What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Library Science Program?

Online master’s in library science (MLS) programs offer an excellent way to gain the necessary technical skills to work as a librarian in the digital age. An online format is convenient for individuals currently working in a library with plans to advance their careers and for those who don’t have access to on-campus MLS programs in their area. Remember that when looking for an online MLS program, it’s essential to research and find the right option for your specific needs and goals.

Available concentrations

If you know what role you would like to have in the library science field, look for programs that allow you to focus on that specialty. Some of the most common concentration options for online MLS programs include:

  • Public Librarian: Develops graduates for careers in nonprofit libraries funded by the government, with training in designing outreach programs, organizing events, and providing services for adult readers.
  • Law Librarian: Trains graduates to work in the legal field and is ideal for those who plan to earn a Juris Doctorate (JD) degree in addition to their MLS.
  • Academic Librarian: Equips professionals to work in a school or university system to support students and faculty members.
  • Archival Studies: Reviews how to manage records and archives. Students will become familiar with various information storage methods and how to address the challenges of archiving records.
  • Youth Services: Prepares individuals to work with young adults and children, covering how to effectively engage children and current childhood reading trends.

Common degree curriculum

Your curriculum will depend on which school you attend and whether you choose a concentration or a more general program. That said, there are a few standard courses included in most MLS programs, such as:

  • Library Science: Focuses on the core skills all librarians need to collect, manage, and distribute information.
  • Library Management: Helps individuals recognize and develop their leadership abilities.
  • Fundamentals of Information Science: Reviews how to develop the skills needed to work in the information technology industry.
  • Foundations of Librarianship: Covers how to use library resources to research a specific topic effectively.

Certification and license preparation

Depending on which library science jobs you would like to pursue, you may need to earn a license or certification in addition to your MLS degree. Some of the most common certification programs for this field include:

  • School Librarian Certification: Most states require those with a master’s degree to obtain state licensure to become a school librarian, which requires a passing grade on the Praxis Library Media Specialist test. Certification carries over from state to state and is sponsored by the American Association of School Libraries.
  • Certified Public Library Administrator Program: Individuals with at least three years of supervisory experience in a public library may apply for the CPLA certification, which is sponsored by the American Library Association. This certification will allow you to improve your career opportunities within the library system.
  • Library Support Staff Certification: Also sponsored by the American Library Association, this certification allows support staff to demonstrate their competencies to become a Certified Library Support Staff (CLSS) member. The certificate provides an advantage for job promotions, proof of past achievements, and respect within the library community.

Program accreditation

Most jobs in this field require you to graduate from a master’s degree program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). The program must undergo a rigorous review to ensure it meets the ALA’s standards for mission, objective, goals, administration, staff, and student outcomes to earn this accreditation.

Program completion timeframe

Online master’s in library or information science programs typically require 36 to 48 credit hours of coursework, which takes most full-time students about two years to complete, and part-time students may need three or more years to finish the program.

The program’s structure can also affect the amount of time it takes. For example, the cohort model focuses on peer interaction and offers admission twice a year. All students who start together follow a fixed study plan and graduate together.

There are also rolling admissions programs available, which admit students year-round. Individuals work at their own pace and can even take time off from coursework when necessary.

Some programs require an internship or fieldwork. You may also need to write a thesis or complete a capstone project to graduate.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Library Science Graduates

Typically, a master’s degree is required for entry-level jobs as a librarian and related occupations such as archivist and curator.

Those want to earn a high salary may want to consider another profession, as library science workers make about $50,000 to $65,000 annually. Lucrative opportunities are available, though — the top 10% of librarians make more than $98,650.

This field is expected to see solid job growth, which means getting hired or earning promotions shouldn’t be too difficult. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of jobs in the country is expected to grow by 3% over the next decade. Library science occupations are expected to grow by at least this rate, if not faster.

Job Title Job Description Median Yearly Salary Projected Growth Rate (2022 – 2032)
Archivist Archivists work in museums, historical sites, government agencies, and universities to help appraise, process, catalog, and preserve historical records. They often help curators restore objects and documents for exhibits as well. $53,420 10%
Media Collections Specialist Media collections specialists maintain libraries of various informational materials, including film, audio, and databases. They may also be responsible for setting up and maintaining an organization’s media equipment. $64,770 N/A
Librarians Librarians work in K-12 schools, universities, and public libraries. They help patrons locate books, order new media for the library, and organize events. $61,660 3%

Professional organizations

Professional organizations provide networking opportunities and foster a sense of community within an industry. Organizations for those with a master’s in library science give exposure to changing technological advancements and offer educational opportunities to help enhance your professional skills. Consider these top organizations for those who hold an MLS degree:

  • American Library Association: The ALA is the world’s oldest and largest library association. It provides news, holds events, and advocates for its members.
  • American Association of Law Libraries: Founded in 1906, the American Association of Law Libraries seeks to enhance the value of law libraries to both the legal and public communities. It also promotes the importance of the legal information field and how it pertains to law.
  • Association of College and Research Libraries: A division of the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries is an organization for academic librarians in universities and colleges. Its goal is to improve learning, teaching, and research at the higher education level.

You can find an additional list of professional organizations for those with an MLS at USC Libraries.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Library Science Degree

Online master’s in library science programs are usually more affordable than on-campus programs. Despite this, many students still require financial assistance to pay for their education. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA, which provides information on grants and loans available through the federal government. Many private loans, granst, and scholarship programs are also available to those interested in a master’s in library science.

Student Finance Resources and Guides

With all the different financing options available, it can be challenging to figure out what you should do after submitting your FAFSA. The resources listed below can give you some direction and help you significantly reduce the cost of your MLS degree.

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Interested in a degree?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.