What Is a Master of Library and Information Science?
July 27, 2022
A library science degree doen't mean you'll spend your career in a school library. An MLIS can lead to jobs in medical and law libraries, corporate offices, and information management.
Society changed forever when the pandemic forced nearly everything into the digisphere. The public health crisis posed many challenges to organizations unprepared for such dramatic disruption. Fortunately for book lovers, public libraries were not among them.
When forced to shut down, libraries quickly moved books and services, including classes and social resources, to existing digital infrastructure. Then, they took the opportunity to improve the system further. The transition succeeded in part because the modern librarian is capable of far more than checking out books and charging late fees; they are technologically savvy.
Librarians have such well-rounded skill sets in part because so many states require them to hold a library and information science master's degree. These programs usually include information system and digital information management coursework in addition to traditional librarian training.
So, what is a master's of library and information science? This article explores that question. It also covers:
- What is a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)?
- What can I do with an MLIS?
- Is an MLIS right for me?
What is library and information science?
Information services, including record keeping, preservation, and transmission constitute the core of library and information science (LIS). Day-to-day responsibilities depend on the job, but all LIS professionals must be information-literate. They can work in libraries (including public, academic, medical, law, and K-12 school libraries), museums, corporate offices, and more. These professionals may utilize data science or information architecture skills, subjects LIS master's programs often cover.
What is a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)?
An MLIS prepares graduates for library and information science positions, including library administration. Similar graduate degrees include Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS), Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS), and Master of Library Science (MLS). The American Library Association says most states require librarians to have a master's, a bachelor's degree may be sufficient for some roles.
These degree programs typically require two years of full-time study. Most start with a core curriculum and proceed to specializations focused on different career paths. Online programs typically offer the same opportunities as their in-person counterparts. Make sure whatever program you choose is ALA-accredited. Employers and doctoral programs typically require degrees from ALA-approved programs.
The ALA outlines eight core competencies every library science program must include in its curriculum; these include technical proficiency, management, research, and knowledge organization. At University of Washington, students take Concepts, Services, and Issues for Information Professionals, Organization of Information and Resources, and Management of Information Organizations, plus an information technology (IT) course.
Many library science programs offer concentrations, including academic librarianship, archival studies, curation, public librarianship, and information organization. These pathways come with unique coursework requirements. University of Washington only offers one formal specialization track (law librarianship).
University of Washington students can pursue specialization through a capstone project. Recent projects have helped non-English speaking patients access medical care through visual resources and promoted election integrity with improved misinformation response.
University of Washington offers directed fieldwork as an elective; students work in a real-world environment that aligns to their career goals. The program website does not constrict where students can work except to prescribe that their practicum must promote social justice and occur in a relevant setting.
Though the right practicum can be beneficial, especially to students looking to change careers or pursue a new specialty, it's not a requirement for University of Washington students. Those who do not choose a practicum may already be working a job they enjoy and attending the master's program part-time.
MLIS programs typically follow standard graduate admissions requirements. With several exceptions, like Syracuse University, programs require standardized test scores. The GRE is most common, though schools may accept LSAT or GMAT scores. International students may need to submit English proficiency test scores.
Students should submit letters of recommendation (typically three) that speak to their abilities and character. At least one should come from an employer; another should be an academic reference. A good letter of recommendation can bolster your resume or compensate for an academic deficiency on your official transcript (two other pieces of information you'll need to submit).
Work experience is not usually necessary for an LIS program, though students may benefit from it. Programs are more likely to have a minimum undergraduate GPA requirement (usually 3.0).
Finally, you'll submit at least one personal statement. The personal statement is an opportunity to explain your goals and how they align with the program to which you're applying. Not every graduate school requires an interview, so the personal statement may be the only time to speak in your own words.
What can I do with an MLIS?
Public librarian is likely the job most people associate with an MLIS. These professionals help people find books and access resources. The BLS says librarians employed by local governments earn a median annual income over $60,000 per year. Librarians can work in special libraries (like research or academic libraries). The BLS says professionals who work for colleges, universities, and professional schools earn $62,500, while school librarians (in elementary and secondary schools) earn $61,640. A master's of library and information science can lead to many career options outside the library system.
Legal librarians can work in settings like law schools and courts. They perform research and assess sources. Medical librarians help medical professionals and researchers find and use sources. Professionals in both specialties earn more than the average librarian—around $100,000 per year.
You can also pursue a career in library management, such as a library director or manager. These professionals organize programs and oversee daily operations; they earn estimated salaries of around $85,000 and and $70,000 respectively, according to Glassdoor. Archivists, who typically work for museums and research libraries, curate and maintain special collections, including film collections. Glassdoor estimates their salary at just over $72,000.
Finally, an LIS degree can prepare graduates for data science careers, including as database administrators or developers. These professionals create and maintain databases and servers; they ensure data is clean and accessible. Glassdoor indicates the average database administrator earns over $102,000 while the average database developer makes over $104,000.
Is an MLIS right for me?
An MLIS is a specialty degree that likely won't guarantee an outsize salary, but many professionals earn a good living. It's designed for people who genuinely love library and information science. While this degree can lead to data science positions, which traditionally offer high salaries, you'll be competing with graduates from traditional data science programs. It's more suited for those who want to pursue a specific library science niche.
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