Guide / Overview

Public Librarianship Degree Program Overview - 2024

by Staff

Updated: November 1st, 2023

Many professional librarians hold a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree with a concentration in Public Librarianship. The post-graduate program is intended to help those who wish to serve and defend their communities’ right to access information freely and easily. MLIS programs are the path to take if you already hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject and want to pursue a career as a public librarian or in a related role within public libraries. 

Libraries are essential institutions in our communities as they provide a number of useful information services for people of all ages and backgrounds. The importance of the role public librarians play has risen over the past few years as technology has changed the way we research, gather, and dispense information. Community members turn to public libraries for instruction on how to navigate this new world. 

Libraries are no longer simply places that supply a quiet working or study environment; they are now centers for digital learning. Of course, you can still borrow books, but you can also use the free internet on one of the free-to-use computers, enroll your children in a program or class, utilize free research databases, take advantage of employment and career resources, or participate in one of the many cultural events offered. 

What should one think about when deciding on a Public Librarianship Degree Program?

There are several factors to consider when determining which MLIS program is right for you. Your overall career goals will play a significant part in deciding on a specialty area. Remote learning options are important to those with busy or inconsistent schedules, and the availability of financial aid resources is another decisive factor. In this section, we’ll cover what you should look for when choosing an MLIS program. 


First and foremost, the program must be accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Colleges and universities in the US offer ALA-accredited programs, and you can search the database of approved programs here. Accreditation ensures you will learn the skills and knowledge needed to perform the duties expected of an MLIS graduate in a modern-day library. 

ALA-accredited programs also increase your career possibilities by offering flexibility in the positions you’re qualified to hold. But before you sign up for the program nearest to you, visit the website and conduct some research. If you can, visit the location and talk to students and faculty to gain some perspective on what you can expect. 

Speak with People Who Have Been There

Alumni are another group that can give you some insight into program details. Most schools will arrange meetings with administrators, faculty, and students if you call ahead and inform them of your intention to visit. That will also give you a chance to get a feel for the campus and figure out if it’s the best place for you.

If asking a group of strangers questions is not something you’re comfortable with, find the program’s online reviews and examine them for more information. 

Learn About the Experts You’ll Learn From

Next, you’ll want to find as much information about the professors as they are the key to the quality of education you’ll receive. The program website should have information posted about each professor, such as their educational background and certifications, length of professorship, specialties, and whether they’re tenured. 

Tenured professors are needed to help the program continually evolve. Experts in the field must be in place to make decisions about the curriculum and coursework to uphold the integrity and quality of the program. These professors are among the top thinkers and researchers in their specialty, so students seeking a specific lane of study have a major advantage to being taught by a tenured professor.

You may be able to meet some in person by scheduling a meeting with them on campus or remotely through an app. That will give you an idea of how open they will be to assist you throughout the semester. 

How Well-funded is the School?

Funding is pertinent to a successful MLIS program. A well-funded program will have the latest technology and equipment to teach students, and access to resources won’t be a challenge. That means graduates will enter the world of public libraries well-prepared to instruct others.

The media labs in well-funded schools contain the most up-to-date equipment and software applications used to search multimedia materials. That enables students to understand first-hand how to properly demonstrate different research databases and techniques to library visitors. 

Placement Services/Career Services

One question you’ll want to ask is whether the program offers employment placement services. Most programs have job placement for recent graduates and alumni, so you’ll always have a database of open positions available to view. 

Also, does the program simply provide a database to search, or do they have employment advisors on staff to help you through the decision-making process? Some professors have relationships with institutions and can make recommendations and write referrals to help you secure a position upon graduation. 

You may need a little inside help looking for a position as the industry is cyclical, and position availability depends on funding resources, replacement needs, type of institution, and geographical area. 

To find out more, contact the school’s Information Science Department and arrange to speak with alumni eager to share their stories, if possible. You can also use the ALA’s job placement services to find an open position.

Standard Requirements for Admission

Public Librarianship MLIS applicants have minimum requirements and prerequisites that must be fulfilled before they are accepted into the program. 

  • Bachelor’s degree in any discipline from a regionally accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 in bachelor’s degree or the last 60 full-time semester or 90 quarter semester hours
  • Basic comprehension of computers and technology
  • Computer and internet access with appropriate software
  • Letters of recommendation (usually 3)
  • Submission of online application
  • Official undergraduate transcripts

International applicants must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. A score of 600 on the paper version, 250 on the computer version, or 100 on the internet-based TOEFL is required. The IELTS passing score is 8.

The accepted accrediting bodies are as follows:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

What you will be required to learn in a Public Librarianship Degree Program?

There are a few core courses that you must take to obtain your degree. MLIS programs require 43 units to graduate, and of those, there are a group of courses taken by everyone regardless of their career path. 

Please note that the classes may be titled differently depending on the institution. Or, the course may be combined or split into multiple classes. Nevertheless, the information contained in the courses is the same no matter what they’re named.

Principles/Foundations of Information Science and Technology

This is a foundational course for students to understand and articulate what the profession and discipline of library and information studies entail. The course covers how professional ethics and values, and standards influence the policies and laws information professionals follow. You’ll learn the historical significance of libraries, the roles they play in our current society, and how they’ll potentially serve us in the future.

Subjects you’ll study include library and information infrastructure, the history and mission of libraries, different types of information organizations and librarian roles, core competencies, and technological developments in the field. 

Because this is an introductory course, the information taught will be used as foundational knowledge throughout your career. The class teaches how to identify major issues and trends within the industry so you can stay aware of workarounds and prepare for any big changes concerning information gathering. 

The goal is for students to understand and appreciate the work librarians do and how valuable it is to local and global communities. You’ll have a better grasp of the responsibilities librarians have to serve diverse groups. 

This information is also needed to help drive the industry’s growth. The knowledge gained will equip you to debate information issues and policies on a local, national, and global level. Problem-solving skills and theoretical knowledge is developed so you can evaluate library and information systems and services for improvements.

Research Methods for Library and Information Professionals

This is where you’ll study common social science techniques to conduct quantitative analyses, such as surveys and experiments. Qualitative methods like participant observation and historical research are taught. Hybrid methods are also covered, including focus groups, evaluation research, and content analysis. Bibliometrics is another subject studied in this course.

The class is typically run as a workshop so students can share concepts and get feedback from classmates and the professor.

Once they complete the course, students will be expected to assess qualitative and quantitative research theories and methods and apply them properly. There are certain ethical components to research that must be followed to ensure accurate results, and you will learn them as you take notes on the given lecture.

Interpreting and evaluating existing research is important to show you can think critically. Critical thinking is necessary for coming up with your own research questions. You will also be able to explain how empirical research drives advancements in the knowledge base and practices of the industry. You’ll also learn how to effectively communicate your thoughts and theories in writing.

Information learned in this course will be beneficial when it’s time to find reputable research sources and teach others how to locate and utilize them efficiently. Communities depend on public librarians to show them the right way to research topics for school, work, or personal projects.

An understanding of how and when to apply quantitative or qualitative research is useful when reviewing how library and information sciences can help the community. Surveys and experiments will indicate which programs the library should offer. Qualitative research will assist librarians in understanding the diverse cultures and groups that come to the library for help so they can be better served.

Organization of Information

Keeping information organized is one of the main competencies of MLIS professionals. After all, what use is it to have all the information you’ll ever need to be housed in one place if it cannot be accessed easily?

This course goes over the purpose and explains the need behind organizing library materials, which is to make finding materials simple for users and librarians. The class is another foundational necessity that you will use throughout your career. 

Library materials are produced in various forms, including print material like books, newspapers, reference books, and periodicals. Non-print materials like audiovisuals and electronics are also part of the library’s inventory. Therefore, public librarians should know the different types of library materials available so they can order suitable content for their users.

You’ll learn the five major purposes of information organization, which are: 

  1. Information that’s organized will be used easily
  2. To enable each reader to locate their information
  3. To enable information to find its users
  4. To save the users time
  5. To help the libraries development

Upon completing this course, you will know the steps to take in acquiring, processing, and organizing library materials. For those who work in special libraries, you’ll understand the need for acquiring standards, pamphlets, dissertations and theses, maps and charts, and patents.

Not only is an organization need it to save time when locating resources, but it also has aesthetic appeal. A neat and orderly library provides a peaceful and relaxing environment in which to work, something all library users deserve.

Marketing Library and Information Services to Communities

Many people don’t know the extent of the services offered by their local library. That’s why learning in-house marketing and outreach strategies are needed to draw in community members. 

You’ll learn the foundational knowledge needed to launch a successful in-house marketing campaign, how to partner with internal groups to increase community reach, how to use stories and testimonials in marketing campaigns, and how to position paid content so that it appeals to library users.

Here are more topics that are covered:

  • How to centralize resources for greater usage and awareness
  • Segmenting and addressing potential user groups
  • Effective library website design and communicates
  • How to implement  and advertise fun activities to potential attendees
  • Leveraging vendor resources
  • Evaluating and measuring promotional efforts

In order for the library to be effective in the community, users need to view the library as more than just a place that stores books. To make that happen, outreach must be a perpetual effort.

Users need to be aware of resources and methods outside of the ones they use to conduct Google and Internet searches. That means becoming comfortable with the content and tools you use and promoting and believing in their value.

Collaboration is essential in any successful library marketing campaign. First, you’ll need to identify their needs, review and align resources, develop a collective plan, leverage the event platform to push internal priorities, and hold a post-event survey to evaluate the event’s success. 

Whether the event is career-oriented or provides computer literacy, this course will ensure you have the know-how to collaborate with internal groups that will make the occasion memorable.

Stories and testimonials can help you achieve organizational goals. When other community members are able to relate to those in a similar situation, they will take advantage of the resources available. It’s a good practice to gather these stories and ask the user for permission to use them as part of your marketing campaign.

The course will go through each component of the marketing process and how to best apply them to increase community engagement.

Adult Reader Services in the Public Library

This course is designed to give you the skills needed to help adults with low literacy and numeracy skills. Unfortunately, there are an estimated 36 million adults in the US who fall into these categories. Literacy and numeracy skills are directly related to restricted employment opportunities and poor health in adults. 

Adults with a high school education or lower have problems solving issues in technology-rich environments. Therefore, the services libraries offer can have a positive impact on a user’s life projection.

The class teaches the different programs libraries offer adults who want to enhance their literacy skills. They include math and reading classes which will improve cognitive skills that will continue developing well after the course.

Many of the low-skilled adults are immigrants whose first language is not English. Public librarians can arrange classes to teach them English and help them prepare for their citizenship exam.

Adults searching for employment or ways to develop digital literacy skills can utilize one of the free computer labs. Librarians also help with finding healthcare information, computer classes, and locating self-directed tutorials for users to learn at their own pace at home or onsite.

Libraries also have general equivalency diploma (GED) programs for both adults looking to obtain the certification and instructors who prepare students to take the test. They also share resources and best practices to support digital literacy. 

These services have the ability to set citizens up for success as they navigate education, employment, housing, healthcare needs, and more.

Children’s and Young Adult Literature, Information Services, and Programming

This foundational course is needed to work in a multicultural society. Reading is fundamental and important to the development of a young mind. Creative and cognitive skills are developed and consistently improved through reading. Getting the youth engaged with library services early in life ensures they’ll continue to use the facilities as they get older.

To accomplish that goal, you need to keep the library stocked with reading selections the local youth population finds interesting. That will depend on the demographics of the community, which as a librarian, you’re already familiar with. If not, this course will show you how to amass a collection the community will love.

As a public librarian, you will be tasked with providing a catalog that serves your designated population and their teachers. You’ll also learn how to properly classify the materials so kids can find them. The easier the books are to find, the more the children will want to read.

Another way to increase engagement is to set up special sections like “Fun Facts” for your specific state. You can then evaluate whether a separate section increases use for children and convenience for adults working with them.

You’ll also learn to recognize when you should order extra copies of reading and instructional materials. Don’t forget a library is a support tool for the child’s education, and there should be enough materials on hand to help them complete book reports and projects assigned by the school system. It’s a good idea to collaborate with local schools and find out ways you can support their curriculum. 

Utilizing your budget strategically is another component of this course. Each year there, young kids are introduced to classic children’s books that have been around for decades and even centuries. Money should be put aside to replace those worn-out classics each year so new readers can enjoy a fresh copy.

Learning how to stock the library for the youngest readers will determine how much they stay engaged with the library as adults. This class shows you how to make a life-long impression that will keep them coming back year after year.

Information Trust, Manipulation, and Deception

As a public librarian, one of your responsibilities is helping users differentiate “fake news” or misinformation from credible research outcomes. This course gives librarians the tools needed to combat fake news by reviewing the literature to find current themes, gaps, and patterns in fake news. 

False information floating around is a ticking time bomb. When people base their decisions on misinformation, the consequences can be dire. Libraries are home to truth and facts and have no room for sharing false information. 

You’ll learn how information literacy can be an effective tool in counteracting fake news. The concept was officially defined in 1989 by the ALA, which stated that information-literate individuals have the ability to recognize when additional information is needed, where to find it, and how to evaluate and apply it.

Information literacy will allow individuals to get involved with community events, develop community involvement, and have a well-informed opinion about local, national, and international issues. They are then empowered to make decisions based on real quantitative or qualitative data and move the community forward.

Critical and analytical skills will be enhanced so you can help users navigate the murky waters of fake news and teach them where to find information to refute false claims. With all the social media platforms spewing information at a rapid pace, it’s difficult to decipher what’s real and what’s not. This course will give you the literacy framework to educate information consumers.

Leadership and Managing Information Organizations

The leadership and management course is beneficial no matter what specialty you pursue or the environment you’re working in. You’ll be able to use your technical skills and demonstrate your value through techniques such as marketing, promotion, and assessment.

As an information professional manager, your role is to be proactive when orchestrating resources, people, and materials for community members to access and use effectively in their decision-making process. 

When this class is finished, you’ll know how to communicate effectively with members of diverse communities cut, develop customer service policies, evaluate programs and services, deliver, develop, and promote services by understanding the community’s needs and expectations, and create strategic plans to meet organizational objectives. 

You’ll be able to plan and understands the library budget and the best ways to use it for optimal results. You’ll learn to supervise, motivate, and evaluate individuals and groups, show an ability to advocate effectively for your organization and its employees, identify and analyze policies and laws that affect service delivery, understand how to navigate organizational cultures, structures, and priorities, and work effectively in a team setting.

With this course under your belt, you can work in specialized fields like information literacy for a university or information technology for a corporation. Some graduates go on to manage small departments or branches and train staff to deliver direct services. 

Expertise in management opens up new career possibilities as an MLIS professional.