Library Science

Can You Earn a Master of Library and Information Science Online?

Can You Earn a Master of Library and Information Science Online?
The typical American takes 10.5 trips to the library per year; that's about twice as often as they go to the movies and four times as often as they visit museums, gamble at a casino, or attend a theme park or zoo. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella May 31, 2022

More people than ever use libraries to access information resources and services, even as book loans decline. Learn how an online Master of Library and Information Science degree program can prepare you for excellent careers in this evolving field.

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A 2019 Gallop poll asked Americans to report their favorite leisure activities. Their top choice, by far: going to the library. The typical American takes 10.5 trips to the library per year; that’s about twice as often as they go to the movies and four times as often as they visit museums, gamble at a casino, or attend a theme park or zoo. Among the other interesting demographics the poll revealed: women were twice as likely as men to visit a library; college graduates are twice as likely as high school graduates; the young are twice as likely as the elderly; and Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans.

According to The American Library Association’s 2020 “State of America’s Libraries 2020”, popular library services include adult literacy courses, after school programming, yoga classes, nutrition aid, and training and information resources for people who want a job. Some libraries even employ social workers to enhance their community services.

Many people visit libraries for access to free WiFi and computers. They may not check out as many books as they once did, but more people than ever have library cards.

The transition to digital books does not mean the death of the public library system, as many feared it might. Quite the opposite, in fact. Library users continue to enjoy access to a public space where they can read, work, and utilize resources. Similar fears once surrounded online learning, but today people recognize the many benefits of earning a master’s degree online.

Can you earn a Master of Library and Information Science online? This article answers that question and also explains what you’ll learn in a Master of Library and Information Science degree program.

Can you earn a Master of Library and Information Science?

Before answering whether you can get a library science degree online, it’s worth asking whether you need one in the first place. The answer depends on where you live, the size of the library, and your career goals. You don’t need a master’s to become a library page (who stacks shelves) or a library technician (who helps with basic questions and check out books). Librarians may need a master’s, depending on their situation. The same is true for library managers and directors.

According to Emsi, over 60 percent of all librarians and media collections specialists hold a master’s degree or doctorate. Different schools offer these degrees under slightly varying designations: Master of Library Science, Master of Librarianship, Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS), Master of Arts in Library and Information Science, and Master of Science in Information, among others.

Online MLIS programs typically require the same coursework as do traditional in-person programs but offer more flexibility. Many online library science programs offer pre-recorded lectures and permit flexible deadlines for assignments. Like their in-person counterparts, online programs often allow you to specialize, leading to a specific job. Make sure whatever program you choose, online or in person, sis ALA-accredited.

As a group, librarians and library media specialists earn a median income of $61,190, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Top careers include:

Archivist

Archivists work to obtain and maintain collections. They need an extensive knowledge of their collections to help patrons (often researchers) find specific reference materials. According to the BLS, archivists earn a median annual income of over $60,000 per year.

Law librarian

Law libraries are one type of specialized library; others include academic libraries, school libraries, and medical libraries. Courts, law firms, law schools, and even large businesses can hire legal librarians to assist with research and evaluate sources. These professionals also pursue the traditional management tasks associated with librarianship. Glassdoor states the average annual pay for law librarians is over $95,000 per year, but the range is wide.

Library director

As a library director, you’ll assume an administrative role through budgeting, fundraising, and staffing. You’ll also have a hand in creating and approving programming. According to the ALA, the job of a director depends heavily on the size of the library. Small library directors have a more hands-on approach, while directors of large libraries focus on management. The ALA says the salary range for directors is $38,000 to $229,000 annually.

UX Designer

UX stands for user experience, which often involves improving websites. Libraries need UX designers to cater to the public and special interest groups. These professionals strive to understand the kind of programming patrons want and need, then help them get it. According to Ziprecruiter, UX librarians earn over $90,000 per year on average.

What are the best schools with an online master’s in library science?

Top schools for master’s in library science with online options include:

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

Full-time students can complete most Master of Library and Information Science degree programs in two years or less. A full-time accelerated program may take as little as 16 months. Conversely, a part-time MLIS program may take three or more years. Working students may opt for this pathway so they can continue to work and earn a living while pursuing a degree.

Admissions requirements/prerequisites

Most library and information science programs follow the standard graduate admissions requirements. You’ll submit letters of recommendation (typically two or three), your resume, a personal essay (or essays), Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores (many programs list this as an optional requirement), and official transcripts from previous education. Certain schools may have additional requirements, such as an interview. Additionally, international students likely need to complete the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or another English proficiency test.

While bachelor’s degrees in library science exist, you don’t typically need one to get into a master’s program. Generally, a high undergraduate GPA is more valuable—programs may require 3.0 or above.

Finally, check to see whether your chosen program offers financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and loans, and whether you need to submit additional materials to qualify.

Curriculum

Programs typically split their curricula between core and elective coursework, though required credit hours differ. Many library science degrees offer students a hand in designing their education, usually through specialization (also known as concentration) opportunities.

Core course requirements differ also. University of Illinois only has two, while Syracuse has six. Core courses may cover different competencies but often address how to provide information services and librarianship. You’ll likely also learn research methods and information management principles and gain experience organizing information.

The bulk of your coursework can revolve around your chosen specialization pathway. For instance, if you pursue archival studies, your classes will focus on topics like organizing and preserving special collections through digital methods and by leveraging bibliographic metadata.

Specialization

Library science master’s programs provide various specialization opportunities. For instance, The University of Tennessee offers 11 pathways, including academic librarianship, information organization, public librarianship, youth services, and data curation and data management. The school suggests courses and supplemental resources for each path, including conferences, reading materials, and potential experiences.

The University of Tennessee also offers certificate options, including for those pursuing school librarianship, data management, and health informatics. You’ll complete a certificate in addition to your degree coursework.

Not every program maintains this many pathway options. For instance, University of Illinois offers six, including Information Organization and Management, while University of Washington only offers two, Law Librarianship and a School Library Media Endorsement.

Finally, many programs require a capstone project to graduate. A capstone allows you to write a paper or complete a project that showcases your learning experiences and passions. Often, you’ll work on the capstone project alongside faculty or other students.

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