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Public Librarianship Pathway

Public Librarianship Career Pathway

Since their inception in the mid-1800’s, public libraries have been the “people’s university,” offering personal enrichment, continuing education, and recreational activities. Today’s public libraries are vibrant, busy places, where users of all ages can find a variety of materials in many different formats. In addition to the materials and resources, public librarians provide reference and information services both virtually and in the library; librarians offer programs as varied as infant storytimes, to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, to technology training, to life skills and retirement programs. Public libraries are grounded in their neighborhoods and responsive to their users’ needs and interests, and no two days of work in a public library are alike. Public librarians need to be flexible, agile, and responsive.

Public Librarians: Recent Position Titles and Descriptions

These are just a few of the many position titles found in job announcements for public librariansPositions maybe at the individual agency level (e.g., branch library), system level, or at the regional library level. For more position titles and job requirements, consult the ALA JobList.

  • Collection Management Director contributes, collaborates, and connects customers to information in a variety of formats—when they need it and where they want it—by applying traditional and nontraditional collection development and management practices. The work involves selecting and preserving a variety of items to meet needs of particular users, conducting community analysis, developing policies and procedures, evaluating and purchasing collection materials, and weeding or discarding materials as necessary. 
  • Community Relations Librarian plans, implements and coordinates community relations with the public. Responsibilities may include creating services and programs in collection development and programming, public relations, web design and management, and electronic communication.  Plans and coordinates comprehensive public relations/marketing outreach program for the library agency or system.  The work requires considerable skill, initiative, independent judgment, professional ethics, and follow through capability. An ability to exercise mature judgment and maintain confidentiality of administrative matters is important. [Related title: Outreach Librarian]. 
  • Information Technology Manager supports the successful analysis, design, and implementation of all library systems including networks, servers, telecommunications, integrated and automated systems, Internet, hardware, and desktops. Is responsible for meeting the technology needs of the library and constituencies by evaluating requirements, selecting and purchasing software and hardware to support the library and its programs. Anticipates and fulfills future needs for software and hardware upgrades including acquisition of new technologies. Coordinates the implementation of all automated library systems and upgrades. Maintains the wired and wireless networks. Supports managers and employees with training, documented procedures, and troubleshooting technical problems.  
  • Library Assistant (e.g., Adult Services Position) provides paraprofessional library services.  The person is responsible for: Performance of advanced bibliographic searches in interlibrary loan; Acquisition or circulation functions and/or information services using all available library sources and tools; Provision of research and/or assistance in public service areas involving extensive public contact in advising patrons in the use and location of materials or data bases; Development and maintenance of an audio-visual collectionDesirable to have some public library experience. Requires experience with library organizations or other related fields.  Some proficiency in use of technology is expected. [Related titles: Administrative Assistant, Circulation Assistant, Clerk, Library Associate, Library Page]. 
  • Library Business Manager is responsible for all general ledger preparation, input and reporting (including management of accounts payable obtaining invoice approval, audit and deposit circulation cash register receipts, preparation of entries for tax revenue and interest income, balance of bi-weekly payroll summary and deductions to the payroll check register, monthly reconciliation of bank accounts, and preparation of all financial reports). Maintains accounting system vendor files and distributes/reports annual 1099’s, payroll processing (shared with H.R.), informs Board Assists the Director and Library Board Trustees with the preparation of the fiscal year budget. Monitors expenditures, along with the Director to ensure that expenditures stay within budgetary limits.  
  • Library Director should be a visionary, strategic leader with passion, creativity, and innovation to lead a public library organization and community forward by providing quality services and programs. Should have the energy, enthusiasm, and ability to recognize and contribute to the agency’s successes and solid foundation. S/he brings a talent to engage staff and the public in showcasing and expanding the library’s role in the community. These include (not limited to) developing a “library without walls,” a welcoming, warm physical space for community members to connect with each other, collaborative external partnerships, and a strong, clear leadership voice and direction. [Related titles: Executive Director, Assistant Director, Library Manager, Branch Manager]. 
  • Public Services Librarians assist users with information needs, instruct patrons in the effective use of information resources, act as liaison to one or more community agencies and not-for-profit organizations, and manage one or more areas of the collection. The individual adopts a compassionate, customer service focused and user-centered philosophy. [Related title: Public Services Assistant Manager]. 
  • Supervisor (e.g., Mobile Library Services) operates in a diverse environment to help fulfill the mission of the agency by supervising the daily operations of Mobile Library Services.  This position oversees the library services and materials provided to the community served by Mobile Libraries including information services, reader’s advisory services, circulation, and programming. 
  • Technical Services Librarians might catalog new additions to the collection, or oversee ordering and processing of new materials. Because technical services typically employ more staff members than degreed librarians, this type of position frequently includes supervisory responsibilities. [Related titles: Technical Services Assistant/Manager/Supervisor]. 
  • Web Developer is a professional and technical position that helps develop comprehensive services for the web environment including the development, organization, content and maintenance of web-based public and staff services. [Related titles Virtual Branch Manager]. 
  • Youth Services Librarians work with a range of ages, from birth through high school graduation. Depending on their primary service population, they may be called “children’s librarians,” “tween librarians,” “young adultYA, or teen librarians.” They usually have responsibility for collections, programming and outreach. In some instance they may also work with older teens, or “emerging adults,” ages 18 to 22. [Related titles: See Youth Services Librarianship Pathway].

Preparing to Enter the Profession of Public Librarianship:

Professional Development:


    • American Library Association (ALA) 
    • Public Library Association (PLA): Division of the American Library Association 
    • The Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) 
    • Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) 
    • Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) 
    • Other ALA divisions and national associations depending on interest 


    • The biennial PLA Conference  
    • PLA at the American Library Association Annual Conference  
    • ARSL’s Annual Conference 
    • Others, depending on interest area 

Recommended Courses

In addition to completing the courses required for the MSIS degree, students with an interest in public librarianship might consider enrolling in some of these courses (please note that this listing is not a substitute for consulting with the MSIS Program Advisor). 


    • 554 Public Library Management and Services 
    • 599 Practicum 

Strongly recommended, regardless of interest area:

    • 550 Management of Information Organizations 
    • 559 Grant Development for Information Professionals 
    • 560 Development and Management of Collections 

Technical Services/Information Technology:

    • 521 Cataloging and Classification 
    • 522 Cataloging of Non-print Materials 
    • 565 Digital Libraries 
    • 584 Database Management Systems 
    • 585 Information Technologies 
    • 597 Information Architecture 
    • 598 Web Design 

Public Services:

    • 534 Government Information Sources 
    • 571 Children’s Materials 
    • 572 Young Adult Materials  
    • 573 Programming for Children & Young Adults 
    • 574 Resources and Services for Adults 

Recommended Courses (Outside SIS):

Courses in other disciplines offer unique insight into public library life. Visit the current online UT Graduate Catalog to view descriptions of these courses.

    • POLS 514 Research Design and Methodology in Public Administration
    • POLS 539 – State and Local Government Politics
    • POLS 562 – Public Management
    • POLS 564 – Human Resource Management in Public Organizations
    • PBRL 540 – Public Relations Management

Real-World Experience:

Recent Practicum Settings:

    • East Ridge City Library, East Ridge, TN.
    • Johnson City Public Library, Johnson City, TN.
    • Nashville Public Library, Nashville, TN.
    • Richmond Public Library, Richmond, VA.

Recent Placements of UTK-SIS Alumni/Students:

    • Assistant Regional Library Director, Clinch River Regional Library, Clinton, TN.
    • Library Director, E. G. Fisher Public Library, Athens, TN.
    • Director, Jefferson City Public Library, Jefferson City, TN.
    • Adult Services System Manager, Rockbridge Regional Library, Goshen, VA.