If you love to help others find that crucial piece of information and want to immerse yourself in the science of information, an online master’s degree in library and information science might be a good next step. While this degree is generally geared toward becoming a librarian, there are many careers and numerous institutions that employ those with experience in information science, from traditional libraries, to government agencies to university libraries. Find out what you’ll learn, how to identify a quality program and which schools offer the best online master’s in library and information science programs.
A strong master’s in library & information science program will help prepare students for a variety of related careers. It’s important for students to take into consideration their own past experiences, strengths and interests, as well as career plans when choosing a program, since different programs may offer different specializations. Most employers will expect a potential candidate in library and information science to have a degree from an accredited program.
Here, we rank the best MLIS programs based on data from the Department of Education, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, as well as the universities’ own published materials. All schools below are accredited.
Master’s programs in library & information science have quite a lot of variability in curricula and required courses. Students will generally learn a variety of topics including information science, computer science, database and website design, information architecture, reference work, archiving, cataloguing and more. Students may also have the option to pursue a specialization in library science, such as focusing on research or focusing on library management.
Students receiving a master’s degree in library & information science can expect to lean the following skills:
Here are some examples of common core courses offered in a master’s in library & information science degree program:
This class introduces students to the Dewey decimal classification, Library of Congress subject headings and machine-readable cataloging (MARC) format. Coursework includes major concepts in cataloging and classification as well as historical overviews of prominent figures and trends and the role and use of technology. Current topics in cataloging and classification are discussed. Students typically perform hands-on work.
This class introduces students to the concepts behind building and maintaining collections of library materials. Various collection development tools are introduced, along with practices for managing print, electronic and audiovisual media collections. Students may also discuss challenged materials, budgeting and working collaboratively.
This course introduces a selection of technologies that working librarians are likely to encounter in the field. Students generally complete projects that involve planning, budgeting, implementing, measuring and evaluating various technologies. Topics include telecommunications, computer networking and troubleshooting, social media networking and internet technology.
This class examines information users and the social, cultural, economic, technological and political forces that shape their information access and use. The different resources and services that information professionals provide for their user communities will also be addressed as well as ethical/legal professional practice.
This course explores the organizations and environments in which information professionals work. This course explores different specializations and career paths, professional communities, networks and resources, ethical and legal frameworks. This course also introduces management and leadership theories and concepts and applies them to different information environments. A special focus is placed on management responsibilities in order to emphasize the importance of these skills in the professional workplace.
Many MLIS programs will require a thesis or capstone project or practicum (internship) to complete the degree, depending on the area of specialization. To complete the degree, students will also need to pass the MLIS Comprehensive Exam, a written exam, which takes place on a single day, over multiple hours.
Here are the most common specializations for a master’s in library & information science. All of these specializations fall under the MLIS degree.
This specialization covers how libraries collect, preserve and organize special collections of text and digital media. Students with this specialization may be considering careers as an archivist, records manager or registrar.K-12 (or Youth) Collections
This specialization covers materials and services specific to young children, including literature, storytelling and public school libraries. Students with this specialization may be considering careers as a public school librarian or the manager of a children’s department within a public library.Data and Asset Management
This specialization covers the use of data within libraries and other organizations. Students with this specialization may be considering careers as a data curator, information architect taxonomist or digital asset manager.
There are a wide range of careers that a person can enter with a master’s in library & information science, most of them involving a love of research, fluency in research and information systems and a willingness to help the public.
Libraries of all kinds require department heads, branch managers and various types of directors, who are responsible for the operation of departments and/or library branches. Responsibilities for these sorts of jobs may include: work schedules, employee evaluations, training and managing budgets. Some may also oversee facilities, or work in public outreach with the community. Additional courses for this specialization may include such topics as: The Public Library, Marketing the Library, The Academic Library, and The Special Library.Public Librarian
These librarians, similar to the reference librarian, are here to help people. They may offer homework support and help with research questions, as well as play a role in purchasing and discards of library holdings, lead programs and training, help patrons use the Internet and more. Even more specialized public librarians may be in charge of various computer systems, work with seniors and non-English speaking populations or offer expertise in a specific subject area. Additional courses for this specialization may include such topics as: Information Sources and Reference Services and The Public Library.Museum Positions
A related field, sometimes called museology, encompasses the ideas, information and issues involved in the museum profession. Like libraries, museums deal with a great deal of information and must catalogue, exchange, and share that information not only internally but with the public, and other museums and academic institutions. Students interested in pursuing a Museum-related information science degree may need to take such courses as: Foundations of Museum Studies; Museum Collections; Museum Communication; Museum Users; and The Museum System.Children’s Librarian
These librarians are specialists in collections, resources and information pertaining to children up until about the age of 12-13. Children’s librarians generally have special knowledge of children’s literature. Some may even be trained as storytellers, as many libraries offer story times. A children’s librarian will also develop and maintain children’s programs such as a summer reading or early literacy. Students who wish to pursue this specialization may need to take additional courses such as: Library Materials and Services for Young Children, Library Materials and Services for School-Age Children or Reference Sources and Services for Youth.Digital Librarian
Not all libraries are brick and mortar. A digital library holds most of its resources in digital format (as opposed to print or microform) and is typically accessible by computers and devices with internet access. Digital content may be available through a local institution or accessed remotely via the internet. Additional courses for this specialization may include: Introduction to Digital Preservation, Metadata Architectures and Implementations, Digital Libraries and Implementations of Digital Libraries and Digital Image Processing and Collection Management.
Here are some professional associations that may be relevant to a professional who has obtained a Master’s in library information science:
An affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA), LLAMA focuses on library and information science and supports library professionals with the tools they need for building and maintaining careers in library services.
The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) is a higher education association for librarians. They represent more than 10,500 academic and research librarians as well as individuals, to develop programs, products and services to help academic and research librarians learn, innovate and lead within the academic community.
The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is the only national professional membership organization focused on school librarians and the school library community. AASL has more than 7,000 members and serves school librarians in the United States, Canada and around the world.
Founded in 1936, The Academy of Management is a worldwide professional association for management and organization scholars. Members are often professors and graduate students in academics.
Many industries rely on those with a mastery of library systems and information science to provide organization, data management and curation of information and materials. Here is the range of salaries librarians typically make within various industries. While those with a master’s in library & information science will likely be well prepared for a variety of librarian positions, students should keep in mind that additional licensure, certification or experience may be necessary in addition to a master’s degree.
|Career||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Librarians, all industries||Less than $34,300||$58,520||More than $91,620||+9%|
|Librarians at colleges, universities & professional schools||n/a||$62,880||n/a||+9% * for librarians in all industries|
|Librarians at elementary & secondary schools||n/a||$60,440||n/a||+9% * for librarians in all industries|
|Librarians in information industries||n/a||$56,370||n/a||+9% * for librarians in all industries|
|Librarians in local government (excluding education & hospitals)||n/a||$52,520||n/a||+9% * for librarians in all industries|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Even as information becomes more digital, libraries are still a trusted source of information within communities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, librarians’ employment is estimated to grow at a rate of 9 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is the average for all occupations.
Keep in mind that a degree can make a difference in salary. Advance degrees pay off in greater salary dividends. For example, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce, the median annual salary for a person with a bachelor’s degree employed in management information systems, under which library science falls, is $77,000. The same person with a master’s earns about $92,000 on average.
The American Library Association (ALA) is the accrediting body overseeing master’s in library & information science programs. In order to be accredited, the degree program’s curriculum must meet several goals: foster development of library and information professionals who will go on to leadership roles in providing services and collections appropriate to the library’s communities, engage in ongoing development of knowledge with research from relevant fields, integrate technology and its related research and promote continuous professional development and lifelong learning, while teaching the skills needed for a library and information science practitioner into the future. Accredited programs must also document evidence of decision-making processes in order to improve programs and submit to review so that progress can be measured.
Here are several different opportunities for financial aid, stipends, scholarships and grants specifically for those pursuing a Master’s in library & information science:
Here are some scholarship options available to students in library and information science graduate degree plans:
The American Library Association offers numerous different scholarships and financial awards to students pursuing a MLIS degree.
The scholarship encourages qualified individuals to enter the library and automation field and follow a career in that field. Individuals must demonstrate a strong commitment to the use of automated systems in libraries; and must be qualified members of a principal minority group (American Indian or Alaskan native, Asian or Pacific Islander, African-American or Hispanic).
Applicant must be a U.S. or Canadian citizen or permanent resident. Attend ALA-accredited master’s program with no more than 12 semester hours towards MLS/MLIS/MIS prior to June 1st of year awarded.
The Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) accepts proposals for its Research Grant Program Competition. An award of one or more grants totaling $5,000 may be made to support research broadly related to education for library and information science
Awarded to library school graduates who are degree candidates in an area, other than law, which will be beneficial to the development of a professional career in law librarianship and who intend to have a career as a law librarian. Scholarship restricted to members of AALL.