Master’s in Library and Information Sciences

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Updated on September 6, 2023
Emily Rapoza

Written by Emily Rapoza

MLIS – University of Wisconsin | Director of Library and Archives

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A Master’s in Library Science (MLS) or a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences (MLIS) are degrees most commonly associated with work in libraries, archives, and museums, as well as a variety of other vocations. These master’s level degrees provide more in-depth and hands-on learning opportunities for people looking to work as librarians, archivists, catalogers, and information specialists in an assortment of other careers. In looking at a variety of different types of library science degree programs, it is important to focus on what exactly you are wanting to do after you receive the degree. 

For example, someone wanting to work in university archives would not take the same courses (or even be in the same program) as someone wanting to learn how to be a children’s librarian. And both of these programs would differ heavily from someone working in cataloging government documents. It is important to look at application requirements, program offerings, graduation expectations, as well as learning opportunities when deciding which library science program is right for you. 


  • Top-Ranked MLIS Program
  • ALA-Accredited
  • Complete in 18 Months

Syracuse University

Master of Science in Library and Information Science Online

Syracuse University offers an online MS in Library and Information Science. The program can be completed in 18 months and includes the option to specialize in School Media. No GRE is required.*

  • ALA-Accredited Program
  • Top Faculty & Support
  • No GRE Required

University of Denver

Master of Library and Information Science Online

University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education offers an online, ALA-accredited Master of Library and Information Science program. Learn from practitioners and gain the service-based skills needed to connect communities with information in the digital age. No GRE is required.*

  • Become a Literacy Leader
  • Top 10 M.Ed. Program
  • 100% Online

Arizona State University

Master of Arts in Education Online, Literacy Education Concentration

The Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in literacy education will equip you to be a literacy leader in any educational setting.*

What’s the difference between a Master’s in Library Science (MLS) and a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences (MLIS)?

Essentially, MLS and MLIS programs are the same. With the growth in technology and information over the past few decades, some programs have decided to add additional course offerings that focus on information and technology. This has resulted in an updated name change to programs because they want to accurately reflect that they are providing education on libraries and information. The MLS is simply considered the “older” of the two-degree classifications and may offer fewer information, data, and technology courses as a newer MLIS program. In general, however, there is little to no difference between those who graduate with an MLS versus an MLIS

Online Masters in Library Science Programs

With a variety of changes happening in higher education, there are also more offerings online than there have been in years past for those wanting a library science degree. Online programs may be completely virtual, like the University of Kentucky’s MLIS program or Indiana University’s MLIS program while others may offer hybrid learning with some of the education being received online through lectures, discussion boards, and in-person classes. Some universities, like the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s MLIS program, offer all courses online through a portal but it requires that online students all meet for a week, in-person, on-campus to meet with fellow cohorts and professors before the semester begins. 

What To Look For When Researching MLIS Programs

Deciding what type of MLS/MLIS program is a right fit for you will help in determining what courses you’re willing to take as well as what options may not be available. For example, some archiving and special collections courses are only offered in-person through an MLS/MLIS program, which makes online students either have to alternate to in-person learning or may require some out-of-the-box thinking to work in a valuable internship that will satisfy the requirements of the in-person course. Regardless of which avenue you decide to go down, reach out to MLS/MLIS program staff, professors, and administrators to make sure your plans align with what each program can offer, and do that before you commit to a specific degree.

What are ALA Accredited MLS/MLIS Programs?

Accredited library science degree programs are those which have undergone extensive review and passed the American Library Association’s (ALA) requirements for accreditation. ALA continually updates and reviews library science programs to make sure that they are maintaining approved standards, processes, policies, and procedures that have been predetermined by the Council of the American Library Association. 

There are over 60 ALA-accredited programs in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, and these programs include in-person, online, and hybrid programs. Accreditation is important because most careers in the library and information arenas do require that a library degree be accredited by the ALA and, in some instances, will not recognize a non-accredited degree. 

For a full up-to-date list of ALA accredited Masters in Library Science programs, check out the current directory database:

Standard Curriculum in an MLS or MLIS Program

MLS/MLIS programs offer a variety of different types of education. Much like undergraduate degrees, there are a variety of required courses that focus on general information-related topics. As you continue through a program, these courses get more and more specific with their topics. Each library science program will list out required courses as well as prerequisites and then will allow for a certain number of electives to round out your education in the program.

Most MLS/MLIS programs are made up of 36-42 credits. The total number of credits depends on which courses are required and how long the degree is anticipated to take. Courses can range from 1-3 credits normally, with some larger classes, like capstone projects or thesis, resulting in 3+ credits. An average load for students is 1-2 courses per semester and some may require summer semester courses to be taken to complete the degree in a shorter amount of time.

Every program has a generalized “Library Science” course to get everyone on the same page about not only the MLS/MLIS program but also the field in general. Another generally required course focuses on research, reference, and information mining. These skills help to build out expectations for finding and obtaining information, as well as vetting and presenting it. Cataloging and Collection Development are also usually required courses. Even for students not interested in these topics, most MLS/MLIS programs require a cataloging proficiency to finish the degree. Some may also require the creation of a Collection Development plan to show how items are added to library collections (as well as other types of collections outside of libraries). These required classes lay the foundation for understanding what it means to work in information sciences.

Beyond the required tier of MLS/MLIS courses, every program will allow for a selection of elective classes to be taken. As mentioned above, there may be wait times in-between courses, so unlike required courses which generally are offered at least once a year, some electives may only be offered every other year or every 3rd semester. Electives are the opportunity to customize your library science learning experience. 

Elective courses can range from archives and special collections to library management to children’s literature and far beyond. Electives also offer the opportunity to grow skills that were established in the required library science courses. Advanced cataloging, finding specific sources for researchers, books and paper repair, and even technology and online database research are all types of electives offered in MLS/MLIS programs. Choosing a variety of these courses helps to round out your library science program as well as focus on the topics that you find interesting.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Library Science Master’s Program?

MLS/MLIS degrees tend to last between 2-4 years in total, but generally, programs need to be finished within 6 years before courses need to be retaken. Because the field of library science is growing rapidly with advancements in technology, it is no surprise that programs want to keep their information updated and fresh, so if a student can’t complete the degree in a set number of years or semesters, they may need to redo courses to get more updated information.

Some universities offer schedule plans allowing students to take half a course load (generally 1-2 classes or 3-6 credits) per semester. This allows students to continue working while they achieve their MLS/MLIS. It may also allow them to focus more on the course load, unlike a bachelor’s degree in library science which can also require general education credits and a variety of unrelated courses. 

The length of a program may also depend on when certain courses are offered. Because professors in MLS/MLIS programs generally teach on a variety of topics, you may likely have to wait a semester or more to take a class to either meet a requirement or because you’re genuinely interested in the topic. This is why checking course catalogs and even dialoguing with professors in the library science programs is so valuable- they can help you plan out exactly what your time in a library science program will look like, down to the classes you’ll take each semester.

Internship Requirements for Completing a Masters in Library Science

Most MLS/MLIS programs do require some type of internship along with their program, though not all do. It’s important to check all the requirements of a program before you start so you aren’t surprised by an internship requirement or a presentation expectation. Most library science programs do help situate their students in internships, though with the growth of online opportunities and programs, it is not uncommon to need to find your internship if you’re a distance learning student. 

Internships usually allow for credit hours beyond the classroom to apply for graduation and create opportunities for students to shadow someone working in their desired library science field as well as chances to get hands-on experience with materials and situations that they may be faced with in their careers. The internship also offers the opportunity for students to hone in on exactly what they are wanting to do and get to see first-hand what the jobs require and what continued education they may need (either from their library science program or beyond). Generally, internships end with a variety of elements: journal entries, project plans, supervisor comments and ratings, presentations, surveys, and analysis of the internship as a whole. For most students, internships are the most valuable part of an MLS/MLIS because of the direct knowledge and experience that they offer and because they are incredibly helpful in locating a job after completion of the library science program.

Masters in Library Science Capstones and Final Projects

MLS/MLIS programs also usually require a final portfolio and certain learning objectives to have been understood and “completed.” Some programs require online websites that break down the learning objectives into pages and require the students to upload work that shows an understanding of the library science principle. Some programs require a presentation that shows learning objectives that were understood and learned throughout coursework and internships. Others may ask for a capstone written report that highlights all the program requirements with learned examples from the program. Each library science degree program is unique in how they assess student understanding and success, so it is also important to look at end-of-program requirements and make sure the expectations are helpful to you in your chosen line of focus.

Getting the Most Out of Multiple Library Science Degree Programs

With the growth of online and hybrid library science programs, it is not unusual to find MLS/MLIS programs that allow for “course sharing.” Some universities have come together to form opportunities for students to attend classes from other MLS/MLIS programs outside of their school. These information swaps allow for universities that have specific elective courses to offer training outside of just their students. For example, the University of Pittsburgh’s online MLIS is in a consortium agreement with other universities that allows its students to participate in electives outside of their normal courses at UPitt, but they don’t have to apply to the other programs or pay additional tuition. These internal knowledge exchanges result in more opportunities and more credits for students. 

Ultimately, after a decision is made about the career path you’re wanting to focus on, you can then go searching for a program that meets those needs. But what if you’re not sure what you want to do? Library Science programs are an excellent opportunity to learn about all the different possibilities in the field, try them out, and then make a choice. Along with engaging a mentor or a grad school program advisor, you can take the first semester or two to learn about what you like in the MLS/MLIS field, and then you can tailor the rest of your courses to reflect that interest. It’s also not unusual to enter into a library science program wanting to be a librarian and leave as a librarian with a specialized focus (or leave not as a librarian at all!). Your program should help to propel you towards what you want to do in a career.  

What Are The Standard Entrance Requirements to Enroll in an MLS/MLIS program?

In looking to apply to an MLS/MLIS degree program, there are generally a few standard requirements. As it is important to check course offerings to make sure the program fits your interests, it is also important to check all requirements for each specific program because they can vary a bit.

Bachelor’s Degree – For most MLS/MLIS programs, there is a requirement that applicants have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Some prestigious programs may require a bachelor’s in a specific field, like Library Science, History, or English, while other library science programs may accept applicants with only an associate’s degree or relevant work experience. Check these requirements before you apply to a  program to ensure that you have the necessary educational requirements and if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to the library science program’s admissions office to discuss potential options that may apply to your situation.

It is also not unusual for students to return to an MLS/MLIS program to get their second degree. Some specialized positions, like subject matter librarians or specific types of archivists, may already have degrees in English or History. Students may also have degrees in unrelated areas like finance or business and they are acquiring library science degrees for a career change or because they want to work in the library science field with their other degrees/experiences. 

Application– To be accepted into an MLS/MLIS program, you have to submit an application to their graduate school with your intentions. These applications can cover a lot of items including personal information, education history/additional degrees, and job history. Most applications contain a variety of short and long-form writing prompts that tend to center around why you want to obtain the degree and why you are a good candidate for the specific program and school. Applications may also ask about ethnicity, income, and other social factors, both to help with growing diverse student populations and to help with potential scholarships or funding. Applications usually require transcripts from any other schools you’ve attended and sometimes do have a fee that helps process the packet of application. Specific schools may require other elements, so be sure to reach through the application requirements carefully.

Transcripts– Because you are looking to apply to a  level program in either library sciences or library information sciences, it is important that you have undergraduate or associate degree transcripts handy. Some programs require transcripts to be sent directly from your institution to their application officers, while others may allow you to mail in sealed copies of your transcript. It is also not unusual for a program to allow for an unofficial transcript to be either emailed or mailed in, with the understanding that acceptance to the library science program will require an official transcript provided by your previously-attended institution. 

To obtain these transcripts, you can usually contact the bursar’s office or the office of transcripts at your previous institution and make a request. There is generally a fee involved in this transfer, though some universities waive these fees for a period of time after a student graduates, which allows transcripts to be physically obtained (sealed) or emailed to a variety of programs without cost. 

Personal Statement– It is not unusual to see a personal statement section in an application for an MLS/MLIS program. The personal statement is an opportunity for an application to give greater insight into their education and work experience. It helps to explain why you would benefit from a  program and why you would also benefit from their program. With screening boards for applicants, the personal statement section is the opportunity to make yourself stand out amongst other applications and show why you are the perfect fit and what you plan on doing with your received degree.

For example, a student applying to San José State University School of Information may know that they want to focus on data mining and integration. They could highlight their experience with datasets and express their desire to help change the way data is mined and utilized to help avoid biases in research. Or a student could be applying to be a children’s librarian at St. John’s University because they had an experience with a children’s librarian that changed their life and made them love books and reading. They could focus on wanting to repeat that interaction with children and continuing to inspire students in low-income areas that might not have opportunities to utilize their local libraries. 

GRE and Other Testing Requirements: Some MLS/MLIS programs do require certain tests to be accepted into their programs. The most common is the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) which assesses a variety of skills that can be used in the admissions process to determine whether a student is an acceptable fit or not. These tests are offered at a variety of locations, including universities and libraries, and there is generally a cost to take the exam. As far as end results are concerned, each MLS/MLIS program that does require the GRE may require different overall scores. The test is separated into parts (English, Writing, Math, Science) and certain library science programs may only focus on select scores, rather than the overall outcome. 

Some schools may also look at other tests, including ACT and SAT scores, as well as GPA, especially if applicants are allowed to apply with associate degrees. As always, be sure to check each MLS/MLIS program’s requirements as you prepare to send in your application.

In looking to apply to MLS/MLIS programs, it is important to find a program that fits your needs and your career aspirations. Finding the right fit is the first step in the process. The next step is getting accepted to the program with all the required information for an application. And the final step is setting up a roadmap of courses and internships and experiences that help fulfill your education requirements as well as those of the library science program. By doing these three steps, you’ll be on your way to finding a career in library and information sciences.


  • Top-Ranked MLIS Program
  • ALA-Accredited
  • Complete in 18 Months

Syracuse University

Master of Science in Library and Information Science Online

Syracuse University offers an online MS in Library and Information Science. The program can be completed in 18 months and includes the option to specialize in School Media. No GRE is required.*

  • ALA-Accredited Program
  • Top Faculty & Support
  • No GRE Required

University of Denver

Master of Library and Information Science Online

University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education offers an online, ALA-accredited Master of Library and Information Science program. Learn from practitioners and gain the service-based skills needed to connect communities with information in the digital age. No GRE is required.*

  • Become a Literacy Leader
  • Top 10 M.Ed. Program
  • 100% Online

Arizona State University

Master of Arts in Education Online, Literacy Education Concentration

The Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in literacy education will equip you to be a literacy leader in any educational setting.*

Career Opportunities for Masters in Library Science Graduates

There are a variety of career paths that can be followed when obtaining an MLS/MLIS degree. Some jobs are obvious, like becoming a librarian or working within a library system, while others focus on the organizational skills and experience that a library science degree can offer, like data processors or taxonomists. The library science degree provides an overarching education centered around information and how best to utilize systems to organize and access that information. Some jobs that MLS/MLIS degrees can offer:

  • Children’s Librarian
  • Teen Librarian
  • Adult Librarian
  • Rare Books Librarian
  • Law Librarian
  • Corporate Librarian
  • Government Document Specialist/Librarian
  • Archivist
  • University Archivist
  • Archives and Special Collections Archivist
  • Processing Archivist
  • Cataloger
  • Specialized Subject Cataloger
  • Library Administrator
  • Record Management Specialist/Librarian
  • Information Data Specialist
  • Taxonomist
  • Museum Curator
  • Museum Archivist
  • Accession Manager

All of these jobs, and countless others, can use the knowledge gained from a library science program to help hone functional skills. In order to get the most out of a specific library science program, the right courses and experiences need to be selected to build the perfect roadmap to your dream job.

Career Outlook for MLS/MLIS Graduates

Librarians and Library Media Specialists:

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of library sciences is expected to continue growing at an average rate overall. Employment of librarians and library specialists is projected to grow by around 6% from 2021-2031 (5% is the national average of all jobs in the U.S.). Yet, archivists, curators, and museum workers’ job outlook from 2021-2031 grows much faster at 12%. Many of these expected job opportunities stem from new roles being created in archives and museums, as well as older members of the workforce retiring. Overall, the information and library career jobs are growing at the national average growth rate at a minimum. 

Just like the anticipated job outlook, the average salaries for those with MLS/MLIS degrees can vary widely based on the specific career choice as well as the location in which they are wanting to work. Librarians and library specialists make, on average in the US in 2021, $61,190 per year while archivists, curators, and museum workers make an average of $50,120 per year. A librarian in Illinois makes $60,910 on average per year, while a librarian in California makes an average of $80,740 per year. It is also not unusual to see specialized positions (advanced subject knowledge, prior degrees, teaching certifications) to increase the overall wages for someone in the library science field. 

The most up-to-date information about salaries and career outlook can be found at

Continued Education After An MLS/MLIS Degree

After an MLS/MLIS degree is obtained there are a few opportunities to continue learning and adding to your knowledge base. Continuing education courses are offered by many ALA-accredited programs and allow MLS/MLIS degree holders to stay up-to-date on requirements and changes in the information fields. Some jobs may require updates to a degree after so many years in order to keep new ideas and new trends in the field fresh.

Other opportunities can be obtained in order to learn more, make yourself more competitive in the job market, and to qualify for higher-paying positions. Besides continued education, MLS/MLIS degree holders that focused in archives can apply to become a Certified Archivist. These certificate programs are offered through ALA and are a much more rigorous program that requires learning and passing a test to earn the title. 

Certified programs exist to help those already in the field the opportunity to grow their skill sets and advance in their professional careers. These programs include two options: “Digital Archives Specialist Certificate,” “Arrangement & Description Certificate,” both of which are highly respected in the archives community as a type of advanced education beyond an MLS/MLIS degree.

Certified Librarian Requirements

Much like continued education is required for teacher’s licenses in the U.S., librarians can expect strict expectations when becoming certified. Certification is most commonly found in public library systems. Generally, a librarian is required to obtain a certain amount of learning units or hours of training to keep their knowledge base fresh and updated on trends in the field. These requirements vary based on job titles and a library system’s expectations, but usually between 50-100 hours of continued education units need to be earned per year for a system to maintain compliance with ALA. Failure to do this can result in a library system being fined for not maintaining certified librarians.

Depending on the status of a librarian’s degree, permits can be offered rather than full certification which allows for usually a year to get 25-50 learning credits. There are also different levels of certifications that are based on the size of the library, the degree level of the librarian, and if they are in an administrative or manager position. Each state has its own requirements for certification and compliance.

It is important to note that for some jobs, like school librarians or university librarians, there may not be a requirement to be certified with library science learning units, but there may be other expectations like a teaching degree with continual professional development opportunities or certain pieces of training that are required every year for staff at a university. 

Regardless of what type of library science field you decide to go into, be aware that there will be some level of expectation for continued learning. Because the MLS/MLIS degree falls into the information world, systems and knowledge is constantly changing and being updated and it’s important to stay on top of those updates as well as what else is growing within the field.