Guide / Overview

Library Media Specialist Degree Program Overview - 2022

Last Reviewed: November 11th, 2022

Are you interested in pursuing a career as a school librarian? If so, you’re in the right place.

School librarians have fulfilling careers that help students develop a deeper understanding of the academic knowledge they gain in their classrooms. They facilitate learning by ensuring the school library environment provides all members of the school community with access to information and technology.

Committed to inclusion and equity, effective school librarians determine learning methods that work best for each student. Beyond the library, they engage with the community and exercise innovative leadership to improve all learners’ opportunities for success.

School librarians empower learners to persist in inquiry, advanced study, enriching professional work, and community participation. In this way, their influence extends far past the walls of the classroom or school building.

So, what steps do you need to take to become a school librarian?

Library Media Specialist concentrations and certifications prepare individuals for a career as a school librarian. The concentration may have different names and requirements depending on your state’s administrative code surrounding the certification of school librarians. Generally, aspiring school librarians follow an educational track under the name of Library Media Specialist, School Library, or School Librarianship programs.

Becoming a certified school librarian typically involves one of two educational paths – a certification program or a degree program. Those who choose to obtain a degree usually enroll in a master’s degree program geared toward school librarianship or teacher librarianship. Since many school librarians are first required to have teaching certifications, librarian certification programs often include options for students to earn teaching certifications as well.

To help you prepare for the path that lies ahead, this article will break down the typical steps to obtain certification or licensure in school librarianship. We’ll also go over what you can expect from typical Library Media Specialist and School Librarian programs.

Standard Requirements for Admission

To be considered for admission to a Library Media Specialist program, you will first need to fulfill specific requirements.

First and foremost, you will need a bachelor’s degree. This degree has to be accredited, meaning it needs to meet up to specific, rigorous academic standards and educational requirements.

Next, you’ll need letters of recommendation. Most Library Media Specialist programs require three letters of recommendation for admission, and they are usually written by students’ former academic instructors, or in some cases, employers.

To apply for a Library Media Specialist program, you will most often need to fill out some form of online application. The process for completing and submitting an application varies depending on the state where you live and the program you apply to.

Accompanying your application, you’ll need to provide transcripts from your undergraduate education, and there may also be an application fee.

Finally, some Library Media Specialist programs require you to possess a teaching certification in your state. For this reason, it is common for teachers to pivot to a career in school librarianship

As previously mentioned, every program is different, and many do not have this requirement. But, if you already have teaching credentials, you may find the process of becoming a school librarian a natural transition.

To summarize, here’s a checklist of standard requirements most Library Media Specialist programs require:

  • Accredited bachelor’s degree
  • Letters of recommendation (usually three)
  • Online application
  • Transcripts from undergraduate education
  • Application fee
  • Teaching certification (for some programs, not all)

What Will You Learn in a Library Media Specialist Degree Program?

Students who pursue a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree and who intend to become school librarians gain specialization in the skills required to work in K-12 schools. These skills include program administration, technology leadership, information literacy, and collaboration.

On average, it takes students two years to complete a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree, but individual timelines vary depending on a student’s course load. Some people may choose to take on a full-time course load, while others may decide to pursue a degree while working full-time.

Similarly, most school librarian certification programs take 18 months to two years to complete.

The following is a general breakdown of the core courses you can expect to complete as you pursue a degree or certification as a library media specialist or school librarian. Please note that these courses may be named differently, or they may be combined or split into multiple courses.

Understanding Library Media Information and Materials

A school library contains information and materials in many different formats to meet the educational needs of students. Some materials directly support state and national curriculum standards, while others support students’ independent learning and reading.

It is the responsibility of school librarians to understand and be able to explain the complexities of how information is organized in a school library. From Young Adult Literature to Children’s Literature and Nonfiction, librarians need to have a thorough grasp of the resources available to students. This allows them to facilitate students’ learning better and direct them toward materials that match their literacy levels, age groups, and interests.

Some degree programs may divide this topic into multiple courses such as Materials for Children and Materials for Young Adults.

In courses geared toward understanding materials for children, students will survey materials in many formats including nonfiction, fictional genres, chapter books, paperback series, and electronic resources. Students will also learn how each of these formats can help meet children’s developmental needs. Often, courses on materials will also include instruction on tools and techniques for collecting this type of material.

After participating in courses related to child literacy, students will have a comprehensive understanding of the developmental reading needs and interests of children. They’ll also be equipped to evaluate materials across formats and genres. As a result, MLIS candidates will be able to cultivate a rich literacy culture in the schools and libraries where they eventually work.

Similarly, courses about materials for young adults give students an in-depth understanding of various material formats for teens including fiction, popular nonfiction, graphic novels, movies, computer games, websites, and other media. Students will survey these materials with the goal of understanding how each format can help meet the developmental needs of teens and young adults.

By completing core coursework in understanding library materials, school librarians are better equipped to provide materials that aid students’ learning and development. When a student comes to the library seeking to read something new or to find information on a specific subject, a librarian with a thorough understanding of the library’s materials will be able to point that student in the right direction.

Also, as librarians are tasked with developing library collections, they must be acutely aware of the qualities that make materials suitable for students’ developmental needs. They will be required to apply their knowledge of print, audio, and digital materials as they work to build diverse collections for children and young adults of all backgrounds and reading levels. And, they’ll need to be able to critically appraise contemporary authors and illustrators of children’s material.

School librarians oversee the library and all of the information it contains. As such, they’re required to have a comprehensive understanding of all library materials and the role those materials play in student learning.

Providing Services and Managing the Organization of School Libraries

Once you have deep knowledge of the information and materials the school library holds, you must be able to communicate that knowledge in a way that facilitates learning and collaboration for all patrons and staff members.

This coursework represents some of the most foundational knowledge for a career as a school librarian. It will equip you with tangible tools that are essential for performing the core duties associated with librarianship.

Students will go through case studies on the organization and administration of school libraries and their associated programs and projects. The topics typically covered in these foundational courses include project management, personnel administration, budget development, management strategies, copyright, and intellectual freedom.

Information Resources

School librarians serve as information resources. Courses on reference and information services impart the interpersonal skills required to effectively answer questions using relevant sources. They also provide theoretical and practical education for teaching information literacy. 

Many courses related to information services focus on learning theory while incorporating practical aspects of teaching.

Search and the Information Landscape

To effectively communicate information to library patrons, school librarians first need to have effective, professional strategies for finding that information in the first place. MLIS students become experts in the use of search features so they can better manage, retrieve, assess, and share information.

This core education prepares students to occupy the ever-evolving role of an information professional. They develop research skills as they learn to assess the value of different search engines, curation platforms, and social media sites. Also, they learn how to effectively meet the information needs of students in a variety of settings.

As a wider body of information becomes abundant and searchable, the role of information professionals like school librarians continues to shift. For this reason, librarians need to be able to demonstrate the value they continue to provide by keeping up with new search tools and resources as they become available.

Organization and Staff Management

Another important skill you’ll learn through this core curriculum is the management of the library organization and its staff. 

Since effective management is built on good communication, courses on this topic include surveys on the principles and practices of interpersonal communication. They also teach about small group and peer relationships so students are prepared to thrive in typical school library environments.

A well-functioning library depends on the ability of its staff to work together effectively. So, while soft skills like interpersonal communication may seem secondary, they’re vital to the core functions and operations of any school library.

Quality Assessment

A subset of courses that fall under the services and management umbrella focus on assessing the quality and effectiveness of the school library, in total and by its components. 

Students learn how to tell whether the programs, services, and materials the library provides are performing well. This helps future librarians gain problem-solving skills and encourages them to think outside the box when it comes to program development, marketing, and instructional design.

Instruction and Pedagogy

MLIS students will also learn how to teach effective use of the library to school staff and students. 

This level of instruction helps foster a greater community of educators who understand the school library’s purpose and are committed to utilizing it to further their students’ learning. It will also impart valuable skills related to instruction and pedagogy – an area where the roles of teachers and school librarians tend to overlap.

Inclusivity and Accessibility

Making sure school libraries are inclusive spaces that are accessible to all learners should be a top priority of librarians. 

Courses related to library management focus on developing the skills necessary for planning, implementing, and evaluating programs that address the information needs of racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse communities. You’ll likely review major national, state, and local studies related to inclusivity during this part of your study.

Similarly, you’ll have the opportunity to investigate current issues impacting school libraries’ functioning, including financing, staffing, and social and political environments.

Makerspaces

Students receive collaborative instruction in the context of “maker culture,” project-based learning, and learning experience design.

With an emphasis on practical application, this aspect of instruction focuses on translating learning design theory into reality. It equips MLIS students to solve problems creatively and to facilitate creative problem-solving techniques.

Data Labs

With the evolution of technology, the school library has become more than just a resource for books. Information and communication technologies have become necessities for individuals and organizations.

The modern school library can be a place where students of all ages, and in some cases the wider community, can access information using technology.

MLIS students will be introduced to the design, development, and implementation of information and communication technologies within organizations. Topics in related courses typically include networking standards, transmission basics and network media, TCP/IP protocols, WANS and remote connectivity, wireless networking, virtual networks and remote access, and network security and troubleshooting.

Emerging Literacies

Due to societal shifts and the evolution of technology, librarians who work with young people need to be prepared to teach and support new literacies. Degree programs offer courses that help students keep their fingers on the pulse of these continual shifts.

Coursework on emerging literacies enables students to empower learners to design and create media-rich knowledge products, collaborate with others in online communities, and develop competencies for effectively using digital technologies.

The educational objectives of such courses are to help MLIS students go on to develop inclusive, technology-rich library environments in which all learners can think, share, and grow. Digital technologies are here to stay, and students need to be able to use them effectively to be as productive, innovative, and successful as they can be.

Technologies in School Libraries

Another section of the core curriculum included in the education of library media specialists and school librarians relates to instructional technology. 

There is a lengthy and ever-expanding list of instructional technologies that are in use within school libraries. These include:

  • Social annotation tools
  • Gamification and game-based learning
  • Online proctoring software
  • Adaptive learning technology
  • Web conferencing software
  • E-learning tools and learning management software
  • Digital texts
  • Data visualization tools
  • Graphic design software
  • Collaborative learning technologies
  • Presentation creation tools
  • Classroom response systems
  • Tablets
  • QR codes
  • And more!

School librarians need to have awareness and mastery of most of these technologies to improve access to learning materials, adapt to different learning methods and scenarios, and maximize the library’s effectiveness.

For example, in 2020, school libraries had to adapt to a new remote learning model just as teachers and students did. With the help of technologies like web conferencing software, social annotation tools, and e-learning tools, school libraries were able to adapt and continue providing valuable resources to students and staff.

Many steps toward incorporating technology into education have produced lasting changes in the way school libraries operate. These tools represent an opportunity to expand learning methods and mediums. As such, school librarians should be able to utilize them to facilitate learning and participation in library programs.

The content of courses related to technologies in school libraries will vary depending on your state and which technologies are most relevant. In general, you’ll likely take courses on information technology to build the skills needed to structure, store, process, access, and present information in an online environment.

Some programs may even offer courses that cover basic principles of website design and development. Advanced courses in information technology include topics like XML, web programming languages, social media, content management systems, information architecture, information visualization, big data analytics and management, and web data mining.

All of these skills are useful to those pursuing a career in librarianship as they allow for innovation in the way information is communicated and presented.

Capstone for the Library Media Track

Capstone projects are common requirements in master’s level programs. For MLIS students, capstone projects are a way for students to demonstrate their overall understanding of the program’s materials. 

It also allows degree candidates to translate their knowledge into the real world. At this stage, the theoretical knowledge they’ve been learning in their courses transfers to real capabilities that help meet the needs of students and faculty.

Practically, a capstone project often involves writing a research paper, participating in an internship or independent study program, or completing a special project.

One example of a capstone course is the Research in Learning Design and Technology course offered at the University of Colorado Denver. Students who opt to take this course analyze, evaluate, and research instructional technology. They learn methods for improving instruction through observation, assessment, and collection of participant reports. Building on previous instruction, this course allows students to practice skills related to learning design.

Other capstone projects might involve placement in a school or business where students can exercise the skills of need assessment, learning design, instructional system development, and leadership.

Overall, capstones are opportunities for students to consolidate the knowledge they gain throughout a degree program. Capstones give students the chance to apply that knowledge and exercise the skills that will be required to excel as a school librarian.

Supervised Field Experience in a School Library

Finally, your degree program will likely conclude with supervised real-world experience in a selected K-12 school library.

This will allow you to get a feel for the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of school librarians in a low-risk environment. Like capstone projects or courses, field experience helps bridge the gap between theory and practice and introduces students to the school library profession.

To get the most out of supervised field experience, pay attention to the areas in which you tend to excel and those that could benefit from improvement. The most successful outcomes result when students can form trusting relationships with their supervisors or mentors. So, don’t hesitate to ask for help or clarification when you need it, and request honest feedback from your supervisor.

Conclusion

The road to becoming a school librarian is one worth taking if you’re interested in building an exciting career that inspires children to love learning.

As the responsibilities of school librarians evolve with the times, so will their educational priorities. School librarians are life-long learners who share their love of knowledge with the students, faculty, and community members who flock to their establishments.

While your specific educational journey may look slightly different from the one we’ve outlined, you now know generally what to expect from the adventure that lies ahead. To get started, start looking for a degree or certification program in your state.