Library assistants support professional librarians and information managers in the day-to-day running of a library.
They manage information and make it accessible to users. A lot of their time is spent helping customers use the library. This may involve finding a particular book or using equipment such as photocopiers, computers or microfiche readers. They also deal with enquiries by letter, fax, telephone and email.
As well as processing books, assistants deal with other items, such as newspapers, magazines, videos, DVD's and CD's.
Their job may also include:
Library assistants also use the internet for research, especially if the library is somewhere like a hospital or university, where its users need specialist information. They may also run a help desk in these settings.
In public libraries, assistants may also be involved with local community organisations - distributing their leaflets, displaying event posters, helping them to mount special displays or run events in the library, such as story reading for children.
Some assistants may spend time working in mobile libraries run by local authorities, which visit areas where people do not have easy access to a local library building.
Assistants are likely to have more responsibility in smaller libraries.
The term library assistant is generally used in public libraries. In other areas, such as industry or education, they may be called information assistants, paraprofessionals or clerical support staff. In these areas they are expected to undertake a wider range of tasks and may develop specialist knowledge of particular subject areas.
Full-time library assistants normally work 37 to 39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. In a public library they may work shifts, including some weekends and evenings. Part-time work is common.
Unless they work in a mobile library, the work takes place indoors. Some libraries are new and modern, while others are housed inside old buildings. Storage areas can be dusty.
Assistants spend much of the day on their feet, and have to bend and stretch to reach items. There may also be some lifting when unpacking deliveries. Libraries are often very busy, with constant enquiries from customers, and work can be pressurised during busy periods, such as Saturday mornings.
Starting salaries are around £15,000 a year. Salaries vary widely depending on the sector and level of qualifications and responsibilities. Assistants in public libraries may be paid less than those in the private sector.
There are around 50,000 library assistants working in the UK and most towns and cities have a public library run by a local authority.
They may also work for:
- The health sector
- Universities and other educational establishments
- Industry and commerce
- Research associations and central government departments
The setting in which assistants work can vary greatly - from large employers, such as one of the three national libraries that employ from 500 to 900 members of staff, to working in an industry setting where only a few information workers are employed.
Vacancies are advertised in local, regional and national papers, in the Library and Information Gazette and its online version at www.lisjobnet.com, and in Information World Review. Vacancies for public libraries can be found on www.lgjobs.com and job bulletins produced by local authorities.
Opportunities in higher education are listed on www.jobs.ac.uk and there is also a number of specialist recruitment agencies.
To work as a library assistant, most employers expect at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications, including English. In industrial or commercial libraries, they may need A levels/H grades or equivalent qualifications.
Some employers accept fewer formal qualifications if they feel an applicant has the personal skills required for the particular library or post.
A foreign language and/or experience of working with customers is very useful.
In Scotland, it is possible to work towards a two-year SQA National Certificate in Library and Information Science at college or a training centre before starting work.
Graduate librarians sometimes take a first job as a library assistant to obtain useful practical knowledge and experience.
The following qualifications are available for library assistants and can be obtained by day release to a college, distance learning or, in the case of NVQ's, on-the-job training alongside a senior member of staff. The following qualifications are likely to be needed before moving into senior library assistant posts:
City & Guilds Library and Information Progression Award (7371) is a one-year course for people working in libraries and information services. It is usually studied part time by distance learning or day release, and is assessed through practical coursework and exams.
NVQ's/SVQ's in Information and Library Services at Levels 2 and 3 for people working in a library or information services setting, including volunteers. These involve work-based evidence, with an assessor helping and observing, and usually take between one and three years to complete.
The Diploma and Advanced Diploma in Applications of ICT in Libraries are worked-based qualifications primarily aimed at staff working in public libraries.
In Scotland, the SQA National Certificate in Library and Information Science is available part time by day release or open learning at certain centres and colleges for people working in libraries and information services. (This qualification is also available full time before starting work.)
The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) runs short courses to help staff keep their skills up to date and build expertise in new areas. The Association for Information Management (ASLIB) also runs short courses, with open learning options on the internet.
Library assistants who have worked in library and information work for two years and are affiliated members of CILIP can apply for certification. Applicants will need to submit a portfolio of their personal development to become Associates of CILIP, allowing them to use the letters ACLIP after their names. This is a useful stepping stone to becoming a librarian.
Some library assistants train through an Apprenticeship in Information and Library Services.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A library assistant should:
It is possible to move into senior library assistant posts. CILIP offers a distance learning qualification for library assistants who want to progress in their careers and become librarians or library managers.
Library assistants in small libraries may need to move to obtain promotion. In larger libraries, especially public libraries, there is a formal promotion structure. In other libraries there are sometimes opportunities for promotion to specialist posts or management positions.
The Association for Information Management (ASLIB),
Holywell Centre, 1 Phipp Street,
London EC2A 4PS
Tel: 020 7613 3031
The Chartered Institute of Library
and Information Professionals (CILIP),
7 Ridgmount Street,
London WC1E 7AE
Tel: 020 7255 0500
Lifelong Learning UK, 5th Floor, St Andrew's House,
18-20 St Andrew Street, London EC4A 3AY
Tel: 0870 757 7890
SLAINTE: Scottish Libraries and Information Scotland,
1st Floor Building C, Brandon Gate, Leechlee Road,
Hamilton ML3 6AU
Tel: 01698 458888
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.