Andrew Carnegie began his work life in 1848 as a cotton mill bobbin boy, a job so humble the term ‘entry level’ oversells it. He eventually built an industrial empire, selling his company Carnegie Steel to JP Morgan in 1901 for more than $300 million. At the time, he was the richest person in America.
Carnegie credited his remarkable success to the access to books he’d been granted as a young man in Colonel James Anderson’s personal library. A firm believer in self-education, Carnegie focused his considerable philanthropy on funding the construction of public libraries. He would go on to finance 1,689 libraries in the US, investing more than $60 million of his fortune.
Over the doorway of Washington DC’s Carnegie Library (the city’s oldest and still standing) the words “Science, Poetry, History” are inscribed; “(d)uring the Depression, DC’s Carnegie Library was called ‘the intellectual breadline.’ No one had any money, so you went there to feed your brain.”
Libraries have evolved over the last century to up with modern technology, but they still house books and resources related to science, poetry, and history. The librarians who oversee the curation and care of modern libraries are well-trained. Many hold a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree, which prepares them for work both with the library’s collection and the communities they serve.
MLIS students can choose graduate school pathways of study in areas like data curation, information architecture, user experience, and knowledge organization—or specialize in law, children’s, academic, or public librarianship. With a completed MLIS degree, graduates can find work in positions like:
Some entry-level positions may not require a master’s degree, including:
All of these entry-level roles pay between $14 and $19 per hour for those holding a bachelor’s degree.
To be eligible for the more senior positions in the world of library and information science, you may want to consider moving beyond your bachelor’s degree and exploring some of the MLIS programs out there. Let’s look at what the American Library Association requires for admission into one of its accredited graduate programs.
All ALA-accredited master’s programs have met the ALA Committee on Accrediation’s Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies, and follow the outlined core competencies of librarianship set by the ALA in 2009.
These guidelines ensure consistency in the quality of MLIS programs and what they teach. However, speaking to the graduate admissions department of any library and information science graduate school can help answer program-specific questions about concentrations, application deadlines, retention and graduation data, financial aid, and prerequisites.
You can find online applications at the school’s admissions website, and after paying the application fee (typically between $50 and $80, unless you qualify for a waiver) you’ll be able to upload all the required material.
Most of these degree programs require the following materials.
You will be asked to provide official transcripts (many programs require a GPA of 3.0 or above) and records for all previous postsecondary education, and proof of an earned bachelor’s degree. Most programs will not transfer more than 6 semester hours of academic work from another master’s-level program. International students may need to supply proof of English language proficiency.
You will likely need to provide at least two letters of recommendation from previous professors and/or employers who can attest to the quality of your work and interest you’ve demonstrated, and how your skills and character fit the profession. Letters should comment on academic competence and potential for success in the profession and should be from people who know you well.
A personal statement of about 500 words should discuss what you’d like to study in the program and why. It should include your academic and personal interests. This is a good place to spotlight your unique skill set and the qualities that you think will contribute to your success in the profession. You should write about how you plan to use your degree in your career and where you see yourself utilizing your education.
Many schools are still not requiring standardized test scores because of restrictions on in-person test-taking conditions during the coronavirus pandemic, but recommend providing scores from any GRE tests you have taken within the last five years. Some programs accept GMAT or LSAT scores instead of GRE test scores. International students should supply either TOEFL or IELTS scores in addition to standardized admissions test scores. Some programs are test-optional and an increasing number no longer consider standardized admissions test scores.
All applicants should provide a current and detailed resume or CV with all work experience, internships, research experience, volunteer service, awards, honors, and publications included.
A Master of Library and Information Science degree—and related degrees like Master of Library Science (MLS) and Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS)—are graduate-level degrees that require earning between 36 and 40 semester hours of coursework from an ALA-accredited institution. A typical library and information science master’s degree program may require approximately 18 credits of required courses, 15 elective credit hours, and practicum work.
About half of MLIS graduates find employment in school libraries. The other half work in public libraries and academic and special libraries (such as law libraries).
It typically takes two years of full-time study to complete your MLIS, possibly longer for the completion of thesis and practicum work. Some programs may offer flexible scheduling and enrollment options that may shorten or extend your time in a program. If you choose an online program (most of which operate on a part-time schedule), you may need to budget three years to complete your degree.
Coursework includes core courses like Information and Organization, Informatics, Research and Evaluation Methods, with additional classes offered in Information Management, Collections Development, Metadata for Information Professionals, Database Modeling and Design, and Social Justice and the Information Profession.
You’ll find some variety in focused paths in MLIS, including specializations in public libraries (youth and adult services); information literacy; library management; information law, policy, and ethics; archival studies; and digital libraries and academic libraries.
There are a number of top schools offering MLIS degrees and dual degree programs. Many offer both in-person and online programs to accommodate the work and time commitments of many graduate students:
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