Earning a Master's in Library and Information Science Online

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Librarians work on the cutting edge of technology and data management. Even school libraries continue to grow increasingly complex by incorporating makerspace and collaborative space. Companies capture mountains of data that professionals trained in library and information science need to manage.

Earning a master's in library science online can help current teachers move into a specialized educational field, and it can equip other professionals with the technology and data management skills that modern corporations prize. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that librarian positions will grow by 9% between 2016 and 2026; the BLS also reports that librarians earn a median salary of $58,520 per year. Future librarians can obtain and afford a library science degree thanks to a variety of resources.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Library and Information Science?

Students who love books, have an aptitude for technology, are organized, and hold a strong interest in managing information can earn respectable salaries as librarians, digital curators, and knowledge management professionals. A master's degree equips future librarians with skills in management, reference systems, and information architecture that allow them to enter a variety of careers within and beyond traditional libraries. While some MLIS students enter their graduate programs straight out of a bachelor's degree, many others come after several years of experience in libraries, schools, or the corporate world. The degree can take 1-3 years to complete for online students.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science?

Pursuing Specialization

Although pursuing a general library track is possible, future librarians can also specialize in a variety of areas such as art librarianship, children's and youth services, digital curation, law librarianship, and rare books and manuscripts. Specializations allow students to pursue particular careers, such as a medical librarian, law librarian, or K-12 school librarian.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Increasing amounts of data accelerates the need for educated professionals who can sort through digital information. Holding a master's degree in library science can open up positions in school libraries, university libraries, and public archives. Those who serve in universities and colleges can earn a median salary of $62,880.

Online Learning Technology

Schools that offer a master's of library science degree online make use of accessible technologies, including Canvas, presentation, recording, streaming, and conferencing tools. Teachers may also incorporate YouTube channels and voicethreads as part of their learning technology. Students need a good basic knowledge of how to use the internet along with skills in Adobe, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Catalyst, and QuickTime.

Prerequisites for Online Library and Information Science Programs

A master of library science degree online prerequisites vary by school, but the following information offers a broad overview of getting into a program.

    • Work Experience: Many master's in library science online require applicants to hold 1-5 years of experience working in a library, but other schools accept students directly out of a bachelor's program.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Some schools require applicants to submit GRE or MAT scores in a master's in library science online, but most universities only request such scores when an applicant's GPA falls below the minimum expected level.
    • Coursework: Prerequisite coursework requirements for admission vary from school to school. Some universities want applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in any field, others expect a solid background in computers and technology, and still others expect a graduate degree. Many institutions require a GPA of 3.0 or higher from applicants' previous coursework.
    • Recommendations: Most applicants for a library science degree need to submit two or three letters of recommendation from past professors or managers who can speak to their work ethic and academic skills.
    • Essays: Most master's in library science online degrees require applicants to complete an essay, which often consists of two parts. In the first part, prospective students discuss what academic and professional experiences prepared them for this degree. In the second part, they discuss why they want to pursue a specific concentration.
    • Interviews: Competitive MLIS programs conduct interviews with student applicants. Questions typically cover the applicant's undergraduate experience and career interest in library science. Online students can often meet the interview requirement through Skype or a phone call.
    • International Students: International students with a bachelor's from a university located in a country outside the U.S. typically need to show that their alma mater holds the appropriate standing with their country's ministry of education. Most international students also need to take an English assessment such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science?

Earning an online master's in library science can equip a student to take on a management role in a public library or earn certification to serve as a media specialist in a K-12 school. But in a world awash in data and information, library science degrees also offer options such as research analyst, technical writer, or information architect.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Library and Information Science Graduates

Career Stats Description

Librarian

Entry-Level Salary: $45,302

Mid-Career Salary: $49,372

Working in schools, universities, public libraries, and research centers, librarians organize documents and literature, and they help their customers find the information they need.

Ideal for: Friendly, ethical people who love books, knowledge, learning, and organizing content thrive as librarians.

Library Director

Entry-Level Salary: $51,054

Mid-Career Salary: $55,844

Library directors oversee all aspects of library operations. They hire and manage staff, schedule programs, secure fundraising, and supervise the budget and expense processes.

Ideal for: Creative, empathetic people with a strong organizational leadership background and an ability to delegate do well in this profession.

Archivist

Entry-Level Salary: $42,978

Mid-Career Salary: $50,734

Archivists organize items such as manuscripts, artifacts, books, and documents. They often work for agencies that maintain historical records, and they may be responsible for keeping items safe from damage or decay.

Ideal for: Organized people with strong skills in analysis, research, and communication along with a love for learning do well as archivists.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Library and Information Science Graduates

Career Stats Description

Records Manager

Entry-Level Salary: $49,771

Mid-Career Salary: $54,466

Records managers store and maintain files, records, and other important documents for their employers. They create, store, and dispose of information based on regulatory requirements in their industry and their employer's policies.

Ideal for: Adaptable, flexible people with a gift for research and a strong eye for details.

Research Analyst

Entry-Level Salary: $51,827

Mid-Career Salary: $62,488

Research analysts examine raw data and convert it into meaningful information for companies, universities, and government agencies.

Ideal for: Mathematically gifted people with an eye for trends and good communication skills.

Technical Writer

Entry-Level Salary: $51,066

Mid-Career Salary: $63,126

Technical writers create instruction manuals and technical articles designed to help ordinary users understand technical information in everyday language.

Ideal for: Professional people with solid writing skills and a knack for both learning and teaching.

Information Architect

Entry-Level Salary: $68,121

Mid-Career Salary: $95,519

Software professionals who help define the user experience, information architects create sitemaps and improve functionality in order to enhance interface interaction.

Ideal for: Friendly, personable people who possess an innate ability to frame and solve problems.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Library and Information Science

When choosing to earn a master's in library science online, prospective students need to consider more than the cost of tuition per credit hour. They also need to identify the final price tag on the degree, including tuition, fees, and other expenses minus discounts such as those for in-state residents or veterans. Scholarships and grants may reduce the price, and by taking an accelerated program, many scholars can dramatically lower the overall cost of the degree.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

Students enrolled in master's in library science online programs may be eligible to receive funding from their school, the federal government, a state-sponsored program, or a private scholarship such as the ones included in the list below.

What to Expect from a Master's-Level Online Library and Information Science Program

Earning a master of library science degree online can take between one and two years, or even longer for part-time students. Once enrolled, students explore core competencies in library science, including the profession's foundations, technological knowledge, research skills, and administration and management. Students also identify emerging trends in technology and information storage and retrieval.

Major Milestones

  1. Core Courses

    Students in a master's of library science online start with core courses such as information communities and information professions. Typically, learners must finish all core courses before moving to a specialized track.

  2. Optional Track

    Students who elect to take a concentration or to seek certification as a public school media specialist must take the specific courses required in their track.

  3. Internship

    An internship requires students to collaborate with school faculty and an off-site institution to create and execute a project.

  4. Electives

    Students at some schools concentrate their electives in a single area such as academic libraries, information literacy, or special libraries.

  5. Capstone

    At the end of a library science master's online, students work individually or in groups to define and research a current problem in the field of library science. Student then synthesize the data acquired and integrate technology and resources to solve the problem, presenting their findings to professors and fellow students.

  6. Licensure

    MLIS graduates who seek positions as public school media specialists must pass a PRAXIS exam and meet other state-determined requirements in order to obtain licensure. In many cases, students can graduate without earning a license.

Coursework

In a master's in library science online, students take courses in how to store, organize, and search for knowledge, including topics in research, technology, policy, and design. The curriculum may differ by school, but the courses below are samples of a typical degree.

Searching for Answers: Meeting Users Information Needs

In this hands-on course, students examine how to use basic print and electronic information sources. They also consider the administrative and philosophical aspects of reference works.

Books to Bytes

Focused on the historical development of information resources, this class delivers the story behind the science and art of book development from the earliest tomes to modern ebooks.

Information Organization and Retrieval

This class covers topics such as smart data, search user interfaces, the internet of things, and tools for working in XML. Students also discuss crosswalks for interoperability, hierarchical classification, and text processing.

Introduction to Research in Library and Information Science

In this fundamental course of an online master's in library science, students identify problems, form hypotheses, collect and interpret data, and report on research.

Information and Migration

This course seeks to help answer how human migration affects information management behaviors and practices, along with reviewing issues related to social movements, undocumented immigration, and DREAMers in the U.S.

Requirements to Practice

Although earning a master's of library science online is critical to starting a career in information science, in many positions, the degree by itself is not enough. School library specialists and public library managers, especially, need to hold relevant certification in order to practice their professions. Requirements for certification vary both by the certification itself and by the state, but in most cases, some combination of coursework, an exam, and hands-on experience can help a librarian complete the process.

    • State School Media Specialist Certifications: Each state offers a media specialist or school librarian certification for public school librarians. Requirements vary by state, but in most cases, applicants need a master of library science degree online or similar degree along with a passing score on the relevant PRAXIS exam.
    • State/Regional Library Certifications: More than half of all U.S. states offer certification for library staff. The requirements for these certifications vary by state, and the American Library Association maintains a database of certification requirements.
    • Library Support Staff Certification: Eligible applicants for the LSSC must complete six of ten identified competencies through approved courses or recognized training programs. Eligibility requires one year of experience in library work and a high school diploma or equivalent.
    • Certified Public Library Administrator Program: CPLAs show competence in at least seven of nine program standards, including budget and finance, management of technology, and planning and management of buildings. Applicants must submit a $250 fee and successfully complete seven courses within five years.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Earning a master's in library science online is the first step toward a career in information management, but joining a professional organization can accelerate a librarian's career. These associations host annual conferences, provide online forums, produce informative webinars, and publish the latest research. Librarians and teachers can network with other information professionals in online and face-to-face settings.

  • Medical Library Association: The MLA helps information professionals working in the medical field through continuing education, grants, scholarships, and a career board.
  • REFORMAL: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking: This affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA) serves the Spanish communities near each of its 20 chapters. Services include events, scholarships, conferences, awards, and publications for Latinx populations.
  • Special Libraries Association: Innovative professionals and strategic partners in specialized settings such as business, the academy, or government can join SLA for networking, learning, and community development opportunities.
  • American Indian Library Association: Affiliated with the ALA, the AILA seeks to meet the library-related needs of American Indian people through an annual conference, a yearly business meeting, and a biannual newsletter.
  • American Library Association: A key leadership organization in the library space, the ALA focuses on advocacy, policy, leadership development, and diversity and inclusion through conferences, awards, scholarships, and publications.
  • edWeb: This professional and social learning network for educators includes blogs, file sharing, discussions, wikis, and more, enabling educators to collaborate across states and countries.
  • OCLC: A library cooperative composed of technologists, librarians, and others from more than 1,000 libraries in 100-plus countries, OCLC shares community programming, and original research with its members.
  • InfoPeople: Part of the Califa Library Group, a nonprofit consortium of 230 libraries, InfoPeople offers customized courses, instructional design services, webinars, and learning culture assessments for libraries and library organizations.
  • Library Leadership and Management: Published by the Library Leadership and Management Association, this academic journal focuses on management issues and successful library management strategies through interviews and practical advice.
  • American Libraries Magazine: This online magazine includes a podcast, interactive discussion, and blog along with the standard magazine features, columns, and trends about libraries.