Librarianship as an Academic Career Path for Scientists: Pros and Cons

Ashley McNeill
September 12, 2023

In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of pursuing a career in academic librarianship, particularly for scientists, and those with a scientific background.

I’m a scientist with five years of experience as a chemistry professor, and I recently left what I thought was my dream job for a position as an engineering librarian at a large state university. My career path has given me a unique perspective on the kinds of partnerships that can exist between these types of faculty, and now you can learn from my experiences.

When we think of academic careers, the typical image that comes to mind is that of professors and researchers. However, there's an alternative path within academia that often goes overlooked – academic librarianship. For scientists and researchers who have a passion for knowledge and a desire to contribute to the academic world, becoming an academic librarian can be a fulfilling and intellectually stimulating choice.

FYI: Key Terms You Should Know

In case you just started learning about librarianship, here are some key terms that will help you understand this article better.

Subject Liaisons: Librarians who work with specific academic departments or programs to provide research assistance, instruction, and collection development support.

Embedded Librarians: Librarians who are physically located within a department or program to provide more immediate and in-depth assistance to faculty and students.

Information Literacy Instruction: Instruction that teaches students how to find, evaluate, and use information effectively.

Pros of Academic Librarianship for Scientists

1. Always Learning New Things

Academic librarians are perpetual students. They are constantly exposed to a wide range of topics, research areas, and academic disciplines. This intellectual diversity keeps their work engaging and ensures that every day brings a new opportunity for learning.

In my academic career as a student, I had a very difficult time choosing a specific field to pursue. My love for chemistry and physics helped me gravitate to a place somewhere between the two. Ultimately, I chose a flavor of chemistry that would allow me to work with all sorts of scientists to support their projects - computational chemistry. 

My move into librarianship feels very similar in that respect: I love to learn new things and support others in their research, which is a prominent part of my life as a new engineering librarian!

2. Working with Professors to Promote Student Learning

Librarians collaborate with educators to enhance student learning. This involvement can take various forms, including one-off information literacy instruction sessions, embedding librarians in courses, or offering one-on-one consultations with students working on projects or research papers.

During my time as a professor of chemistry, I became very involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Being a subject librarian allows me to continue to share ideas about pedagogy with the faculty I support, not just their students! It's a rewarding way to contribute to academia.

3. Subject Specialization is an Option

You can enter a Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program with a bachelor's degree in any subject. This means you can continue to research and publish in your original field or specialize in subject-specific librarianship if you choose to. 

In case of larger universities, academic reference librarians are typically liaisons to specific departments or subjects. With a background in STEM, scientists are invaluable resources for libraries who support STEM education.

4. Involvement with Data and Software

If you have a penchant for data, you'll find it in the world of librarianship. Librarians work with both qualitative and quantitative data to inform their practice. They participate in committees and work groups on campus, helping to improve the institution through data-driven decisions. For a STEM liaison librarian, it's not uncommon to help faculty and students troubleshoot commonly used software as well!

Cons of Academic Librarianship

1. No Summers Off

Unlike traditional academic roles with summers off, librarian positions are typically 12-month positions. This can be a drawback if you cherish long summer breaks.

2. Limited Opportunities for Tenure and Rank

Not all universities offer tenure and professorial ranks to librarians. This can impact job security and the potential for advancement. As a subject specialist, however, you will be considered an important member of the reference team at any library.

3. Limited Job Growth

The growth rate for jobs in librarianship isn't as robust as in some other fields. However, many qualified individuals seeking positions as STEM librarians lack a scientific background, so your time as a scientist gives you a big advantage!

4. Uncertainty about the Future of Higher Education

The landscape of higher education is evolving rapidly. While libraries have been a fundamental part of academia for centuries, the future of higher education remains uncertain. However, libraries are likely to persist as long as people require access to information.

Other Aspects of Academic Librarianship

1. Patrons Can Ask You Anything

The variety of questions patrons ask can be both a pro and a con. It keeps the job interesting but can also be challenging when dealing with diverse inquiries. Personally, this is what drew me to teaching and to librarianship. I love answering questions and being kept on my toes. And I don't mind admitting that I don't have all of the answers! 

There are plenty of jobs in the academic library that don't require as much face-to-face interaction with students and faculty, but for a subject liaison, you will certainly be asked questions you've never thought of before!

2. Unpredictable Daily Routine

Each day in the life of an academic librarian is not 100% predictable. Similarly, each semester brings new challenges and tasks, making it impossible to rely on a repetitive routine. Unlike a teaching professor, our weekly schedule isn't dictated by spending three or more hours a week in the same room with the same group of students. While we do often have duties that are cyclic, many of the responsibilities of a librarian are meetings and just-in-time services that can be requested at any time.

3. Variety in Job Responsibilities

The responsibilities of librarians can vary greatly. While some roles may not require much face-to-face interaction, subject liaisons are expected to communicate and network extensively with their academic departments.

4. Limited Time for Lab Work

If you have a passion for laboratory experiments, academic librarianship is not likely to provide the time during work hours to engage in scientific experiments. Some librarians enjoy a dual appointment with a STEM department on campus or choose to teach part time in addition to their full time librarian duties.

5. Less Classroom and Advising Interaction

Unlike professors, librarians have fewer opportunities to build relationships with entire classes of students or academic advisors. For me, this was certainly under my list of "cons" when considering pursuing academic librarianship. I loved my daily interactions with students and advisees! If this is a relationship that is important to you, you can find ways to still be involved with students by doing outreach on campus or getting involved as the faculty sponsor of a student club or organization, but this will definitely be an aspect of your job as an academic librarian that you make as much or as little of as you prefer!


Academic librarianship offers a unique and intellectually stimulating career path for scientists and researchers who are passionate about knowledge dissemination and information access. While it comes with its share of challenges, the opportunity for constant learning, collaboration with educators, and the chance to specialize in a subject of interest make it a fulfilling choice for those who value intellectual diversity and the pursuit of knowledge in all its forms. 

Ultimately, whether academic librarianship is the right path for you depends on your individual career aspirations and priorities.

Table of Contents

Hire the best software experts for your project.

Contact Us

About the Author

This article is part of a collaborative series between GR Techand industry leaders, aimed at bringing new ideas andinsights to our readers.

Ashley McNeill

project manager

I am a STEM information professional with particular passion for chemistry and physics. My favorite thing about my career is helping to support students (and faculty) in pursuing their own dreams to better the world for all of us. I am a proud and vocal anti-racist and ally for all people – every person, every experience, every story matters. I deeply value inclusion, equity, diversity, accessibility, and – more than anything – justice.

Learn more about Ashley.