2019 Best Online Master’s in Library Science
There are 62 library science degrees offered online. These programs are available at all levels, but most librarian positions require a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree. Depending on the area of specialty and desired career path, prospective students are encouraged to choose degree programs that are accredited. Continue reading for more information about available degree levels, the licensing and certification process, and careers in the field. Prospective students can also browse our comprehensive list or best colleges ranking list, which ranks schools offering online master's of library science programs based on tuition rates and alumni salaries provided by PayScale.
2019 Best Online Colleges for a Master's in Library Science
With all of the colleges on this list charging less than $31,000 per year for an online master's in library science, distance learners who are seeking a quality education should consider the following 22 accredited schools. The #1 school, the University of Washington - Seattle, offers their MLIS degree for $25,760 annually, with a reported mid-career salary of $76,200. The most inexpensive college on this list is the University of Alabama, which is ranked #14 and offers a Master of Library Information Science degree for only $7,092 per year.
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Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Library Science Degrees ( 42)
Online Library Science Degree Overview & Career Information
Most professional librarians must obtain a master's degree in library science. Students pursuing this degree path should be aware that not all online master’s degrees in library science are accredited by the American Library Association (ALA), and that attending a program not accredited by the ALA could severely limit employment options after graduation.
While graduates can seek positions in a library without a master's degree, these positions are typically support staff roles such as technicians and library assistants. There are currently no agencies that programmatically accredit associate or undergraduate programs in information and library studies.
That said, students can opt to earn a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree in library science, and many institutions that offer ALA-accredited master’s degree programs also offer undergraduate minors and majors in library studies. In many cases, students are not required to obtain an undergraduate online library science degree in order to pursue a master’s degree. Library science students pursuing an online degree can expect to take classes such as Curriculum Resources, Information Tools by Computer, Information Ethics, and Academic Libraries, among others.
Students who wish to advance their careers by continuing their studies beyond the Master’s level might consider enrolling in a doctoral program or completing a graduate certificate in one of a number of specialties such as Archival Administration, Information Management, Public Librarianship, and more.
Students seeking to earn an online bachelor’s degree in library science might consider online programs in general or liberal studies with a concentration in library science. Depending on the educational institution, library informatics programs may also be offered online or through a blended distance learning format.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that graduates who earn a bachelor’s degree in library science from an ALA-accredited institution will have an advantage in terms of employment options. Librarians seeking positions in school libraries will oftentimes need a state teaching license in addition to an online bachelor’s degree in library science.
Graduates of accredited online bachelor’s degree programs in library science will develop research skills, communication skills, and critical thinking skills that are valuable to a variety of industries and employers. People with a bachelor’s degree in library science might find work as bibliographers, information service assistants, online content editors, archivists, library paraprofessionals, or online researchers. While the BLS predicts a slow growth rate for librarian positions from 2012 to 2022, the best career opportunities will be in nonprofit organizations, private corporations, consulting firms, and other non-traditional settings.
Keep in mind that the majority of careers in public and academic librarianship require advanced degrees. Therefore, many institutions that offer online bachelor’s degrees in library science also provide opportunities for online Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) programs, allowing students to further their studies at the same institution.
There are currently more than 60 ALA-accredited schools in the country, many of which offer online master’s degrees in library science. Several hybrid programs also exist, mixing online and on-campus courses. While requirements for program admittance vary, applicants seeking an online master’s degree in library science must typically have earned a bachelor’s degree in any major and successfully passed the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
While some programs require at least 40 semester hours before the degree is awarded, full-time students might be able to earn an online master’s degree in library science in two years. In addition, students who have already completed coursework at another ALA-accredited program may be entitled to transfer credits. Many programs require a capstone project or thesis as well as an internship experience or practicum before the master’s degree is awarded. There are a variety of different master’s degree programs that students can pursue, including the following:
- Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS): Students who pursue this track gain fundamentals in information systems management as well as in librarian studies. Technical courses might include Information Architecture, Database Administration, Telecommunications, Enterprise Network Management, Data Mining, and Project Management.
- Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS) or Master of Library Science (MLS): These programs prepare students to work in environments like corporate, academic, or public libraries. In addition to core library science courses that discuss the ethics, politics, and history of bibliographic data standards and the written word, courses might include Government Documents, Classification and Cataloging, Principles of Searching, Business Reference Solutions, Conservation and Preservation, Issues in User Services, and Integrated Technologies in Libraries.
- Master of Arts in Library Science (MA): Students pursuing a Master of Arts in Library Science focus on sharpening their analysis and research skills. Graduates of these programs are prepared to enter field-specific doctoral degrees, and possible courses of study might include Research Methods, Communications Technology, Information Services, Information Retrieval, Organization of Information, Library Collections Development, and Library Management.
Online doctorate programs can prepare students to become librarians in government offices, corporations, or educational institutions. Certification requirements for school or community librarians apply in most states. Students considering doctoral programs should note that most will include a residence requirement.
Students do not necessarily need to have a master’s degree in order to gain admittance into an online doctoral degree in library science, and graduate or undergraduate work does not have to be in library science. However, applicants are required to take a qualifying exam to establish candidacy for a doctoral program, and students who enter a doctoral program without a master’s degree may be required to complete additional graduate-level coursework in order to satisfy doctoral program requirements.
Students earning an online doctoral degree in library science develop leadership, communication, research, and critical-thinking skills. Most programs offer interdisciplinary instruction and are open to applicants from all academic backgrounds. Possible courses of study include Advanced Research Methods, Theories in Library Information Science, Teaching Library Information Science, Information and the Public, and Regulations and Information Science. After students successfully complete all course requirements, they are entitled to sit for a final exam before they start a dissertation. Each student must research and defend a thesis in front of a panel of faculty members in order to receive an online doctoral degree in library science. Students who earn a doctorate in library science can work in private or government sectors as published scholars, university chairpersons, researchers, corporate librarians, and library science professors.
Undergraduate Certificates in Library Science
Online certificate programs in library science offer students the necessary training required to manage and organize library information and resources. Exposure to cataloguing systems and technologies used by libraries are part of the required coursework, and skills gained can be applied in the future should the student seek an online bachelor's or master’s degree in library science. Certificate programs typically last one year and require students to have earned a high school diploma or GED prior to admission.
The popular online library technician certificate allows students to become acquainted with the tools and technologies libraries use to manage, retrieve, and organize information sources. Classes teach fundamental skills in cataloging and classifying electronic records, periodicals, and books. Courses may include: Internet Fundamentals for Librarians, Electronic Databases, Cataloging and Classification, Collection Development, and Information Resources.
Several schools offer online certificates specializing in other areas of library science such as school media, youth services, archive management, reference services, or academic, art, health, law, or music librarianship. Such certificates are sometimes referred to as Post Master's certificates, as they require a master’s degree for admission and are designed for working librarians seeking to advance their skills in areas such as digital or public librarianship. Depending on course outcomes, some programs may culminate in an oral examination or final project.
The American Library Association (ALA) is the largest and oldest library association in the world. An American Library Association (ALA) accreditation specifically allows potential library workers greater flexibility when it comes to searching for jobs or advancing in the career field. Students attending an ALA-accredited degree program can feel confident that the program has been assessed for educational quality based on peer, external, and nongovernmental evaluations.
While students can earn a master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program, they can also seek a master’s degree with a school librarianship specialty from an American Association of School Librarians (AASL)-recognized program accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). The AASL does not review online library science degree programs that are not affiliated with a unit accredited by the CAEP.
Since the CAEP dictates that any institution that prepares K-12 teachers for positions in public schools must be evaluated by professional bodies, the ALA joined CAEP to give the ALA the opportunity to evaluate programs for school librarians and to identify specific entry-level competencies for school librarians. The two organizations work together to promote educational opportunities for anyone seeking a career as a school librarian.
Licensing and Certification Process
Each state has different requirements that students must meet in order to receive licensure or certification. Many states require that students pursuing a career path as a school librarian receive licensure or certification as a teacher in an alternate subject in addition to obtaining certification as a librarian.
In general, students will pursue an accredited bachelor’s program prior to receiving certification. Depending on which state they live in, an application for licensure or certification may be available online. Students then submit the completed application and official transcripts to the certification commission in their state. Many states will accept library or teacher certifications from other states, but students who are planning on moving to a different state should check with the certifying agency to verify that certificates are accepted or transferable. All prospective students are advised to contact their state’s education board to learn about specific certification or state licensing requirements and ensure that the program they choose is recognized by the state they wish to work in.
School librarians who wish to demonstrate their commitment to the profession and their expertise while possibly qualifying for salary increases might consider pursuing voluntary certification with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards . Qualified applicants must pass a four-part evaluation process before they are granted a library media certification.
While some online library science degrees provide a solid generalized education in the field, many others offer more specific areas of study for students who are seeking a more specialized career path. In either case, it’s important to know that there are many different job opportunities in the library science industry for students to choose. Here is a sampling of career paths that library science degrees can lead to:
- Integrated Library System Administrator: This management-style position requires the individual to oversee all of the IT systems used by the library. Responsibilities can include managing internal server problems, website issues, interactive features, and more.
- Web Archivist: Most libraries maintain a solid website presence that includes archives of all microfilms, records, documents, and more. A Web Archivist is responsible for transferring hard media into a digital form before uploading it to the library’s website for access by the public or other employees.
- School Librarian: In addition to assisting students with their academic and research needs, a School Librarian may oversee students’ access to videos, computers, and other resources.
- Web Services Librarian: A Web Services Librarian leads the management, design, and vision of a library’s website to meet the needs of its users, whether staff, faculty, or students of the university or school. This role may work to improve user experience and conduct analysis of the website taxonomy.
- Director of Content Acquisition: This role focuses on the accumulation, purchasing, and sharing of resources. Individuals in this position are responsible for locating and obtaining documents, books, and other materials to add to the library as well as overseeing the archiving, cataloging, and availability of those materials.
- Library Director: The Library Director is usually the top leadership position. This person oversees and prepares the budget, makes strategic plans, develops policies for service and employment, and organizes fundraisers.
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- Program Overview. Valdosta State University. Accessed June 20, 2016. http://www.valdosta.edu/colleges/education/master-of-library-and-information-science/our-program/welcome.php.
- School of Library and Information Science. Wayne State University. Accessed June 20, 2016. http://sis.wayne.edu/.
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