Library Science

What Will I Learn in a Master of Library and Information Science Program?

What Will I Learn in a Master of Library and Information Science Program?
Information professionals, including librarians, curators, and archivists, are highly skilled and trained in information management and library media—and also have experience in outreach and community education. Image from Pexels
Lucy Davies profile
Lucy Davies May 6, 2022

A Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from an ALA-accredited program prepares information professionals in core competencies in information technology and information management.

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The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly disrupted many beloved civic institutions, including museums and public libraries. Libraries responded to this public health crisis in the most library-ish ways possible: by focusing on their core mission and outreach. They quickly adapted to the pandemic “new normal” by offering curbside pick-up and drop-off for borrowing books and DVDs, expanded access to online resources (such as eBooks and streaming services), increased their virtual programming for both children and adults, kept their free WiFi on even when their buildings were closed, and provided free hotspots and telephone help for seniors not fully comfortable with finding things online.

In many communities, these efforts went beyond support and supply of information services. No surprise there: libraries have long served as resources for free and reliable internet, employment help, immigration services, and respite for homeless citizens. All of these services were reinvented due to the constraints of the pandemic.

Deeper into the crisis, some librarians even worked as contact tracers and media specialists. The Atlantic reports that many librarians worked in collaboration with schools and shelters to provide grab-and-go meals. They also served communities as “second responders” in creative and inventive ways, including “offering up-to-date public-service information on local efforts and issues like city services, public advisories, health directives and requests, tax and unemployment issues, and of course, COVID-19 resources.”

However, even before the pandemic, libraries have been planning for the future information needs of their many constituencies. As The New York Times reports, “For more than a decade, these seemingly traditional institutions had been investing in a range of technologies and media. Libraries now balance two stacks: the physical with the so-called digital full-stack.” As well, libraries are even redesigning their inside spaces to allow for more comfortable post-pandemic visits that consider people and their comfort and safety over books and collections.

Furthering their people-focused mission, libraries are doubling down on their role as providers of information and free broadband access, both of which are essential to full participation in society in our digital age.

American Library Association executive director Tracie Hall believes library outreach efforts should focus more on low-income households to ensure that they are connected to their community and elected officials. Libraries’ capacity to deliver digital assets to the underprivileged is key. As Hall explains:”We are now at a time in our social trajectory where education, employment, and health care—I think three of our primary quality of life indicators—are all dependent on digital platforms.” This is why Hall and the American Library Association (ALA) passed a resolution in 2021 declaring access to broadband a basic human right.

What will I learn in a Master of Library and Information Science program?

Contrary to all tired stereotypes, it seems that work as a modern librarian is neither quiet nor focused on collecting late fees at the school library. Information professionals, including librarians, curators, and archivists, are highly skilled and trained in information management and library media—and also have experience in outreach and community education. They work in areas like academic and corporate librarianship, information architecture and taxonomy, data curation, records management, and special collections management.

Let’s look at the curriculum some of the top schools offer LIS master’s students.

Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) curriculum

Coursework for an MLIS program varies depending on the school, but the curriculum will align with the American Library Association’s eight core competencies of librarianship.

St. Johns University lists Information and Organization, Research and Evaluation Methods as core courses, with additional courses offered in Collections Development, Metadata for Information Professionals, Database Modeling and Design, and Social Justice and the Information Profession.

Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies has a Library and Information Science master’s degree organized into core knowledge and skills in three areas: Introductory, Information Resources, and Management and Policy, with room for an additional 15 elective credits.

At the University of Washington, degrees are offered in MLIS (both residential and online master’s), Law Librarianship, and School Library Media Endorsement. Classes cover topics ranging from information systems, data analytics, digital libraries, collection development, and informatics to more community-based curricula like Youth Development and Information Behavior in the Digital Age or Cross-Cultural Approaches to Leadership.

Fieldwork, internships, practicum experiences, capstone projects, and electives are all big parts of the MLIS degree.

What is a Master of Library and Information Science degree?

A master’s degree in library and information science, or Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) and their relatives—Master of Library Science (MLS) and Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS)—is the graduate-level degree required for professional librarian positions in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. (There are other related titles for related degrees, including a master’s in librarianship and a Master of Arts in Library Science.)

The American Library Association (ALA) oversees these master’s programs, so all ALA-accredited master’s programs have met the ALA Committee on Accreditation’s Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies and undergone external review. There may be several designations for this family of degrees, but the curricula share common content.

How long does it take to earn a Master of Library and Information Science degree?

Typically, completing your MLIS takes two years of full-time study, with possible summer programs available. Some online library and information science programs can be completed in 18 months if you have a bachelor’s in library science already in hand. Scheduling an information session to learn about MLIS program admission requirements is always a good idea. Admissions officers can provide specifics on prerequisites and other admissions questions.


MLIS students at St. Johns University can choose from five areas of specialization: Academic Librarianship, Archival Studies, Management for Information Professionals, Public Librarianship, and Youth Services. Also, you’ll find other programs that offer specializations in literacy, digital libraries, and information law, policy, and ethics.

Top schools offering a Master of Library and Information Science degree

There are a number of top schools offering MLIS degrees and dual degree programs, including:

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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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