Types of Library & Information Science Degree Programs Guide - 2024


by LibrarianCertification.com Staff

Updated: December 12th, 2023

What is a librarian? Fundamentally, a librarian connects people with information for their professional, personal, or research objectives. The explosion of data-driven analytics in the 21st century has opened new employment opportunities for librarians. The skills and training of a modern librarian are now sought in fields spanning medicine, law, government, and academics. 

Are you considering a career as a librarian? If so, recognize that the ongoing digital transformation has brought extensive changes to the information science field. Before the onset of the Information Age, librarians were custodians of physical print materials — books, journals, newspapers, magazines. While today’s librarians are still curators of print materials, they also furnish digital equity to library stakeholders. Current librarian educational curricula reflect this evolution of librarian duties and services. 

Introduction: LIS Basics

While some colleges and universities still offer a degree in “library science” or “librarianship,” since the 1960s most institutions of higher education confer degrees in “Library and Information Science” or “Library and Information Studies” (LIS). Depending upon the program, LIS degree names may be either Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS). Some schools have both. 

LIS encompasses information and knowledge creation, communication, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, and management. In other words, LIS “is centrally concerned with providing instruments (documents, organization, bibliographies, indexes) to enable people to become better informed through the use of documents.” 

Marcia Bates, Professor Emerita of UCLA’s Department of Information Studies and editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, posits that LIS should be viewed as a “meta-discipline.” A meta-discipline “deals with knowledge in all the conventional fields on the academic spectrum, but does so from a particular orientation or position that is needed to accomplish the work and the theorizing of its area.” See the following figure:

Bates, M.J. (2015). The information professions: knowledge, memory, heritage. Information Research, 20(1), paper 655. 

The image above reflects ongoing questions about the nature of LIS and its relationship with information science. Many academics argue that it is “misguided” to divide library science theory from information science. Others consider LIS to be a broad amalgamate of occupational competencies. No wonder scholars struggle to define LIS — is it monodisciplinary, multidisciplinary, or interdisciplinary?

Suffice to say that contemporary librarians work within a large and diverse ecosystem of information science aptitudes. These library degree program concentrations are detailed below in Section IV. 

Regardless of specialization or name, a LIS degree should come from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA accredits programs with one of the following four statuses:

  • Conditional accreditation — “assigned to a program that must make changes to comply with the Standards for Accreditation to enable accreditation beyond the date specified.” 
  • Continued accreditation (or Accredited) — “granted to accredited programs following a comprehensive review that demonstrate with evidence their conformity to (ALA) Standards.”
  • Initial accreditation status — “indicates that a program has demonstrated compliance with the Standards for Accreditation and has been granted accreditation for the first time following a period of Candidacy status and comprehensive review.”
  • Withdrawn, Appeal Pending — “While an appeal is in process, the program retains Conditional accreditation status (concerning) student status and program reporting requirements.” 

ALA accreditation not only means program accreditation but also denotes regional accreditation of an educational institution. As of Fall 2021, 63 colleges and universities across the U.S. (55 including the University of Puerto Rico) and Canada (7) offered ALA-accredited Master’s Programs in LIS. To find accredited institutions, consult this directory

Note that while the ALA directory includes Florida State University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Puerto Rico as accredited programs, neither school currently offers an MLS degree although FSU extends an MS in Information Technology and an MS and MA in Information, UT Knoxville tenders an MS in Information Sciences and UPR has a Master in Information Science (MIS).

Most employers prescribe librarians (or library media specialists) to have an ALA-accredited Master’s degree in LIS. Since specializations vary widely, choosing a program aligned with one’s career interest is vital. This article only summarizes librarian education programs available in the United States. Those interested in a specific library specialization should carefully consider a school’s LIS program offerings. 

We suggest that prospective librarians survey library science degree programs available in their state, or explore online library science degree options.

Styles of Learning Options 

Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing student demand for a variety of “learning delivery” options, ALA-accredited institutions offer a choice of delivery methods. These include:

  • Instructor-led Training (ILT)
  • Web-Based Training (WBT)
  • Mobile Learning (mLearning)
  • Blended Learning 

To excel, students should select a delivery method optimal to their learning and retention. Each option has pros and cons and should be carefully evaluated by a student when enrolling in a LIS program.

For example, ILT (which includes classroom training and virtual ILT) is a natural fit for those who shine when engaged in the Socratic Method. However,  student success when enrolled in an ILT course often depends on the capabilities of an instructor. A WBT option is a quicker and (usually) more affordable learning experience yet lacks the feedback found with face-to-face ILT. A mLearning approach — similar to WBT — utilizes a variety of mobile devices (tablets, MP3 players, etc.) but can be hampered by a student’s lack of broadband access. Blended learning (a flex learning method) draws upon multiple training methods for pupil instruction. While blended learning engages students with sundry educational tools, it may suffer from curriculum pacing issues when applied to a sizable class of students. 

Which option is right for you?

Distance learning (i.e., VILT, mLearning, and online learning) grants students greater flexibility, saves time and money, eliminates campus commutes, and prods students to hone their technical and time-management skills. But WBT learning methods do not develop student social interaction and oral skills. Too, employers may be averse to hiring candidates who earned their degrees online. 

While blended learning enhances and compliments ILT while paring degree costs, a flex learning option requires online proficiencies for both instructors and students. Face-to-face ILT, the most expensive option, is a tried-and-true method of instruction but requires employed students to schedule classes around their jobs. Also, ILT takes much longer than other instructional options. It does not permit learners to multi-task since they must focus exclusively on their classroom sessions. 

Most ALA-accredited educational institutions provide distance learning options — a distinct advantage for extra-regional students who wish to avail of a particular ILS program’s strengths or degree specializations while remaining at home. Note that some institutions may require primarily face-to-face instruction with only selected courses offered online. Consult the ALA directory cited above to see the learning options and degree specializations featured by your preferred educational institution.

Too, prospective librarians should understand that depending upon the program, they must either submit a thesis in fulfillment of program requirements or opt for strictly course-based study. Often, programs require both. Additionally, some schools (for example, the Catholic School of America) stipulate that students complete MLS course requirements within a pre-determined time interval.

Degree Names and Their Meanings

Armed with the prerequisite Master’s degree in LIS, a prospective librarian can choose from myriad career paths to become employed in the library science or information science fields. Indeed, LIS graduates often work in non-librarian jobs. These include:

  • Web analytics manager
  • Documentation specialist
  • Information resources specialist
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) map specialist
  • Archivist
  • Metadata analyst
  • Data officer
  • Information Management Officer
  • Database administrator/programmer
  • Digital manuscripts project manager
  • Document control specialist 

Of course, the choice of degree and specialization helps determine employment options. This specialization prepares students for a variety of career pathways. If one wants to work in biomedical informatics, he or she specializes in health science librarianship. Those interested in overseeing primary source materials found in museums or archives specialize in Cultural Heritage Information Management (CHIM). Law librarians specialize in legal information services. We strongly advise students to seek counsel from an academic advisor to chart a curriculum that addresses their career goals. 

Prospective librarians may choose from several postgraduate educational pathways leading to employment. These include:

  1. Master’s Degree Programs
  2. Dual or Joint Degrees
  3. Post-Master’s Certifications
  4. Ph.D

Master’s Degree Programs

An MLS is a postgraduate degree focused on the indexing and analysis of print and digital media. Typically, an MLS program encompasses core topics such as librarianship theory, database management, and cross-disciplinary learning. Owing to the diverse nature of information science, students will also seek specialization in a librarianship sub-field like health information, bibliometrics, or management information systems (MIS).  

Depending upon school and course study load, a Master of Library Science (MLS or MILS) may last from four to six semesters. Drexel University, which offers an ALA-accredited MLIS program, states: “Most LIS programs take from 1 to 2 years to complete. Counting the 4 years it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, it may take a total of 5 to 6 years to become a librarian.” Generally, programs require 36-semester credits.

Every MLS program has unique curricula and course loads. As mentioned above, a librarianship Master’s degree has many variant appellations, including:

  1. Master of Library Science (MLS)
  2. Master of Library and Information Science or Studies (MLIS)
  3. Master of Arts in Librarianship
  4. Master of Librarianship
  5. Master of Science in Librarianship

An MLS degree qualifies candidates to work as:

  • Academic librarians serve in tertiary institutions assisting students and faculty. Since colleges and universities often have specialized libraries (viz., law, medicine, literature), many academic librarians focus on an area of specialization.
  • School librarians work in K-12 schools teaching students to access information and resources. They may also assist faculty in the development of lesson plans by sourcing instructional material. Many public schools now call their librarians “media specialists.” 
  • Public librarians serve the patrons of a public library. They locate print and digital media for checkout or research and plan events like book fairs and story time sessions for children.
  • Administrative services librarians are the managers of a library. Their duties include hiring and managing staff, preparing budgets, and negotiating the acquisition of library materials and equipment. They may also lead fundraisers and perform library advocacy.
  • Technical services librarians find new library materials and archive legacy items. They manage print and digital media to facilitate library user accessibility and may also serve as a library’s IT manager.
  • User services librarians assist patrons in researching library materials and Internet sites. They may be assigned to specific library users such as children, history students, or genealogists.
  • Special librarians serve institutions like hospitals, museums, businesses, law firms, and government agencies. Also known as “Information Professionals,” a special librarian often needs a degree specialization in addition to an MLS to qualify for employment.

Dual Degrees

Also known as a joint or combined degree, a dual degree allows students to earn credentials in two fields. Note that a dual degree differs from a double major, which is two areas of specializations within one degree. Typically, a student must be accepted into two separate degree programs to receive a dual degree; both degrees must be conferred simultaneously.

Dual degrees do not entail a student “doubling up” his or her semester course load. Usually, students can focus on a single degree program at a time. Also, there may be course overlap. In such cases, students receive credits toward both degrees. Also, students may be required to write two theses — one for each degree.

Almost all ALA-accredited institutions offer dual degrees in conjunction with an MLS. However, some schools may only combine an MLIS with an accelerated undergraduate (Bachelor’s) degree or a specific postgraduate degree. 

Some examples: SUNY Albany permits students to only pair an MLS with a Master’s Degree in Arts (MA) or an undergraduate degree. Pratt Institute limits a dual MLIS degree to a MA in History of Art and Design. St. John’s University in Queens offers a dual degree combining MLS with either an MA in Public History or Government.

Dual degrees include:

  1. MLS/MBA Master of Business Administration

Several ALA-accredited institutions offer this dual degree. Look for MLIS programs  with a Corporate Librarianship specialization.

  1. MLS/MA Master of Arts

This coordinated degree program grooms students for careers, according to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, “as art librarians, as curators of rare books and special collections, and as archivists, registrars, and collections managers in art museums.” One example of this dual degree comes from the University of Buffalo, which offers an MLS/MA in Music Librarianship. Another is found at the University of Southern Mississippi, which has an MLS/MA in Anthropology dual degree. Look for MLS programs offering Archival Studies and Special Collections specializations. 

  1. MLS/JD Juris Doctor

As the name indicates, holders of this dual degree are both librarians and attorneys. Thus, institutions with both an ALA-accredited MLS program and a law school usually offer this dual degree. Look for MLS programs with a Law Librarianship/Legal Information Services specialization. 

  1. MLS/MPA —  Master of Public Administration (or Affairs)

This dual degree, in the words of the University of Indiana Bloomington, teaches students “to solve complex public challenges by combining policy and management expertise with information preservation and library science techniques.” It also prepares students for “leadership roles in large library systems and other knowledge management careers.” Look for MLS programs offering specializations such as Information Systems Design/Analysis, Knowledge Management, Records Management, Management and Administration, and Organization of Information.

  1. MLS/MREM Master of Resource and Environmental Management 

Engineers and scientists with a bibliothecarial interest may opt for this dual degree. Perhaps the rarest MLS degree combination, as of Fall 2021 only Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University offered this ALA-accredited dual degree. Look for MLS programs furnishing Digital Libraries, Information Systems Design/Analysis, Knowledge Management, Organization of Information, Records Management, and Special/Corporate Librarianship specializations.

Some institutions may provide other dual MLS degrees. For example, Indiana University pairs an MLIS degree with an MA in Philanthropic Studies or an MS in Health Informatics. The University of Toronto offers a Master of Information (MI) and a Master of Museum Studies (MMst) dual degree.

Post-Master’s Certification 

Generally available to those with a Master’s degree in any discipline, a Post-Master’s Certificate is a continuing education program designed for professional advancement and fulfillment. Note that post-master certifications are not broad-based courses of study but programs focusing on honing career skills and aptitudes in a relatively narrow discipline specialty.

While many colleges and universities across the United States have ALA-accredited Associate, Bachelor, or paraprofessional degree certificate programs, relatively few institutions offer ALA-accredited post-master’s certification. As of Fall 2021, 38 North American educational institutions furnishing ALA-accredited MLS programs offered post-master certification. 

Currently, the only ALA-accredited post-master’s certification available is the Certified Public Library Administrator (CPLA) program. The program targets public library managers and supervisors; “candidates take courses in seven of nine competency areas.”

According to ALA policies (54.2, 54.2.1, 54.2.2, and 56.1), “the candidate for post-master’s certification must possess an ALA-recognized degree in library and information studies.” Note that “recognized” does not necessarily mean “accredited” by the ALA.

The ALA recognizes three credentials qualifying candidates for the CPLA post-master’s certification program:

  • A Master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program. 
  • A LIS Master’s level program accredited or recognized by the appropriate licensing agency of another nation.
  • “A Master’s degree with a specialty in school library media from an educational unit accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (for school library media specialists only).” 

Other ALA guidelines addressing the CPLA post-master’s certification include:

  • “A candidate for first-time certification must have a minimum of three years supervisory experience in relevant professional practice. Supervision of paid employees, unpaid employees, students, or volunteers is acceptable.” 
  • “Initial certification will be based on (a) demonstrated commitment to ongoing professional development and (b) successful completion of a professionally validated examination covering the particular specialization.”
  • “Certification will be for a three-year period, with re-certification based on demonstrated continuing professional development (e.g. continuing education courses), not re-examination. Applications for re-certification will be made to the ALA/Institute for Professional Practice.”
  • “Individuals may take five years to complete a certification program. If an individual does not complete the program within five years, the individual must begin the program again.” 
  • “Certification, unlike licensure, would not be a statutory requirement for a particular job. It would, however, provide valuable information which the employer could use in determining the relative qualification of a candidate.”
  • “Both ALA members and non-members may participate in the certification program. Membership in ALA or any specific organization could not be required as a condition for certification.”

Recognize that some ALA-accredited programs may offer “Named Certificates” or some variant thereof. The University of Wisconsin-Madison describes them as “optional enhancements to the generalist master’s degree. Named certificates provide formal recognition that a student has completed a defined set of courses representing a particular concentration.”  These certificate programs are not recognized as ALA-accredited MLS specializations.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

The pinnacle of academic achievement following a course of study, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in LIS requires the recipient to produce a research-driven dissertation or thesis extending the parameters of librarianship. Usually, LIS doctoral candidates pursue a Ph.D. to specialize in managing niche libraries serving attorneys, healthcare providers, or universities. LIS doctoral candidates may also seek qualifications for faculty positions.

While online MLS degree programs abound, LIS Ph.D. candidates are hard-pressed to find a doctoral library science degree available over the Internet. Those qualified for a LIS doctoral program should prepare for considerable on-campus, face-to-face exchanges with faculty and students. 

A LIS Ph.D. degree requires considerably more semester-hour credits compared to an MLS degree. For example, a Ph.D. in LIS from Pittsburgh University (an ALA-accredited program), “requires a minimum of 54 credits beyond the master’s degree with a total credit minimum of 72. A minimum of 36 credits (all of which must be graduate-level) must be taken in advanced course work.” Additionally, “18 credits are required, which must be applied to dissertation research and writing; however, regardless of the number of credits taken, no more than 18 credits for dissertation research and writing may be applied toward graduation.”

To be considered for a LIS doctorate program, candidates generally must hold an ALA-accredited MLS degree” with high academic standing.” Prepare to spend three to five years fulfilling LIS Ph.D. degree requirements.

As of Fall 2021, 38 North American colleges and universities offer ALA-accredited LIS doctorate programs. Visit the ALA directory link cited above to check a school’s specific LIS doctoral program admission requirements.

Library Degree Program Concentrations (Specializations)

Unquestionably, librarianship occupies a primal role in the large ecosystem of information science. Librarians maintain, preserve, and develop access to an untold number of information systems serving business, government, academia, science, and the public at large. 

In the 21st century, librarians continue to evolve as the amount of data generated by library stakeholders explodes and the need for convenient access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) increases. This trend will continue. As the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) states, “Increasing access to information and knowledge across society… supports sustainable development and improves people’s lives.”

While some question the relevancy of librarians in the Internet age, libraries undoubtedly serve as a launching pad for digital transformation. For example, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) structured the Barack Obama Presidential Library to be completely digital — facilitated by the fact that “an estimated 95%” of the Obama administration’s Presidential records “were born digital.”

While Obama’s Presidential Library may be digital, much information still only resides in physical media. One goal of contemporary librarianship is to create a “modern-day Library of Alexandria, a digital library where the published works of humankind… are available to anyone.. who wants to access them.”

Given the colossal size of the information ecosystem, it comes as little wonder that in addition to a core curriculum, prospective librarians must seek specialization — a course of specialized study — with a library degree program concentration. A seemingly endless diversity of library users require assistance and support when accessing information. A library degree program concentration provides librarians with the tools they need to best serve their stakeholders. 

As noted above in the Introduction, many MLS concentrations are so popular that U.S. News & World Report ranks what it considers the best Master degree programs in six concentrations — Archives and Preservation, Digital Librarianship, Health Librarianship, Information Systems, School Library Media, and Services for Children and Youth. These specializations and others are surveyed below.

Students should recognize that the availability of a program’s MLS specialties or electives may vary by semester. Additionally, many Information schools associated with an ALA-accredited university offer both an MLS and a Master of Information Science (MIS). Also, the number of required credit hours for a particular concentration differs between various MLS programs. To minimize the time needed to complete their chosen curriculum, students need to carefully plan their course of study.

Academic Librarianship

This concentration addresses the information and research requirements of academic communities. Typically, academic librarians prioritize research and instructional duties. Some positions require applicants to have an additional postgraduate degree in addition to an ALA-accredited MLS degree. The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • Information Intermediation
  • Documenting Diverse Cultures and Communities
  • Collection Management
  • Database Development and Management
  • User Interface and Website Design 
  • Scholarly Communication
  • Digital Curation and Digital Preservation

As the name of the position implies, academic librarians work in colleges and universities. Some academic librarians may focus on one specific department; others serve the entire institution. Since large universities have many specialized libraries, they require the expertise of academic librarians in specific fields of study. This truth explains why many educational institutions require academic librarians to augment their MLS with an additional postgraduate degree.  

Archival Studies

Librarian students specializing in Archival Studies “investigate the processes that shape the historical record.” With this concentration, students examine methodologies that preserve, organize, and describe consequential data. They also facilitate the access of this information to library stakeholders. The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • Research Methods in Information Studies
  • Organization of Information
  • Foundations of Library and Information Science
  • Information Access and Retrieval
  • Management of Information Agencies 

Again, as the specialization indicates, librarians with an Archival Studies concentration find positions in archival repositories. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) notes that “most government archivists have civil service status and archivists in academic institutions often have faculty status.”

Book Arts

Aimed at bibliophiles, a Book Studies concentration draws students who treasure manuscripts — both physical and digital media. However, only two ALA-accredited programs (at the University of Alabama and the University of Iowa) offer this specialization (as of Fall 2021). Note that three ALA-accredited MLS programs extend a variant of this concentration: Indiana University Bloomington has “Rare Books and Manuscripts,” UCLA has “Rare Books/Print and Visual Culture,” and Long Island University has “Rare Books and Special Collections.” Dominican University in suburban Chicago, contrary to the information found in the most recent ALA directory, no longer offers this specialization. 

Each institution is unique in its offering of this specialization. For example, the University of Iowa “enables students to (concurrently) earn a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and a certificate in Book Studies.” 

The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • Rare Book and Special Collections Librarianship
  • Rare Book Cataloguing and Descriptive Bibliography
  • Introduction to Preservation
  • Archives & Manuscripts
  • Reference and Instruction in Special Collections

Librarians utilize this concentration to find careers in publishing, cultural institutions, graphic design, teaching, and, of course, research libraries. 

Children’s Services

Most ALA-accredited MLS programs offer this concentration, also known as “Youth Services,” which caters to the cultural, recreational, educational, and informational needs of children and teens. 

The course study spans theoretical and practical foundations, arming librarians with the tools needed “to manage collections, present engaging programs, deliver peerless reference and readers-advisory service, and instruct young people in multiple literacies.” Students survey a wide array of resources in all media formats to achieve familiarity and sensitivity to the cultural and social needs of all youths, both in public and school library environments.

The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • Resources and Services for Early Learners
  • Resources and Services for Children 
  • Resources and Services for Young Adults
  • Picture Books and Early Literacy
  • Integrating Technology into Programming, Services, and Instruction
  • Curriculum and School Libraries
  • Issues of Access, Advocacy, and Policy in Youth Services
  • Pedagogy for School Librarians 

In addition to opening career pathways for children and teen librarians, this concentration is also utilized by literacy specialists, youth reader’s advisors, and special collections librarians.

Cultural Heritage Information Management (CHIM)

A CHIM curriculum “supports traditional and emerging practices of managing unique hidden collections and born-digital resources for preservation and greater access to the collections in today’s digital information environment.” This specialization is an example of the cross-disciplinary nature of many MLS concentrations, which continually evolve as demarcations between the systems of information management blur and integrate.

As Professor Mary Edsall Choquette of the Catholic University of America’s School of Library and Information Science asserts, CHIM “represents a departure from traditional archives/records management tracks or specializations offered by LIS programs, as well as museum studies curricular foci offered through LIS and humanities-based (history) curricula, in that it is not limited to educating in only one of these areas exclusively.”

In short, librarians with a CHIM specialization are “keepers of cultural phenomenological documentation and information.” However, as of Fall 2021, relatively few — indeed, fewer than the ALA directory indicates — ALA-accredited MLS programs offered this concentration.

The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • History and Theory of Cultural Heritage Institutions
  • Public Programs, Outreach and Digital Exhibits in Libraries, Archives, and Museums
  • Collection Development and Management
  • Metadata
  • Digital Curation
  • Art and Museum Librarianship
  • Religious Archives

With this concentration, students qualify for careers as archivists, curators of rare books and special collections, and art or museum librarians. 

Digital Librarianship 

Combining computer science with information systems, a Digital Librarianship concentration employs a socio-technical approach to examine the design and management of digital libraries. The ongoing digital transformation requires many librarians to obtain specialized knowledge and skills for administering workplace applications within a digital information ecosystem. Still, students should be mindful that digital libraries serve the same purpose as conventional ones: to manage, disseminate, and preserve information assets.

According to a survey conducted by LIS researchers from the Catholic University of America and the University of British Columbia, the main activities and tasks of digital librarians fall into six broad headings: Management, Processing, Digital Library, Technology, Collection, and Unspecified. Almost half of the respondents cited management duties as their most frequent job responsibility. This finding aligns with previous surveys “that digital job advertisements emphasize administrative responsibilities.” 

Well over half of the ALA-certified programs offer Digital Librarianship specialization. The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • Digital Curation and Digital Preservation
  • User Interface and Website Design
  • Managing the Digital Information Environment
  • Information Systems in Libraries and Information Centers
  • Database Management
  • Information Sources and Services
  • Systems Analysis and Design 
  • Metadata for Digital Resources

Graduates with this concentration have a wide choice of career options and employers. Stanford University hires digital librarians; so does machine manufacturer John Deere and healthcare provider Ascension.

Health Sciences Librarianship/Health Informatics

According to the Medical Library Association, health science librarians are “information specialists (or) informaticists who have special knowledge in quality health care resources.”  A health science librarian assists in the instructional needs of students, educators, researchers, health care providers, and the public in a swiftly evolving discipline. 

Long considered “embedded librarians,” the roles of these information specialists have expanded to include duties such as liaisons, research experts, and collaborators.  We advise students interested in this concentration to survey “MLA Competencies for Lifelong Learning and Professional Success,” a 2017 report detailing health information professional (HIP) aptitudes. These competencies include “information services, information management, instruction and instructional design, leadership and management, evidence-based practice and research, and health information professionalism.” 

Not only do these competencies cover traditional librarian practices, but they also address emerging skills and duties such as digital preservation and organization, open access publishing, distance education, and social media applications.

Approximately half of all ALA-accredited MLS programs offer this concentration, one of the most popular specializations available to MLS students. Indeed, in addition to an ALA-accredited MLS program, Wayne State University in Michigan also offers both a Master’s and Ph.D. of Health Information Science. 

The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • Health Sciences Information Management
  • Medical Informatics
  • Medical Digital Imaging
  • Community-Based Health Information
  • Disaster Management for Health Information Professionals
  • Interdisciplinary Issues in Health Information Science
  • Quantitative/Qualitative Research Methods
  • Metadata for Digital Resources

With this specialization, librarians qualify to work in diverse environments including institutions of higher educational institutions, public health agencies, consumer health libraries, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, research centers, biotech centers, medical equipment manufacturers, and publishers. 

Information Systems Analysis/Design

In their textbook Information Systems Analysis and Design (ISAD), Wang and Wang posit that ISAD “involves two interrelated parts: management of information systems development and techniques of information systems development.” ISAD “arguably lies in the core of the Information Systems (IS) discipline” according to Iivari and Parsons in a paper published by the Journal of the Association for Information Systems.

A more pedestrian and accessible view of ISAD is that it “create(s) and maintain(s) information systems that perform basic business functions such as keeping track of customer names and addresses, processing orders, and paying employees.” ISAD deploys software to improve employee productivity and serve stakeholders better. 

Slightly over half of ALA-accredited MLS programs offer this concentration or variants like “Data Analytics,” “Data Services,” or “Knowledge Management and Competitive Intelligence.” Owing to the widespread adoption of cloud computing applications, the demand for ISAD librarians has never been higher. 

The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • Database Analysis and Design
  • Information Systems Analysis and Design
  • Predictive Modeling
  • Systems Analysis and Development
  • Database Management Systems and Design
  • Data & Algorithms: Ethics and Policy
  • Data Mining Planning & Management
  • Code & Power
  • Data Visualization & Communications

With this specialization, MLS graduates work as data librarians/data curators, web analytics directors, risk assessors, research information analysts/research data managers, data integration specialists, data management officers, and performance measurement managers.  

Knowledge Management

Gartner describes knowledge management as “a discipline promot(ing) an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving and sharing of an enterprise’s information assets.” Ola et al state, “The unprecedented growth of knowledge and information has affected all organizations including libraries.” Hence, adopting and adapting IS as a tool has transformed how knowledge management is currently deployed.

The “information explosion” has mushroomed knowledge in all disciplines and professions, leading to an unparalleled mass of data. Naturally, this progression poses immense challenges to librarians tasked with identifying, selecting, organizing, preserving, and propagating information in various formats.

While knowledge management has long been the purview of business, prevailing trends in librarianship now explicitly embrace improving library service for a knowledge economy. Roughly half of all ALA-accredited MLS programs offer a knowledge management concentration, also called “Informatics” by some schools.

Several subfields have emerged from the informatics discipline including community informatics, crisis informatics, health informatics, information retrieval, information architecture, and information access.

The curriculum of this specialization includes courses such as:

  • Behavior and Information Use 
  • Information System Design 
  • Human-Computer Interaction 
  • Database Design and Management 
  • Information Policy
  • Systems Analysis and Design
  • Social Media and Emerging Technologies
  • Advanced Web Design

Knowledge managers work in diverse jobs such as e-commerce specialists, information architects, web developers, database managers, information officers, biology/chemistry informaticists, and digital library specialists.

Law Librarianship/Legal Information Services

An ideal MLS concentration for an attorney or a paralegal, law librarianship is a particularly useful skill considering the importance of stare decisis — the doctrine of precedent — in legal matters. As legal information professionals, law librarians do many duties common to traditional librarians such as acquiring and organizing resource material (viz., statutes and case law) and aiding researchers (attorneys) in retrieving pertinent information. 

Legal librarians also review tax codes, patents, government documents, and special legal collections as well as foreign and international law. According to the University of Arizona, only about a third of law librarians have law degrees. 

Moreover, law librarians may assist the public in researching state or federal laws addressing estate planning, divorce, professional malpractice, or products liability.  Law librarianship is also found at the highest level of the federal government — the Law Library of Congress — which has over 2.9 million law books and legal resources as well as several digital collection librarian specialists on staff. 

Less than half of all ALA-accredited MLS programs offer this concentration, which includes courses such as:

  • Information Trust, Manipulation, and Deception 
  • Information Intermediation 
  • Social Justice in Information Services 
  • Leadership and the Information Organization 
  • Database Development and Management
  • Government Information: Policy & Resources 
  • User Interface and Website Design 
  • Managing the Information Organization 
  • Digital Curation and Digital Preservation  
  • Law Library Practice and Administration

Some professions open to MLS graduates with a law librarian concentration are legal library director (requires a JD), private law firm librarian, and correctional institute librarian. Other jobs include positions with courts at law, government departments and agencies, and corporations.

Management and Administration

Per Dominican University, an MLS Management and Administration concentration “prepares students for senior-level leadership and management roles in library and information centers.” This specialization is grounded in both theory and practice; it addresses organizational planning, communications, and marketing as well as facilities management, budgeting, and resource planning. 

Needless to say, library managers must possess robust leadership, organizational, and communication skills as well as a comprehensive awareness of budgeting methodologies. They must have intimate knowledge of all library resources, tools, and services.

While the ALA Directory claims over half of its accredited programs offer this concentration, due diligence reveals that less than half do. Alternate program names for this specialization include “Information Management and Technology,” “Leadership and Administration,” and “Library and Information Center Administration.” Courses include:

  • Organizational Analysis and Design
  • Leadership, Marketing, and Strategic Communication
  • Management of Libraries and Information Centers
  • Organizational and Multicultural Communication
  • Evidence-Based Planning, Management, and Decision-Making
  • Information-Seeking Behavior and Reference Services  
  • Management in Information Organizations
  • Research in Library and Information Science 
  • Collection Development

This concentration equips MLS graduates for positions like Special Collections Librarian, Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarian, Archival Project Manager, Web Project Manager, Preservation Projects Manager, Records Management Specialist, Digital Access and Metadata Librarian, Interactive Designer, Emerging Technologies Librarian, and User Experience (UX) and Usability Specialist.

Information Organization

Equipping MLS graduates for careers in archival organization, indexing, cataloging, and metadata work, this concentration (also known as “Bibliographic Control”) combines theory and practical knowledge for applications in business, government, and academics. 

While all librarians are detail-oriented, information organization librarians are (or should be) obsessed with how labeling and organizational methodologies facilitate access and use of data. As the information explosion continues, so do challenges in managing and accessing data, particularly in light of ongoing technological innovations and heightened user expectations. 

An ALA-accredited program (for example, Wayne State University) may offer sub-field specialization in this concentration, viz., Software Tools, Web-based Information Services, Health Informatics and Data Management, Data Analytics, and User Experience.

Most ALA-accredited MLS programs offer this concentration, which includes courses as:

  • Metadata and XML
  • Linked Data
  • Cataloging
  • Database Design and Management
  • Systems Analysis & Design/Project Management
  • Digital Collections & Curation
  • Digital Humanities Analytics

This specialization prepares students for careers in libraries, archives, museums, private corporations, government agencies, and other organizations as a cataloger, indexer, digital asset manager, metadata librarian, metadata specialist, technical services librarian, taxonomist, and ontologist information architect.

Public Librarianship

Another concentration training librarians for management positions, Public Librarianship aims to “build vital, resilient communities through their understanding of user needs, community partnerships, access to information and library services, and the legal and financial frameworks of public libraries.” 

As with other specializations, Public Librarianship mixes theory and application to serve specific communities and/or library systems. Public librarians recognize meaningful political, cultural, and social attributes of the communities they avail to deliver pertinent services and materials to specific stakeholders.

Indeed, public librarians daily juggle various responsibilities and needs as they strive to serve a diverse, multilingual user base. Their institutions must offer relevant programs such as child and literacy programs, computer and Internet access and training, local history and genealogy, informational and recreational reading, meeting facilities, and information referral, to mention but a few.

Most ALA-accredited programs offer this concentration, which has a notably wide range of core and elective courses. These include:

  • Methods and Tools for the Information Profession
  • Information Sources and Services
  • Acquisitions and Management of Knowledge and Information
  • Organization and Representation of Knowledge and Information
  • Public Library Management
  • Public Library Services
  • Resources and Services for People with Disabilities
  • Information Policy
  • Metadata
  • Digital Libraries
  • Information Architecture for the Web
  • Evaluation of Information Sources and Services
  • Topics in Library and Information Science (Makerspaces as Learning Environments)

This concentration leads to jobs like library director, public services librarian, adult services librarian, coordinator of library & information services, information services specialist, patron services manager, outreach coordinator, young adult coordinator, and children & young adult coordinator.

Records Management

Also known as Archives and Record Management (ARM), this concentration “provides students with the knowledge and skills required to work in archives, special collections, historical societies, records management units within organizations, and various other curatorial environments.” 

“Provenance, collection-arrangement arrangement, and attention to context” are the keystones of ARM, another sector of librarianship that has boomed along with the information explosion. According to the Society of American Archivists (SAA), ARM objectives include

  1. Protecting institutional resources across their use cycles
  2. Maximizing organizational information flows
  3. Establishing records management in organizational information resource planning and policies
  4. Ensuring satisfactory data collection, access, and retrieval

Note that ARM responsibilities and duties apply to various elements of information studies, such as information architectural design, systems development and maintenance, and standards development. Also, some ALA-accredited MLS programs separate records management from archival management.

FYI: records management deals with the creation and distribution of current records; archival management focuses on past records use (or how current records will be treated by future historians).

Less than half of all ALA-accredited MLS programs offer this concentration, which includes courses as:

  • Organization of Information
  • Principles of Archival Description
  • Resource Selection and Evaluation
  • Access, Outreach, and Public Service in Cultural Heritage Repositories
  • Electronic Records Management
  • Systems Analysis
  • Preservation of Library and Archive Materials
  • Digital Preservation and Access
  • Principles and Practices in Archival Description
  • Understanding Information Technology for Managing Digital Collections

MLS graduates with an ARM concentration work for disparate organizations such as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), New York’s Apollo Theater, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Nantucket Historical Association. Examples of positions include Metadata Specialist, (Digital) Archivist, Program Coordinator/Digital Collections Specialist, Project Cataloger, and Reference, Instruction and Digital Services Librarian. 

Reference and User Services

The ALA considers RUS to be part of the basic knowledge that all graduates from ALA-accredited MLS programs should have. The ALA defines RUS librarians as those “who assist, advise, and instruct users in accessing all forms of recorded knowledge.”

Other MLS specializations share many similarities with RUS, which focuses on evaluating, integrating, and retrieving accurate and pertinent organizational data, offering guidance in IS practice and knowledge, and demonstrating expertise in informational literacy. Those with a RUS concentration may further specialize in sub-fields like government information, business sources, or resources in social sciences or humanities.

RUS competencies “focus on the abilities, skills, and knowledge that make reference and user services unique from other professionals.” For a comprehensive description of RUS aptitudes, consult Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians and Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers.

While the ALA Directory claims that several accredited MLS programs offer this concentration, due diligence reveals that most schools that profess to do so in truth do not. Pratt University calls its RUS specialization “Research and Data.” A RUS concentration includes courses like:

  • Human Information Interactions
  • Information Resources and Services
  • Resource Selection and Evaluation
  • Organization of Information
  • Research Methods Overview
  • Management for Information Professionals
  • Information Retrieval
  • User Interface Design
  • Human Resources Management
  • Marketing of Information Services
  • Systems Analysis
  • Humanities and Social Science Information
  • Health Science Information
  • Government Documents
  • Business Information
  • Digital Libraries: Principles and Applications
  • Special Libraries and Knowledge Management
  • Digital Analytics: Web, Mobile, and Social Media
  • Audience Research & Evaluation

Practitioners with this concentration work in business settings, government agencies (including health science centers), university libraries and faculty associations, and municipal public libraries or “resource centers.” 

School Librarianship

School librarians, often referred to as “media specialists,” serve in school media centers helping faculty develop curriculum. The title of media specialist is an example of 21st-century nomenclature designating a particular type of librarian specializing in informational instruction.

The differences between a traditional public school librarian and a school media specialist are esoteric since the duties of both overlap considerably. Librarians/media specialists in sizable libraries typically focus on a single area of expertise like administrative services or user services. However, librarians in smaller institutions may be in charge of all facets of library operation.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Standards (BLS) lists a plentitude of duties of library media specialists. They include planning library budgets, training and supervising library support staff, researching acquisition of library equipment such as computer desktops, and establish and manage library databases. 

On the other hand, a “general” school librarian or “information specialist” performs “traditional” tasks such as organizing library materials for easy access, assist library users with research and reference materials, plan programs such as children’s storytimes, and select new library materials for purchase.

Some universities, like SUNY Buffalo and the University of Oklahoma (both ALA-accredited), offer an MS in School Librarianship. The ALA Directory indicates that most ALA-accredited MLS programs offer this concentration. Yet, due diligence reveals that some programs reputed to have a school librarianship specialization in truth do not.  Courses include:

  • Organization of Information
  • Information Sources and Services
  • Information Systems in Libraries and Information Centers
  • The Information Professions in Society
  • Cataloging and Classification
  • Collection Development and Management
  • Media Integration in the Curriculum
  • Design and Production of Multimedia
  • Media for Children
  • Media for Young Adults
  • Administration of School Library Media Programs

Examples of school librarians/media specialists include academic librarians, administrative services librarians, public librarians, school library media specialists, technical services librarians, and user services librarians. The niche also covers “special librarians,” who may be law librarians, corporate librarians, or medical librarians.

School Library Media

Refer to School Librarianship above. As of Fall 2021, only one ALA-accredited program (the University of Alabama) offered School Library Media as a “formal concentration”; all other UA “concentrations” are listed as “pathways.” 

Indeed, only two other ALA-accredited programs — the University of Iowa and the University of Puerto Rico —  offer School Library Media as a “certification.” Typically, a certification program is used as an endorsement for a public school teacher’s state licensure. 

Science Librarianship

See Health Science Librarianship above. The ALA Directory lists but a handful of accredited programs with this concentration; most of the schools the ALA cites as offering Science Librarianship (either as a standalone or as part of a Health Science Librarianship concentration) in truth do not.

Note that the University of Michigan School of Information (USMI) offers “Science, Technology, and Society” as a “research area.” UT Knoxville has a “Science Information” pathway; its courses “are not required or mandated.” The University of Toronto provides a “Human Centred Data Science” (HCDS) concentration with an MI degree.

Science Librarianship courses include:

  • Geospatial Technologies
  • Geographic Information in Information Sciences
  • Sources and Services for Science & Engineering
  • Government Information Sources
  • Advanced Information Retrieval
  • Scientific and Technical Communications
  • Environmental Informatics
  • Health Sciences Information Centers
  • Academic Libraries
  • Specialized Information Agencies and Services
  • Database Management Systems
  • Introduction to Data Analytics and Visualization

Educational institutions, museums, and corporations are typical work settings for librarians with this concentration.

Special Collections

Also known as Rare Books and Special Collections, this concentration develops specialized skills apart from those required by other research librarians. The ALA has a division devoted to this specialization — the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).

In 2001, a Special Collections Task Force assembled by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) identified specific skills and competencies unique to special collections librarians. These aptitudes include “language skills, basic knowledge of conservation principles and practice, familiarity with pertinent legal and ethical issues (such as appraisals, taxes, gifts, and copyright), knowledge of history of the book, specific subject expertise, (and) archival processing skill.”

Rare book librarians engage in several job duties like cataloging, instruction, preservation, collection development reference, and outreach. They may curate published media from both the machine-press and hand-press.

A Special Collections librarianship concentration is more than the domain of MLS students. “Early- to mid-career librarians and archivists seeking to move into curatorial roles as well as academics interested in pursuing curatorial careers in special collection and archival settings” may also pursue this specialization.

Less than half of all ALA-accredited MLS programs offer this specialization. Courses include:

  • Advanced Archival Principles, Practices and Services
  • Digital Libraries
  • Advanced Web Design
  • Metadata for Digital Resources
  • Digital Curation
  • History of the Text: Early Books and Manuscripts up to the Printing Press
  • Rare Book Cataloguing and Descriptive Bibliography
  • Reference and Instruction in Special Collections
  • Collecting and Managing Ephemera
  • Records and Information Management

This concentration leads to widely divergent careers including metadata specialist, rare book cataloger, archival processor, university archivist, conservator, digital collections specialist, and reader services librarian. Special Collections librarians may also serve as curators of medieval manuscripts, popular culture, graphic arts and photography, and Western Americana.

Corporate Librarianship

The demand for corporate librarians has soared in tandem with the information explosion. Perhaps the most diverse niche of librarianship in terms of jobs and careers, corporate librarians serve enterprises in every industry. 

Heard of a Footwear Materials Librarian? Nike has at least one. Intel, Ralph Lauren, Apple, Microsoft, and Google also have corporate librarians, albeit often without “librarian” in their job titles. While some may think corporate librarians are a relatively recent addition to enterprises, the need for specialized librarians serving businesses was first recognized in 1909 when the Special Libraries Association (SLA) was established. 

Working as a corporate librarian opens new and exciting pathways to careers most library students probably never considered while immersed in their course studies. In a sense, the duties of corporate librarians are similar to those of academic librarians — both provide reference services, cataloging, research assistance, program development, archiving, and information literacy to stakeholders. 

A corporate librarian may also interact with material vendors and other participants within a supply chain ecosystem or serve as the webmaster of a company’s website. It is no exaggeration to state that today’s technological advancements have paved pathways to trendy corporate librarian positions like information architect, knowledge engineer, web designer, and online publisher.

The key to MLS students seeking jobs within this broad specialization is to acquire the insight and flexibility needed to seize these job opportunities. The ALA directory claims that approximately half of ALA-accredited programs offer this concentration. Yet, again, due diligence indicates that most of these schools do not provide corporate librarianship specialization despite the growing demand for these niche librarians. Courses include:

  • Web Design and Construction for Organizations
  • Reference and Information Services
  • Collection Development
  • Administration and Management of Libraries and Information Centers
  • Use and Users of Information
  • Information Services for Diverse Users
  • Applied Business Research
  • Network Analysis
  • Information Consulting
  • Information Policy
  • Project Management
  • Competitive Intelligence and Knowledge Management

Many companies hire corporate librarians for temporary contract jobs. After a provisional interval, these gigs may lead to permanent employment. A recent survey of corporate library positions on indeed.com revealed job openings like Digital Asset Librarian (Under Armour), Business Information Resources Director (Rice University), and Library Services Solutions Architect (Iron Mountain).

Young Adult (YA) Services

Long a mainstay of public librarianship, young adult services address the educational, cultural, informational, and leisure needs of adolescents ranging from age 12 to 18, per the Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA).  

Since different public libraries serve diverse communities, YA librarians must identify and establish the needs and priorities of their specific stakeholders. When young adults acquire library skills, they tend to retain and use them as they go through their lives. 

Typically, YA librarians assist teens as they prepare for careers, college, and adulthood. These librarians deploy services and programs designed to build skills and knowledge needed for productive careers. Since YA librarians work with adolescents, they should be familiar with contemporary pop culture and exude high energy and enthusiasm when interacting with their patrons. 

YA librarians must be adept with both print and especially digital media resources. However, they should prioritize teens as individuals; information resources are a secondary focus in this specialization. 

Several ALA-accredited programs offer this concentration but not as many as the ALA Directory claims. Some programs may combine both children and YA services into a single specialization. Courses include:

  • Young Adult Library Services
  • Young Adult Literature
  • Multicultural Literature for Children & YA
  • Public Libraries
  • Collection Management
  • Digital Tools, Trends & Debates
  • Reference & Information Service
  • Pedagogical Theory and Practice for Informational Professionals
  • Information Architecture
  • Community Engagement
  • Reading Interests of Adults
  • Intellectual Freedom
  • Cataloging 
  • Metadata Standards
  • Management of Information Agencies
  • Information Ethics & Policy

Young Adult librarians work in middle and high schools, public libraries, government agencies, and universities. Job titles vary from YA Program Specialist to Youth Services Supervisor to Cataloguer.

Final Word

On the main, those opting to work as a librarian report high job and career satisfaction due to “the intrinsic rewards of the profession.” One librarian stated, “I loved the diversity of the tasks I got to perform, and I got to do it all… reference, cataloguing, outreach, project management, and archiving.” Another librarian said, “In the library, I have freedom of information and thought. I feel connected with the past, I can help people with their information needs at present (to) help them build their future.”

Career fields for librarians of all stripes have never been more accessible. MLS graduates have the training and skills to seize these opportunities. Good luck to you in your library career!