Library Science Degrees Online

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Updated on June 26, 2024
Emily Rapoza

Written by Emily Rapoza

MLIS – University of Wisconsin | Director of Library and Archives

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Library science is the academic study of information studies. This means that the main focus of a library science degree is to better understand classification, research, and overall knowledge exchange. Within the field of information sciences, there are a variety of career options, but all center around the ability to organize and express information, generally through books, collections, and online resources.

There are a few different types of library science programs, as well as a few options in the library science field that require different types of degrees overall. For example, someone wanting to be a librarian in a high school would have a different set of requirements than someone wanting to be a librarian in an academic or public library. Because of this, it is important to understand all the different facets of information science programs and what degrees and opportunities they offer.

Why is Library Science Important?

Gone are the days of super dusty old libraries with physical card catalogs and “shh! quiet!” signs everywhere. Libraries have grown to be more than just a place for books, and the field of Library and Information Sciences has grown even further beyond that. With the advancements in technology, information, and interaction, Library Science is becoming more and more vital to our society.

The field of Library and Information Sciences encompasses a lot of different, yet related, things. The consensus is that this field and its professionals help connect people to information. How professionals go about this varies greatly, but it all centers around locating and accessing the content. Beyond just accessing the information, Library Science professionals help create systems and organizational methods for storing and accessing data. These professionals arrange items that may be used by researchers or casual learners. 

Regardless of the “why,” the Library Science field exists to help people access the information that they are hunting for. Historically, this was done through books, card catalogs, and periodicals. Now, with advancements in technology and advancements in digitization and information sharing, searching has moved to the internet. Library Science professionals now have expertise in searching through databases, online forums, and online collections to help researchers locate answers and information.

Library Science is also an important focus of study because it goes beyond just the research of information. Library Science, as mentioned, also houses professionals who create the systems of organization that make finding and locating information and specific pieces easier and more efficient for all parties involved. These professionals range from archivists to digitization and metadata librarians to catalogers, each with a particular focus on their areas of expertise and their specific content. Having the information isn’t always enough; being able to locate the source repeatedly and quickly is also an important part of providing a valuable service for information-seekers.

What is a Library Science Degree Program?

In short, a Library Science Degree program is a set course of study that provides training and learning opportunities that focus on information, organization, research, reference, and education. These programs focus on different aspects of libraries and information, with some being more general and others being hyper-focused on a specific type of career. These programs each have their own requirements that tend to stem from their degree type as well as the requirements of each particular school. 

In recent years, Library Science programs, regardless of their degree level, have started to be offered online and as hybrid learning opportunities, as well as on campus. By providing different types of distance learning, Library Science programs can now offer more learning opportunities to students who are outside of their immediate physical location. Online and in-person degrees are identical on paper, both have the same requirements, course loads, and credit hours, but may vary in their execution and offerings. For example, a hands-on book repair archive course may only be offered as part of the in-person Library Science degree program. However, if an online or hybrid learner is unable to attend, they may be able to supplement the course with an internship at a local archive, or they may not be able to get credits for the course due to their inability to be physically in a classroom. 

Online learning has opened up library science degree programs to a much wider audience, with some programs specifically focusing only on distance learning and others focusing on non-traditional students. These non-traditional students may work full-time jobs, take school part-time, or have other circumstances that don’t allow them to complete the degree in the expected amount of time. Online learning in Library Science programs can provide more flexibility with the same content and rigor as learning on campus.

Types of Library Science Programs

Bachelor’s Degree in Library Sciences

Some colleges and universities may offer a Bachelor’s Library Science Program. These programs function like a normal 4-year undergraduate degree and usually require around 120 credit hours to graduate with a degree in Library Science. Much like other undergraduate degrees, the Bachelor’s in Library Science tends to focus on the initial steps of research, information management, and cataloging. Elective courses in the field may give more detailed concepts to focus on, like library management, and the history of libraries, and dive into specific types of educational technology. 

Bachelor’s degrees in Library Science are not as readily available across the United States as the MLS/MLIS degrees. In some instances, an undergraduate degree in library science may pair well with internships or different master’s degrees to help in the job hunt. A bachelor’s in Library Science may also help with getting an initial or entry-level job in the information or library fields. Generally, for librarians, catalogers, and other information professionals, a Master’s degree is preferred. 

Master’s In Library Science/ Master’s in Library and Information Sciences (MLS/MLIS)

Library Science degree programs exist in a few different options. The most common Library Science degrees are the Master’s in Library Science (MLS) or the Master’s in Library and Information Sciences (MLIS). These two programs both offer an in-depth look at librarianship and jobs in the information sciences sectors, and the graduate will leave with a Master’s degree in hand. The only official differentiation between an MLS and an MLIS is in the name; newer Library Science Master’s programs have adopted the addition of “information” into their title and may offer more technology and digital information courses than MLS degrees. As always, it’s important to check course offerings and specialty areas of study to make sure that the program you select works for your interests and your degree. 

Doctoral Degrees in Library Science

Outside of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, there are also Doctorate-level Library Science degrees. Much like the Bachelor’s programs, there are fewer Doctorate programs at universities and colleges, but there are some options for those wanting to have a Ph.D. in Library Sciences. Much like the Master’s degree builds on the skills taught in an undergrad program, the Ph.D. coursework takes research and understanding information to a new level. Often, those wanting to teach Library Science and research courses at the collegiate level will have a Ph.D. These programs are also specifically for those who are looking to go into highly difficult information-based jobs, like law librarians or specific types of archivists. 

As with any collegiate coursework, it is important to note that every level of the degree (Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate) offers a more specialized load of coursework as the degrees are higher in their overall requirements. Master’s and Doctorate degrees will also offer more flexible and customizable learning opportunities that can be organized by each student. Looking at course offerings can help provide insight into the types of learning opportunities that each program can offer.

What You’ll Learn in a Library Science Degree Program

Library Science degrees all focus on one thing: information. Under that umbrella, there are a variety of ways that information and access to information are interacted with. In Bachelor’s programs as well as in the initial courses in a Master’s program, there is generally an overview of Library Science and the history of the field, as well as general employment opportunities that exist. Basic coursework can also include understanding databases and copy cataloging, as well as learning how to conduct reference interviews and work at a library help desk.

Beyond the initial understanding of information, some elective courses that can appear at any level of education in the Library Science degree programs include library administration, teen literature, child learning/reading/development, collection management, educational technology, and advanced research techniques. Depending on the specific offerings in the Library Science program, there may also be the opportunity to take hyper-specialized courses like recovery and repair of archival items and materials or government document librarianship and reference. Each program offers different types of topics in its course catalogs, so it’s important to be familiar with the options when you are selecting a program as well as when you’re selecting courses for a semester within a program.

Most Library Science degree programs do require an internship of some sort. These internships should correspond with your particular interests in your degrees and are built around the opportunities to get hands-on learning while also applying the content that has been learned in coursework. Internships within the field also allow for a chance to make professional contacts in the Library Science field and learn what job opportunities exist.

 Ideally, the internship will correlate with your interests and give you opportunities to learn that are not available in a classroom. For example, an online MLIS student may be focusing on archives and special collections. Their first opportunity to be hands-on in the field could be during an internship at a local historical society because they aren’t able to be in a physical classroom working with collections. Or an undergraduate Library Science student may be interested in children’s literature, and they get to intern at a local public library in the children’s department and learn on the job about what being a children’s librarian is like in the public sector. 

In all Library Science degree programs, the focus is on information, and the skills are what is provided to the students in the programs. Arming students with practical skills to understand, synthesize, analyze, access, and provide relevant and useful information is the bottom line of a Library Science degree. Within these parameters, how the skills are gained and honed to be more focused depends on the program and on the expertise of those leading the programs. 

Library Science Licensing or Certifications

After completing a Library Science degree, specifically one at the Master’s or Doctorate level, a variety of career opportunities become available. Depending on what was focused on during the degree, careers like archivist, cataloger, librarian, information specialist, database coordinator, and a whole host of other jobs can be obtained with a Library Science Degree.

There are some instances, however, where more than just a Library Science degree is needed for employment or field placement. The most common combination of degrees with Library Science is a teaching license. These licenses vary by state but are mainly for school librarians who need to be certified as educators as well as in the field of Library and Information Sciences. Because these requirements vary by state and sometimes even by school district, it’s important to know ahead of time if another degree needs to be combined with a Library Science program or if there is an opportunity to take advantage of a NCATE or ALISE-accredited program that is specifically for educators. 

Public Librarians also often have to apply for and maintain a license that proves they actively participate in continued education. Most often, these are required by library systems and tend to be organized by the State Library, with each state making its own requirements to stay “in compliance” with library educational standards. These learning opportunities can range from attending workshops to online seminars to going to conferences. Be sure to track your education units/hours, because some states require a list to maintain an up-to-date public library license.

In the same vein as public librarians and continued education, careers like archivists can also apply to become certified in a few particular areas under the ALA. To become a Certified Archivist (CA) in the United States, students must have an MLS/MLIS, and nine semester hours of that degree must be in archival administration and management. Students must also have one year of qualifying archival experience (job or internship), and they must sit and pass the Academy of Certified Archivists Exams. There are slightly different requirements for those who already have their degrees and are working professionally in the field.

Much like becoming a Certified Archivist, the ALA also offers two distinct opportunities for certificates that can be earned. One is the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) certificate, which is designed to provide information about caring for, storing, and describing born-digital files. ALA also offers the Arrangement and Description (A&D) certificate, which provides more in-depth training on Master’s degree-level skills as well as training on career changes and transitions within the field. Both of these certificate programs can not only help grow practical skills but can also add a competitive edge to those hunting in the field for employment or new opportunities. 

Besides certificate and continued learning requirements, some jobs may require additional master’s degrees. These generally depend on the job itself, the company, and the field you are looking at. For example, it is not unusual to find law librarians who have both a Master’s in Library Science and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree or an associate’s degree in being paralegals. Likewise, you may find library administrators who have degrees in human resources or business management as well as an MLS. It’s also common to find archivists who have both a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Sciences and a Master’s in History.

When looking for jobs in Library Science as well as in fields that are adjacent to it, it is important to note your learned skills from programs as well as your contacts and experiences when applying for jobs. A combination of degrees or internships often helps build a strong Library Science candidate for an employment application.

Library Science Programs by State

AlabamaIllinoisMontanaRhode Island
AlaskaIndianaNebraskaSouth Carolina
ArizonaIowaNevadaSouth Dakota
ArkansasKansasNew HampshireTennessee
CaliforniaKentuckyNew JerseyTexas
ColoradoLouisianaNew MexicoUtah
ConnecticutMaineNew YorkVermont
DelawareMarylandNorth CarolinaVirginia
FloridaMassachusettsNorth DakotaWashington
GeorgiaMichiganOhioWashington DC
HawaiiMinnesotaOklahomaWest Virginia

What Are Accredited Library Science Programs?

Regardless of what level of Library Science program is selected, it is important to note that some programs are vetted and listed as accredited by the American Library Association. These programs, regardless of what degree level they are at, meet certain justifications that can prove to employers the caliber of learning and education that the student has received.

In short, there are two main types of Library Science Degree programs. One is an accredited program, while the other is not. These accreditations are determined by the American Library Association (ALA), and programs apply to match the credentials of a program that is deemed “acceptable” to ALA standards and policies. These accredited programs are generally required by employers for those entering the field, and they are a good indicator of whether a school’s program has been updated and is relevant with new and vetted information about the field of library science.

Accredited Library Science programs are those that meet the requirements of the ALA. These programs apply to be vetted by the ALA and must meet a high standard of integrity and quality. ALA accreditation is made up of both the process (becoming an accredited program by growing and developing policies, curriculum, and staff) and the condition of the program (maintaining the required standards of the program). These credentials show the public that these collegiate programs have a commitment to educational quality and have been approved and backed by the ALA.

Types of Library Science Accreditation

 Besides ALA accreditation, which is the most recognized form of credential in Library Science programs, there are two other main types of accreditation. Programs may lose (or never officially gain) ALA-accredited status if they do not meet ALA’s specific requirements. However, a variety of programs belong to one of two other types of accredited programs that are not ALA but are mainly focused on education and school librarians. Some library science programs are part of the National Council of the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which provides a master’s degree with a specialty focus on school librarianship. The NCATE program works with ALA and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) to ensure that these library science programs meet the guidelines of education for school library media specialists. Members of the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) can also sponsor accredited programs, but they too work with ALA to ensure overall guidelines for librarianship.

Other programs that fall outside the scope of NCATE or ALISE and are, therefore, not supported by the ALA fall into the “non-accredited” category. Some programs fall out of compliance and then reapply and gain accredited status. It is important to note that attending a non-accredited Library Science program may limit the career options that you have after your degree. Institutions like public libraries and schools generally require ALA accreditation for their full-time librarians. It is important to talk to advisors and faculty about career options that can be gained without an ALA-accredited degree. 

ALA Accredited MLIS Programs

Because ALA is constantly assessing, adding, and vetting programs to its accredited list, it is important to make sure you are aware of what qualifies when you are applying to a Library Science Program. Overall, there will be 67 programs at 63 institutions in 2022 that are accredited by the ALA. These programs are located in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Some universities, like the University of Wisconson and the University of Alberta, have continued accreditation, which means their accreditation is good for up to seven years and then can be subject to revaluation. 

Other Library Science programs like the University of Southern California and Chicago State University have initial accreditation, which means the program has just recently achieved accreditation status. This status lasts for seven years as well, but, once awarded to a program, it retroactively grants ALA-accredited degrees to students who attended up to 24 months prior. 

There is also a status for programs that fall out of accreditation. If they have never had the official designation, they are encouraged to work on their programs and reapply. If they did have ALA accreditation status but no longer meet the requirements, they are put on conditional status and have three years to rectify their coursework and program. At the end of three years, they are evaluated and either receive the ALA accreditation again or are no longer accredited at all. 

Academic/University Regional Accreditations

Academic and University libraries have similar requirements to ALA, but they fall under the governing group of the Association of College and Research Libraries (which is a brand of ALA). These content standards are more focused on academia and the roles that these libraries and research facilities play at their universities and in the academic library network nationally. 

Much like ALA accreditation, to receive Academic Regional Accreditation, university libraries must provide education, partnership, and a mission that match the requirements and standards held by the ACRL. These accreditations are regional, which means there are different requirements for each state, and they can also vary by the type of institution that is applying. Overall, this accreditation is much like ALA, but it focuses more on the research and reference work that university libraries, archives, and collections are known for.  

How Long Does It Take To Complete a Library Science Program?

Overall, the length of a Library Science program depends on the level of the program. Bachelor’s in Library Science programs are going to be generally four-year programs with Library Science coursework paired with required general education classes and other electives. Generally, more affordable library science programs tend to be shorter and have a lower cost per credit.

MLS/MLIS programs tend to be two- to four-year programs, depending on how many courses a student takes per semester. A normal course load for a Master’s program is 2 courses or 6 credits per semester, but some students attend “part-time” and have other obligations outside of school. In this case, programs usually take a bit longer to complete. Some Library Science programs also allow for summer semesters, which can speed up the progress toward achieving an MLS/MLIS.

Those wanting to pursue PhDs in Library and Information Sciences should be prepared to be in school for about three to five years. In these programs, time is spent attending classes, and conducting research, and the degree culminates in a thesis or dissertation (and usually a defense or presentation). Much like the MLS/MLIS programs, the speed at which these Doctorate degrees are obtained depends on the student, the length of their research and discovery, and any outside obligations that they might have. 

Library Science Program Curriculum

The Curriculum that one can expect to encounter in most undergraduate and graduate-level courses is about the same. Introductory coursework about information, research, reference, education, organization, and different types of library science careers is usually found in initial courses. The first round of available electives for Library Science students may include content like the growth and expansion of technology, introductions to cataloging, collections management, and the history of librarianship. 

In an MLS/MLIS program, generally, there are more in-depth electives that are also available (many have prerequisites from the courses listed above). These electives can include original cataloging, educational program creation, digital asset management, LibGuide creation, and metadata creation and management. Often, Library Science degrees at the Master’s level will have different paths set up with all requirements and then a list of electives that best support that course of study. It is important to note that not all programs offer all electives consistently. Be sure to check course catalogs and speak with faculty to ensure that the electives you’re wanting to take are going to be available and fit within your schedule.

Ph.D. programs are a bit less constrictive about courses and requirements. As mentioned, these programs mainly focus on adding new scholarship to the overall field of Library Science, so much of their work is centered on research, analysis, and presentation. Some courses you might find in a Doctorate in Library Science program include an introduction to doctoral studies, teaching seminars, thesis/dissertation writing, and defense preparation, as well as a variety of other electives that vary in content and scope relevant to the cohort and what they are focusing on. Most Library Science Ph.D. students go on to teach in MLS/MLIS programs, so there may be a few different courses that center around classroom etiquette as well as the management of collegiate programs.

What Are The Standard Entrance Requirements to Enroll in a Library Science Program?

Entrance Requirements for a Bachelor’s Degree

Students wanting to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Library science need to meet the requirements of the college or university that they will be attending. Generally, for a four-year school, the application packet includes high school transcripts, a personal statement, or the answering of a few questions (“Why do you want to attend this school?” “What are you hoping to learn here?” “How will you add to the positive culture of this school?”), and potentially standardized test scores, like the SAT, ACT, and/or any AP test scores.

Entrance Requirements for a Master’s Degree

In applying for an MLS/MLIS degree program, the application requirements are very similar to those of an undergraduate institution. An application packet is required, which includes information about you, what you are waiting to study, where you went to undergrad, and usually a written statement discussing why you want to attend this program and why you would be a good fit, academically and personally. This is generally referred to as the “personal statement” portion of the application and allows reviewers to get a better feel for who you are and what your personality is like beyond your GPA and other degrees. 

Official Academic transcripts from a previously earned Bachelor’s degree are required, and some schools require passing scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test. The GRE is a standardized test that rates students’ abilities, much like the SAT or ACT, but at a graduate level of education. Some schools require these scores for entrance, while others only require the GRE for certain work programs (like being a graduate assistant in a department). Some Library Science programs do not require the GRE at all. It’s important to check requirements long before the due date for an MLS or MLIS program so any transcripts can be received from a bursar, any required tests can be taken, and scores can be sent to an admissions office.

Entrance Requirements for a Ph.D.

Ph.D. students who are applying for Doctoral Library Science programs will find similar requirements to the Master’s degree candidates, but they may need to provide more robust information about their previous academics, longer personal statements, and pitch their potential research topic for their dissertation. In some programs, Ph.D. applicants are required to be interviewed by faculty before they are admitted into the program. Just like with any other Library Science degree, it is important to check the requirements as well as the areas of study of potential mentors when applying for Ph.D. programs.

What is the Career Outlook for Library Science Graduates?

Depending on which area of Library Science you go into, you may find that some fields are growing faster and creating more jobs than others. For those librarians looking ahead to 2030, there is about 6% expected growth in job outlook (6% is the national average), but for those archivists/curators/museum workers, they can look forward to a 12% growth rate. These rates also vary by location, so it’s important to look in the areas where you want to find work to see what their job markets are like. 

Salaries are also heavily dependent on location, institution, and level of experience. Law Librarians in states with a higher cost of living, like California, are generally paid more than Law Librarians in Ohio, which has a much lower cost of living, even though the jobs are the same. There are also differences in pay depending on how specialized someone is. For example, a rare book repair archivist will generally make a higher salary than a librarian who only has an undergraduate degree in Library Science. 

BLS Data: Librarians and Library Media Specialists:

BLS Data: Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers:

BLS Data: Library Technicians:

Potential Career Settings

Library Science degree holders can be found in a variety of places. Of course, any and all varieties of libraries house degree holders. University and Academic libraries, school libraries, law libraries, and public libraries are just a few of the locations where you’ll find degreed Library Science professionals. 

Other places that you may find Library Science-related jobs include archives and repositories, museums and cultural institutions, special collections, offices and hospitals, and even in a variety of branches of government and multiple different corporations. Essentially, if there is information that needs to be organized and accessed, Library Science degree-holders are at the front of the pack for hiring. Though not always called librarians, data managers, record managers, and statistical analysts are all skills that can be learned in MLS/MLIS programs and can lend themselves to jobs slightly outside of the “library” bubble. 

What is a Certified Librarian?

Certification is an additional step that some Library Science degree holders go through for their particular jobs. For example, school librarians usually need a teaching license or an educational degree in their background to meet the district’s requirements for the job. To obtain this, a school librarian may need to test for a teaching license in their state or even take additional courses to obtain a teaching degree. Each state handles these situations differently, so be sure to check with the administration and online to see what is required for particular jobs.

Public librarians also have to keep their certifications up and those center around continued educational opportunities so they remain fresh on what is happening in the Library Science field. These certifications vary by state and are generally organized by the State Library. It is also possible that the State Library can do an audit and require proof of all the educational units acquired during a certain period of time to ensure that the certification is bona fide. Failure to produce this information can result in a public library losing its certification status. It’s important to look at what certifications may be required for jobs within your field, as these may need to be acquired before you can fully apply for the position.

What are the Benefits of Completing a Library Science Program Online?

With the growth of flexible education booming in the last few years, it’s no surprise that the Library Science field has grown and adapted its programs too. Usually, the online or hybrid option is offered for MLS/MLIS degree earners, and it allows for a lot of flexibility while earning a degree. Students can now attend schools that are not within their immediate vicinity and apply to programs that focus on the specific areas of focus that they would like to work in. There is also usually a cost difference between students who want to attend virtually and those who are out-of-state and looking to attend in person, but this varies between institutions.

Online programs also allow faculty to be anywhere with an internet connection. Scholars from across the country can join together under one university program and teach their expertise to eager Library Science students even if no one is in the room together. Online learning also allows students to plan their schedules. Most courses are asynchronous, which means they can be covered at any time during a set period. No longer are students required to be at a 2 p.m. lecture, but rather they can work and then watch the recorded lecture later when it better fits into their schedule. 

Overall, the biggest change between in-person and online learning is flexibility. There are instances when hands-on learning is not possible or a visiting professor is presenting a lecture and a working student can’t attend, but overall, these are small drawbacks to the growth that is online learning. With discussion boards, video chatting, and presentations, students get similar opportunities to interact and grow their knowledge and skills as if they were seated in a classroom.