The Catholic University of America

Careers in Library Science and in Academic Publishing

  View of the Vatican from the dome of St. Peter's, Rome
View of the Vatican from the dome of St. Peter's, Rome

This page highlights information about two very different career paths, but they are grouped together because they have some elements in common: at the upper levels, both the library and academic publishing professions require, on a daily basis, diverse and highly developed skills in research, scholarship, technology, and management. They deploy these skills, however, in different ways.

Library science

Librarians and information specialists may work in community libraries, for the government, at specialized technological research institutes, or almost anywhere in between. (A former CUA librarian began with an undergraduate degree in classics from another university, earned her library science degree, and headed the CUA Architecture and Engineering Library before moving on to serve as a librarian at NASA!) We focus here on academic librarianship, which is the area of the profession most likely to be of interest to classicists.

Because librarians are highly trained in the presentation of information, the library profession speaks for itself online both eloquently and thoroughly, so there are more external links here for you to explore!

What an academic librarian does

Academic librarians, as Dr. Kimberly Kelley, the former dean of CUA's own School of Library and Information Science has said, supervise the "finding, organizing, preserving and presenting" of knowledge in a variety of media. Based at colleges and universities, in both main campus libraries and smaller departmentalized settings, they make research possible for others and also often engage in and present research themselves, whether in their home academic disciplines or in library science and information technology.

Academic library positions are often defined by areas of specialization and responsibility. As outlined in greater detail by the West European Studies Section (WESS) Committee on Recruitment to the Profession (WESS is a division of the Association of College and Research Libraries, the ACRL; the summary in this paragraph depends upon the WESS discussion), a librarian may work, for example, in acquisitions (selecting and procuring books, journals, databases, and other research tools for a given academic field or fields), cataloguing (maintaining--and constantly refining--a wide variety of systems of recordkeeping and interfaces for record searching), information technology (developing electronic tools, databases, and research aids), preservation (working in the curatorship of rare books and manuscripts), reference (providing research assistance to scholars, students, and the general public), or a combination of these areas. (The positions held by the professional librarians and staff at CUA's own Mullen Library provide a good example of this diversity.)

Demand for trained academic librarians is constant, and the job prospects in this field are generally excellent.

Graduate school and librarianship

A future academic librarian will need to earn a master's degree in library science (generally labeled at most schools as an MLS, "master of library science," or MSLS, "master of science in library science"). The American Library Association (ALA) is the accrediting body for these programs and maintains a directory of them; at last count, there were more than 50 available for you to choose from, located throughout the US and Canada.

The MLS is considered the highest professional degree in the field; however, many classics and archaeology specialists in the largest university libraries have also attained PhD degrees in their respective academic areas, as well as the MLS degree. The PhD in this case is generally acquired first and the MLS afterwards or at the same time as either the doctorate or the MA.

Recommendations for undergraduate preparations

If you are interested in a career in academic librarianship, you should follow the general suggestions made by the CUA School of Library and Information Science (scroll down the page): SLIS would in essence recommend that you pursue undergraduate studies that help you to develop good research and writing skills and to become comfortable with the use of technology. This means that you can select whatever major is of greatest interest to you for your BA, as long as you are able to demonstrate in your MLS application that you are committed to your chosen career path and the wide variety of responsibilities it will bring. (As Mr. Kevin Gunn of the CUA Libraries has remarked, "liking books" is not a strong admissions-essay justification for studying library science! A comment like this, he notes, "demonstrates little understanding of librarianship.")


Explore the links below to learn more about the field of library science and about careers in academic librarianship. We also highly recommend that you visit the website of CUA's own School of Library and Information Science, which offers not only useful information about the library professions in general, but also a detailed example of a well-developed program that you might consider joining yourself!

--With thanks to Mr. Kevin Gunn, Coordinator of Religious Studies and Humanities Services at CUA's Mullen Library, who provided information for this discussion of careers in library science.

Academic publishing

By "academic publishing" we mean the part of the publishing field that is occupied by university and academic presses. Some of the more famous university press imprints in English include Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, and the University of California, all of which publish books in a wide variety of subject areas. Other university presses are known for distinct specialties: for example, The Catholic University of America Press produces a significant number of books and series focused upon philosophy, theology, patristics, and the history of the Catholic Church. Academic presses may publish books aimed primarily at professional scholars and advanced research students (e.g., in ancient history, Routledge), or they may focus more significantly upon pedagogical materials and textbooks (e.g., especially for Latin, Bolchazy-Carducci). They may also produce special-use collections (e.g. the Duckworth academic reprints or the Penguin translations of classical literature).

What a member of the academic publishing profession does

As with any profession, the larger the organization you work for, the more specific your job description is likely to be. The larger academic presses can be highly departmentalized, with a wide range of career options that range from focusing on the printed word to focusing on business. Penguin UK, for example, provides a description of its different departments and their responsibilities, along with some information about what each department might look for in a prospective employee.

The educational path

The higher up the academic publishing career ladder you are interested in progressing, the higher the university degree you will likely need to earn. The classics acquisitions editors at the major university presses often hold PhDs in the field.

In general, however, having at least an MA will serve you well if you are interested in academic publishing, especially because the research training you will receive as a graduate student will better acquaint you with the kinds of tools you will be helping to produce and market--and will help to make you a better writer and a more discerning reader.