Chemical Company.

…Whew, there where more bullets in this post than all of Commando.

Seriously, watch this movie.

That movie has ALL the bullets.

Feel like you’re a step closer to being in the library industry? I sure hope so. As always, feel free to comment or question either here or on my Facebook page.

Stay tuned as we start delving further into Brash Jobs!

Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian



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4 Responses to Brash Jobs: Libraries 101

  1. MJ Little says:

    Very comprehensive JB! Thumbs up! two thumbs up! 👍👍

  2. Jean says:

    Methinks that librarians really have to articulate their jobs in much flashier ways: information content, the real meaty stuff can be cool, and users, human beings are incredible in their (mis)perceptions, brilliance and learning styles.

    I feel incredible blessed that my career has allowed me to work with such a broad range of people I would NEVER otherwise come in direct contact. I have learned so much in serving the needs of:
    doctors, health care professionals ( 2 medical libraries on geriatric medicine, gerontology (sociology of aging) rehabilitation of spinal cord injured adults)
    firefighters, paramedics, engineers ( 2 scientific libraries on fire protection engineering, firefighting and public safety)
    lawyers (private firm, govn’t lawyers), judges (several have gone to the Supreme Court of Canada)

    It is has been incredible journey of learning and service.
    I have also worked for a large construction engineering project for e-document management. A purely non-library blog post:

    • Thank you, Jean!

      I wanted to read your post before I responded and I’m delighted that I waited; I had absolutely no idea about some of the intricacies in construction projects! While Sturm & Drang wasn’t a complete shocker to me, I was very surprised about the substance abuse and happily astounded by the international romance. I’m surprised there aren’t more construction worker romances out there – we can be the next Nicholas Sparks!

      As for working with a broad range of people, I’m in a reverse boat. By that, I mean all my jobs prior to librarianship allowed me to flourish and put all my skills to work. Before entering the library field, I partook in random jobs around the world including seminar speaker, actor, model, cruise ship magician, wildlife preserve tour guide, bartender, poker dealer, middleman and more – and I’ve used ALL my skills at some point or another in the library. Seriously, the minute people hear “magician” is the minute you’re booked to do a children’s magic show.

      I agree that librarians do indeed need to articulate – or in this case, de-mystify – what librarians actually do and are capable of doing. Articulating our jobs in flashier ways has been a goal for many librarians, but it’s difficult to do without sounding like a euphemistic blob that blows up their LinkedIn with buzzwords. I can get behind a “Librarian” or even a “Reference Technician”, but a “Data Retrieval & Analysis Specialist” makes me want to swan dive off a tall building. If your job title is too long to fit into a Twitter post, then you’re probably in the FBI or CIA. Then again, my last job title was “Technical Services and Social Media Marketing Manager” and I worked for a rural public library system.

      Librarians today can do so much, but they unfortunately are still stereotyped as bug-eyed old ladies shushing you for going above 5 decibels. Much to my chagrin, walking into the library and whipping my aviators off to a guitar solo doesn’t seem to break that stereotype. (At least not yet.) I give people credit for trying to glorify us in the entertainment industry, a la The Librarians films/TV series, Batgirl/Oracle from DC comics, etc as more than said stereotypes. However, they fail to address the common misconceptions that we’ve all heard. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “What? You need a Masters degree to be a librarian?” or “Don’t you just read books all day?”, I could afford a Ferrari bookmobile.

      I’m curious to hear – what would you suggest librarians to educate people and “flash-ify” their jobs and the library industry? How would you help non-library people out of their hermeneutic circle and raise awareness as to what we do?

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