Library Science

A Guide to Library and Information Science Degrees

A Guide to Library and Information Science Degrees
Many library and information science jobs will require an advanced library science degree, but there are many job opportunities for someone holding a LIS bachelor’s. Image from Pexels
Marc Beschler profile
Marc Beschler June 15, 2022

A bachelor’s or master’s degree in library and information science prepares you for a career in librarianship and positions in public libraries, academic libraries, and special libraries.

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Have you ever enjoyed a moment in a library when you just stop to take it all in—the earthy smell of the books, the maze-like stacks, the sublime silence punctuated by the occasional rustling of paper or hushed voice? Imagine having a moment like that every day at work.

Of course, there are even more compelling reasons to become a librarian. You may value fostering a love of reading, assisting with important research, facilitating information literacy, and generally serving the community as a public school librarian, to name a few. No matter what drives you, a career in librarianship can be very rewarding.

Do you think that this could be the career path for you? If so, you are going to need a degree in library and information science (LIS) to achieve your professional goals. In this guide to library and information science degrees, we will look at the degrees in library science at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels, as well as some of the positions they qualify you for. We’ll explore:

  • Undergraduate library and information science degrees
  • Undergraduate library and information science degree jobs
  • Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)
  • Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) jobs
  • Library and information science doctorates
  • Top library and information science programs

Undergraduate library and information science degrees

LIS master’s degree programs generally do not require you to have majored in the subject as an undergraduate, but it certainly can’t hurt to get a jump on things if you’ve already chosen librarianship as a career goal. While such undergraduate majors as mass communication, applied technology, or good old English can be helpful—depending on the particular type of library you choose to work for—it will be noticed that you have taken the initiative to earn a bachelor’s degree in library science.

Undergraduate library and information science curriculum

The main focus of your undergrad studies in this field will be related to library management. Typical LIS coursework includes:

  • Electronic information resources
  • Indexing
  • Information technologies
  • Library organization
  • Records management
  • Research methods/Information literacy
  • School libraries
  • Young adult services

Undergraduate library and information science internships and practicums

When it comes to a Bachelor of Library Science, words such as “internship” and “practicum,” which will be germane should you continue into postgraduate studies, are replaced with terms such as “cooperative education” and “elective.”

Cooperative education most closely resembles an internship. Essentially, you’ll earn credit hours for work experience established through an agreement among the student, teacher, and employer.

An elective is an animal unto itself. You’ll likely be required to complete a fixed number of elective credit hours, but the exact courses you take will be up to you, provided they are library science courses. Electives can be chosen from the larger set of the humanities or they can be more targeted from the subcategory of information studies.

Undergraduate library and information science degree jobs

Many library and information science jobs will require an advanced library science degree, but there are many job opportunities for someone holding a LIS bachelor’s, including:

  • Librarian: This is the position that many have in mind when they choose to study LIS, as people in this role serve as a conduit between the public and the information that they need and want. There also are several types of libraries in which librarians can work: public, school, academic, and special libraries (like those focusing on law or medicine). In all of these, you will maintain the collection and facilitate access to it for students, scholars, and researchers. You’ll also help create and provide programming that serves a community’s more specialized needs and interests.
  • Teacher: If this is your desired career, you will likely want to go on to pursue your master’s degree in teaching. But you will, at the very least, need a bachelor’s of some sort to be hired for an entry-level teaching position. This can be in any number of subjects, but a bachelor’s in library science can help you secure a teaching certificate.
  • Data manager: If you have a specific interest in tech, you can combine that with your LIS knowledge and credentials for a job in information management. Creating databases that house large stores of information for private companies, government agencies, or non-profit organizations is a huge field, particularly given the massive amount of information being created and archived these days.

Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)

Most advanced library jobs require a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS). Many graduate schools offer fine master’s programs; make sure to choose one accredited by the American Library Association (ALA).

Master of Library and Information Science curriculum

Curricula vary depending on the school, but all follow the American Library Association’s Eight Core Competencies. These areas of study are standard for an MLIS:

  • Cataloging
  • Collection management
  • Informatics
  • Information organization
  • Information services
  • Information technologies
  • Library management
  • Reference services
  • Research and evaluation methods
  • Youth and young adult services

Master of Library and Information Science internships and practicums

A practicum is an initial field placement and as such involves more direct supervision. In some practicums, participants do little more than observe professionals in their daily work, but the extent of student activity varies among programs and practicums. An internship is a more advanced field placement allowing for more independent work. Internships more nearly approximate the experience of full-time work, and indeed it is not uncommon for internships to result in a paid job offer.

Not surprisingly, within this graduate degree, your internship or practicum involves spending time working within a professional setting related directly to library services, such as a public library or an academic library, or some other type of information or media-related organization, such as a museum.

Master of Library and Information Science degree jobs

An MLIS qualifies you for these positions, among others:

  • Archivist:__ An archivist is essentially a special kind of librarian who works with materials like papers, sound recordings, and films that often have historic value. This is a good way to marry your passion for preserving information to whatever other particular interest you may have (science, law, history of a specific era).
  • Librarian:__ Be it for a public library, a school library, an academic library, or a special collection, the reason why most people become librarians is, yes, a love of books and knowledge, and also a desire to connect people with the information that they need and help them understand how to process that information.
  • Library director:__ The top management position within individual libraries, a director is responsible for setting budgets, establishing library policy, and hiring and firing staff. They also act as liaisons between the library and local government offices.
  • Metadata librarian:__ In our increasingly digitized society, more and more information is stored digitally, and it can be quite a challenge to find exactly what you need. A metadata librarian is the person in charge of finding ways to mark pieces of digital information in a way that makes it easier for researchers to determine what is relevant to their project.

However, actual library work does not necessarily have to be your path. While the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts average growth within the industry for the next decade, there will still be a lot of competition for jobs within libraries. So, thankfully, there are positions within other fields that an MLIS prepares you for, including:

  • Chief information officer: This is a great position for an MLIS who also has an abiding interest in tech. A CIO’s primary job is to oversee a company’s technological structure to ensure that it best serves that company’s goals and business plan. That may sound like more tech and less library, but it is a position that involves quite a bit of research.
  • Competitive intelligence analyst:__ Another highly research-oriented position, a CIA makes sure that a company is working with the most up-to-date information possible regarding products, innovations, customers, and competitors so it can predict the future of the industry and make the best decisions going forward.
  • Digital archivist:__ Essentially, this position is kind of a mash-up of archivist and metadata librarian. In spirit, the work is quite similar to that of a regular archivist, the main difference being, of course, that a DA works with digital rather than analog material. With so much of today’s information stored digitally, the field is wide open for people with a librarian’s instincts and a techie’s modern know-how.

Library and Information Science doctorate

Perhaps the most important distinction between a doctorate in LIS and an MLIS (a prerequisite, of course) is that a doctorate emphasizes being actively involved in research—its planning, execution, and presentation—over facilitating it for others.

Library and Information Science PhD course of study

Your course of study will consist of some combination of advanced coursework beyond the credit earned through your MLIS, a dissertation, and a practicum/capstone. Typical courses include:

  • Cultural and critical theory
  • Field research
  • Informatics
  • Information retrieval
  • Informational ethics
  • Mass communication
  • Qualitative research
  • Quantitative research
  • Statistics
  • Teaching methodologies

Library and Information Science PhD research project/dissertation

You will need to secure approval for the topic and design of the research project that will form your dissertation from the school’s dissertation committee. Then, you will be under the supervision of an advisor as you research and write it—and, ultimately, will need to defend your dissertation before the committee. You will be judged on such factors as substance, relevance, and originality.

Library and Information Science PhD jobs

Below are some of the positions for a PhD in LIS:

  • Academic librarian:__ Academic libraries often seek out applicants willing to go that extra mile in earning their doctorate. Along with preservation and curation of the library’s collection and assisting interested parties with research, duties may include managing digital databases and teaching courses on information systems.
  • Archivist: As archivists work with historical material, the sort of extensive knowledge of research practices that comes with a PhD in LIS is particularly welcome. These positions are typically filled by information professionals whose doctoral work specialized in the archive’s domain.
  • Information systems manager: This is the sort of position that benefits from someone with expertise in both LIS and information technology. Businesses hire ISMs to evaluate and improve their information systems so that they can remain competitive.
  • Special collection librarian:__ The same premise is at work here as with the above-mentioned archivists. This role is very welcoming to those who have paired their LIS studies with subjects likely to be represented in the special libraries maintained by, for example, institutions related to medicine or law or private corporations.

Top library and information science programs

There are quality ALA-accredited graduate library science programs all over the country (many offering online degrees), including those at:

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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