Working in a library may require more than a love of information and books. Those interested in working in libraries across the country can pursue a master’s in library science, also known as a master’s degree in library and information studies, or MLIS.
A master’s in library science is a graduate-level degree focusing on the cataloging and study of printed texts and digital media. A typical MLIS program covers general topics, such as the theoretical components of librarianship and more hands-on lessons about database management and organization.
The American Library Association is the accrediting body for degrees in library and information studies. The association accredits all MLIS programs in the United States and Canada. Those who want to pursue a librarian career in the United States and Canada can attend an ALA-accredited degree program.
Due to advanced technology, librarianship in 2020 is very different than it was even 10 years ago. Some would-be librarians are turning to online master’s in library science programs to master technology skills while obtaining the information they need to work in libraries. An online MLIS helps ensure a greater understanding of library resources, including technology-driven resources.
Online MLIS Curriculum
Courses in online library and information studies vary by school but typically include the evaluation and management of information, cross-disciplinary learning and hands-on experience. Courses may include:
- Information architecture: The structural organization of data or shared information environments such as the art and science of labeling websites, data sets, intranets or other repositories of information.
- Information science and technology: Courses in this category explore fundamental information science theories and information technologies. Theory and technology can be discussed and applied to practical purposes in library and information services.
- Research methods: These courses cover advanced research methods including how to recognize and define a research problem in a professional setting to improve professional practice; how to select and use appropriate research methods such as sampling design, survey, experiment, qualitative field research and unobtrusive research to gather original data to solve the research problem and increase knowledge about the domain; how to use analytic methods like quantitative statistical analysis and qualitative analysis to analyze and synthesize the collected data into a solution to the identified research problem; and how to prepare a professional research proposal.
- User-centered information services: The study of a library system that is user-centered as opposed to systems-centered. This area of study considers how libraries and other information technology can be organized to best suit the end user.
- Computer science: General coursework in computer science can help MLIS students better understand data science, data analytics and data management; institutional repository management; digital libraries and digital preservation; networking hardware and software skills required to manage a computer network; integrated library systems utilizing relational databases and database design; and informatics.
Every MLIS program is unique in its requirements and course loads. The ALA requires the following standards for accredited MLIS program curriculums (PDF, 437 KB):
- Foster the development of library and information professionals who will assume a leadership role in providing services and collections appropriate for the communities that are served.
- Emphasize an evolving body of knowledge that reflects the findings of basic and applied research from relevant fields.
- Integrate technology and the theories that underpin its design, application and use.
- Respond to the needs of a diverse and global society, including the needs of underserved groups.
- Provide direction for future development of a rapidly changing field.
- Promotes commitment to continuous professional development and lifelong learning, including the skills and competencies that are needed for the practitioner of the future.
Online MLIS Admissions Requirements
Each online MLIS program will have its own admissions requirements and prerequisites. For detailed information about the application process you should visit a school’s admissions website. However, there are some components that you should prepare to complete:
- Application: Most programs require some form of application on their admissions website.
- Bachelor’s degree: To qualify for admission to MLIS programs, you must have a bachelor’s degree in some field. There are relatively few undergraduate library science programs, so don’t worry if that is not your field of study.
- Transcripts: Request transcripts from your undergraduate institution in advance of graduate program application deadlines.
- Test scores: Many schools require GRE General Test scores or TOEFL/IELTS scores for international students. Check with the program you are applying to, as not all schools require test scores.
- Resume/CV: Prepare a resume with relevant education and work history and include this in your application.
- Personal statement: Be prepared to write a short essay about who you are and why you are applying for this online MLIS program. Personal statements should be tailored to the specific program and school.
- Letters of recommendation: Get letters of recommendation from academic mentors, professional contacts or other credible people who can attest to your academic ability. The number of letters required will vary by school.
Finding the Best Master of Library Science Online Program for You
Finding the right MLIS program is a personal process. You should carefully consider program length, accreditation status, degree conferred and class format. Some students may thrive on live classes online, while others may be looking for a program they can complete at their own pace. Here are all the online master’s of library science programs available, and a brief description of each.
|University||Accreditation Status||Classroom Setting||Degree Type||Credit Requirement|
|Appalachian State University||Not ALA Accredited||Live||Master of Library Science||36|
|Clarion University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|Dominican University||ALA Accredited||Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|East Carolina University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library Science||39|
|Emporia State University||ALA Accredited||Live||Master of Library Science||36|
|Fort Hayes State University||Not ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master’s in Education, Library Sciences||36|
|Indiana University-Purdue University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||39||Louisiana State University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|Murray State University||Not Live||Master’s in Library Media||30-40|
|North Carolina Central University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library Science||36|
|Northeastern State University||Not ALA Accredited||Not Live||M.S. in Library Science and Information Technology||33|
|Sam Houston State University||Not ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library Science||36|
|San José State University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library Science||43|
|St. John’s University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||M.S. in Library and Information Science||36|
|ALA Accredited||Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|Texas A & M University||Not ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master’s of Educational Technology Library Science||36|
|Texas Woman’s University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library Science||36|
|University of Alabama||ALA Accredited||Live||Master of Library and Information Studies||36|
|University at Buffalo||ALA Accredited||Not Live||M.S. Information and Library Science||36|
|University of Central Missouri||Not ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||N/A|
|University of Denver||ALA-Accredited||Live||Master of Library and Information Science||58 quarter credit hours|
|University of Hawaii at Manoa||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||39|
|University of Houston||Not ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master’s in School Library and Information Science||30-31|
|University of Illinois||ALA Accredited||Live||Master of Library Science||40|
|University of Kentucky||ALA Accredited||Some live components||Master of Library Science||36|
|University of Maryland||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|University of Missouri||ALA Accredited||Live||Master of Library and Information Science||39|
|University of North Carolina at Greensboro||ALA Accredited||Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|University of North Texas||ALA Accredited||Live||M.S. in Library Science||36|
|University of Northern Iowa||ALA Accredited||Live||M.A. in School Library Studies||36|
|University of Oklahoma||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|University of Pittsburgh||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|University of South Alabama||Not ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master’s in Educational Media||30|
|University of South Carolina-Columbia||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
|University of Southern California||ALA Accredited||N/A||Master of Management in Library and Information Science||21|
|University of Southern Mississippi||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||40|
|University of Washington||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||63|
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||ALA Accredited||Not Live||M.A. Library and Information Studies||39|
|Valley City State University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master’s of Library and Information Technologies||34|
|Wayne State University||ALA Accredited||Not Live||Master of Library and Information Science||36|
Last updated: June 2020
Online Master’s in Library Science Concentrations
Some library science master’s programs allow you to concentrate in specific areas. While not available at every school, according to the ALA, concentrations can include:
- School librarianship
- Art librarianship
- Health science librarianship
- Database design
- Archival studies
Concentrations allow a student to dive deeper into an aspect of library management.
For example, with a concentration in school media, a librarian is better equipped to deal with the demands of working in an academic setting. Programs in school media offer insight into developing and managing educational media and providing library services and resources to students of all ages. Similarly, a concentration in information management may help students gain skills in managing information acquisition, utility, retention and transfer to help a variety of organizations succeed.
Online Master’s in Library Science Careers
The first step to becoming a librarian is to obtain a MLIS or similar master’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some special librarians, such as those working in corporate, law or medical libraries, may need degrees in their specialized field in addition to an MLIS. Some employers require special librarians to have a master’s degree, a professional degree or a Ph.D. in that subject. For example, a law librarian may be required to have a law degree.
Two other categories of librarians may need additional certifications, according to the BLS.
- Public school librarians typically need a teacher’s certification and some states require school librarians to pass a standardized test, such as the PRAXIS II Library Media Specialist test. This requirement varies by state and county.
Librarians working in public libraries in some states may need certification and a librarian license.
An MLIS degree is a requirement for almost all librarian jobs in the United States and Canada. But becoming a librarian is not the only option for those holding an MLIS. Some careers that may require or prefer an MLIS degree include:
- Academic librarianship
- Archiving, special collections and records management
- Data Curation
- Database administration and development
- Digital librarianship
- Digital youth and children’s librarianship
- Information architecture and taxonomy
- Knowledge organization
- Law librarianship
- Public librarianship
- Special and corporate librarianship
- User experience
In 2018 the median annual salary for all librarians was $59,050, the BLS reports. The median salary for librarians by industry or category was:
- Colleges, universities and professional schools (state, local and private): $64,130
- Elementary and secondary schools (state, local and private): $60,780
- Information: $56,970
- Local government, excluding education and hospitals: $53,060
Many students find a rewarding career in libraries or related fields after studying graduate library science.