Masters in Library & Information Science Degree Programs Guide - 2022

AKA: MLS, MLIS, Masters in Library and Information Studies, Master of Librarianship, MBA/MLIS, MPA/MLIS, JD/MLIS, MREM/MLIS

Last Reviewed: August 24th, 2022

Information systems are only able to fulfill the purpose for their creation with the right set of skilled hands managing them. This is why the importance of trained and experienced professionals in running such systems and facilities cannot be played down. The duties of a professional librarian have grown past the traditional roles we used to know such as taking note of how books move on and off the shelves in the library. Professional librarians play key roles in the creation, generation, preservation, and regulation of information and knowledge that is relevant in different fields.

The minimum educational requirement for professional librarians regardless of their field of specialization is a master’s degree. In the United States, you need to have earned this degree by undergoing an accredited course in a regionally accredited institution of higher learning. It is expected that these courses provide you with the requisite training and skills to discharge your responsibilities accurately. Librarians are expected to be flexible and capable of implementing improved practices that are introduced in the management of media and technology. 

School and academic librarians are some of those in the most rapidly-changing environments and must be trained to be able to handle information properly and communicate productively with patrons and colleagues. If you are considering a career as a librarian, your interpersonal skills should be stellar. A librarian acts as a custodian of knowledge and must display a good level of understanding and the ability to help patrons of the library. You must be capable of communicating your thoughts and ideas orally and in written form. Also, innovation is a skill that makes librarians an invaluable asset to the institutions they work in. Putting this skill to use, they can implement programs that help library users get the best experience

What is Library and Information Science/Studies at the Master’s Level?

Library and Information Science degrees prepare librarians to select, compile, and manage information resources. The program is an interdisciplinary kind, borrowing tools from management, education, and information technology, among others. At the master’s level, these are focused on in more detail concerning the student’s potential specialization. Hence, if you expect to have a career as a school librarian, you want to take a program that majors in the competencies of a school librarian such as teaching and counseling school-aged children. 

When you earn a Master’s in Library and Information Science (MLIS) or an equivalent degree, from an accredited institution, the necessary competencies and core values for service in your chosen field will be instilled in you. You will be able to provide a suitable environment for users to acquire relevant knowledge as it applies to them. Values that should be stressed in an MLIS or equivalent degree includes access to information and materials without discrimination, privacy, community, intellectual freedom, preservation and heritage, respect for human rights among others. With the right values instilled in a librarian through training, it is expected that the execution of their job will result in numerous benefits for library users and the community at large.

Main Things to Pay Attention to When Exploring MLIS Programs

Professional librarians are required to have an MLIS or an equivalent degree. Different institutions give different names to the degrees they offer such as Master of Information, Master of Library Science, Master of Librarianship, Master of Arts, and others as are appropriate. This variation is just one of the many that exist in these programs from institution to institution. However, the fundamental competencies that these programs confer on participants are all similarly expected to enable successful participants to serve as professional librarians. 

There are many factors that you should consider when choosing an MLIS or equivalent program to enroll in. Some of which include your desired area of practice, the enrollment requirements of the institution, the curriculum, and accreditation. When the concept of specialization for employment is put in view, it becomes clearer that it is in your best interest that you take the right program for your desired career path. 

Accreditation

Professional librarians are required to have completed an MLIS or equivalent program that has been accredited by the American Library Association (ALA) in a regionally accredited institution. The institution’s regional accreditation is usually a prerequisite for the program accreditation. There are 67 ALA-accredited courses in 63 institutions across the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. If you are considering practicing as a professional librarian in the US and do not have a master’s yet, you want to check the ALA website for ALA-accredited programs.

Financial Concerns

Another thing you want to look out for when exploring MLIS programs is the school tuition and fees. For information about tuition, health insurance, accommodation, and other financial factors that may affect your schooling, you will want to contact the school directly. You can also speak to students, staff members, and alumni. These are also great sources of information about the coursework and how to make the best of the schooling experience. Also, note that there are scholarship and grant opportunities for students who cannot handle the financial implications of these programs. The ALA has scholarship programs that you can learn more about on their website. There is also a directory of potential sources of financial assistance for students, assistants, and fellows, see here

If you fail to do your due diligence while researching the financial burden of your training, you might end up with a huge debt with monthly payments to cover student loans for years after graduation.

Online or Onsite Training

Finally, you want to know what options your desired institution of higher education offers concerning the mode of schooling. Online and onsite learning each have their benefits and disadvantages. On-site training offers access to other facilities like the library in addition to live interactions with classmates in and out of class. Although on-site programs might be more expensive when living expenses and payment for other facilities come into view; however, more people prefer the organized atmosphere that it provides. 

Online programs are more flexible and are a great fit for you if you are employed or occupied with some other activities that prevent you from being fully available at an on-site program. If an online program is your preferred choice, you can search for online or distance learning programs here. Learn more about things to consider when choosing an MLIS degree program here.

Common MLIS Courses

Different institutions have their variant of an MLIS degree program which is named by the governing council of the institution. These programs are set up to help prepare professional librarians for the tasks that they will be required to handle. Hence, there are a lot of similarities in the framework of the programs. In this section, we explore some of the similarities that you can expect to see in accredited programs at accredited institutions.

Library System and Infrastructure

Students are usually introduced to the different kinds of libraries that are available and this might set the tone for career-defining decisions such as specialization. These differences will enable students to understand the differences between school, public, academic, and special libraries and why each of them is important. Librarians are expected to be an authority when it comes to the systems at play in these facilities. They are expected to be conversant with different techniques of selecting for inclusion and reviewing available material in the library based on their relevance and usefulness in current times. This is necessary as you will be required to handle tasks related to the evaluation, selection, purchasing, processing, storage, and deselection of information resources.

Librarians are expected to be conversant with the lifecycle of information resources from conception to actualization, use, and dispossession when they are no longer relevant. These programs should equip students with such competencies as well as enable them to identify, assess, and evaluate new technological products that may positively affect the user experience at the facility. Librarians must be capable of verifying the claims made by an information resource as well as cataloging resources properly to enable users to find them easily. Learn more about this in sections 2-5 on the ALA website.

Library Leadership and Management

A professional librarian is a leader; giving direction to the flow of resources in the library. Hence, you should be exposed to the concept and put on projects that help you hone this skill during your training. For example, librarians are expected to be capable of using current and past trends to develop areas that require more of the library’s financial resources. Your program should expose you to pointers to look out for when sourcing credible information resources and how to present facts that buttress the credibility of these materials.

As a professional librarian, your communication skills have to be adequate as you will be required to communicate with library users as well as fellow staff members. Your ability to state your position and ideas in clear and concise terms that ensure that your message is received as intended is invaluable, as you will be interacting with people of various ages and from various backgrounds. You will also be required to apply information, communication, assistive, and related technology and tools towards the fulfillment of your professional obligations. Finally, these programs equip participants with the necessary budgeting, human resource management/development, and networking skills which are essential for transformational leadership. Learn more about this in sections 4, 5, and 8 on the ALA website.

Social and Ethical Issues in Information

Librarians occupy an important position in the circulation of information in a way that is fair and beneficial to all. This is why they must be equipped to handle social and ethical issues with precision and understanding. Hence, the MLIS and equivalent programs provide students with knowledge about the history of libraries and librarianship; helping them identify how they can make positive contributions. These also help librarians understand the foundational principles, ethics, and values of the library and information profession.

An understanding of the nation’s legal framework bordering the library and information profession is also key. Librarians must know about the provisions of the law concerning equality, copyright, freedom of expression, privacy, and intellectual property. The library should serve as a knowledge resource for users on prevalent social, political, economic, public, and cultural trends which are related to the practice as well as those that affect users. 

You will be introduced to the concept of advocacy and how it can be leveraged as a tool for improving libraries and the working conditions of librarians and other staff members. Librarians must be able to present an unbiased view and in the interest of all users concerning important issues.

Information Research, Assessment, and Design

The library and information practice that we see today is a product of research and modifications over the years. Therefore, it makes sense that professional librarians today are equipped with the right skills to discover new and improved techniques that affect the library user experience positively. During MLIS and equivalent programs, participants are exposed to various quantitative and qualitative research techniques that have led to the discovery of some of the systems and processes that are currently at play in the library and information industry. They are also enlightened on how to interpret results and weigh in on the value of research carried out and how to apply the findings. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) provides useful resources on these.

The concept of continuing education cannot be overemphasized in a professional librarian’s career. There’s always more to be learned and more to be given at any level. Thankfully, professional development exploits are used as requirements for processing renewals and promotions in various institutions. Librarians must be equipped to use the assessment of diversity in users’ needs and preferences to design programs that accommodate and serve everyone adequately. Since libraries are relevant for continuing education and life-long learning for their patrons, professional librarians must also be equipped to help them achieve their aims concerning these. Librarians can take advantage of continuing education resources provided by the American Librarian Association (ALA) or other librarian associations in their states.

Specialization and Dual Programs

The possible practice options for holders of an MLIS or an equivalent degree are numerous as the skills of librarians and information specialists are useful in different fields. Accredited programs usually instill some generally required skills in all students however, there are provisions for dual programs in which the participant obtains two degrees after completing the program in a shorter time than they otherwise would have. Some programs emphasize the skills required to function in certain aspects of the library profession.

School Librarianship Specialization

An MLIS with a focus on school librarianship is an option available in some accredited institutions. This program emphasizes the skills that make an information specialist relevant in elementary and secondary school spaces. This program is usually done by licensed teachers in a given state who seek to add the “library media specialist” endorsement to their license. Their coursework will be spread evenly to accommodate their schedule. Also, students who are not yet licensed teachers can opt to take this program. In their case, they will have a fuller coursework structure. This is understandable as they usually do not have the exposure that licensed teachers have.

These programs equip prospective information professionals with knowledge, skills, and experience through projects and internships. It is normal to find participants having about a year’s worth of teaching experience, supervised and unsupervised. If you have plans of becoming a school librarian in the future, this is an option you would probably go with.

MLIS/MBA

A Master of Library and Information Science/ Master of Business Administration dual degree is one of the newer variants of this program. This is a great degree option if your career choice will require you to demonstrate the competencies required in managing business operations in addition to information management. It is wise to explore your options by discussing them with a guidance counselor. You want to understand what the requirements for enrollment are, the course duration, and the nature of the course work. Such a dual degree should be completed in about three years.

You have a wide range of options for your dissertation including issues about ethics and accessibility of learning materials to library materials. Holders of this dual master’s can have a career as a library manager where their librarianship and leadership skills are put to work to ensure that patrons get the best experience. They will also do well as art gallery managers, cataloging and monetizing beautiful creations by artists from all over the world.

MLIS/MS 

A Master of Library and Information Science combined with a Master of Science degree in STEM courses such as biology, chemistry, engineering, computer science, geology, physics, mathematics, and the like is also one of the newer combinations. This was birthed from the need for a more dynamic librarian population. If you are considering a career in corporate research centers, corporate IT, academia, and specific science libraries, this is a great fit for you. Note that as with all dual degree programs, you must be accepted into the separate programs by the faculties involved.

With these degrees, you can go full-time into academia, putting your communication and analytical skills to use. Your teaching is bound to be more wholesome as you will be able to share helpful resources and information sources with your students. These skills also make you a great fit for a research outfit. Here you can qualitatively and quantitatively analyze different variables to produce relevant results.

MLIS/JD

A master’s in library science, as well as a law degree, is important for people who seek to have a career as a law librarian. Working in such environments requires you to be familiar with the language and concepts. These programs can be completed anywhere from three to four years depending on the institution. You will receive training from both faculties which will enable you to work in law libraries and research outfits among others. 

A combined degree in information and law gives you an edge on the understanding of copyright, licensing, and human resources management. If working in a law library is not appealing to you, you can venture into government and political research.

MLIS/MPA

Librarians can often find a master’s in Public Administration to be very helpful for librarians seeking to build a career in the public market. The economy has become heavily dependent on information and the ability to manage and take advantage of these has become a necessary skill. This dual program should be completed within three years with the first year usually being dedicated to either of the degrees. Applicants must meet the requirements for admission into both departments involved.

This dual degree is a great fit for a public librarian. Public libraries serve the largest and most diverse populations concerning age, discipline, and position on the economic ladder. Hence, a public librarian must be capable of putting together and managing a system that serves these patrons adequately. Such a job places a serious demand on leadership skills that this program will confer via a practicum and an internship.

MLIS/MREM

This dual program when completed bestows the award of Master of Library and Information Science and Master of Resource and Environmental Management. This is a good fit for you if you are concerned about sourcing and managing information about natural resources and how to use them judiciously.

After completing a program such as this, your managerial skills will be useful in private and public organizations. You should be equipped to get more done with the resources made available to you. You can be an Environment-related Information Manager; compiling relevant resources to educate people about natural phenomena, global warming, and sustainable living, for example.