Why Get a Masters in Library Science Online?
The number of people who earn a master’s degree in library science certainly isn’t at the levels seen in the mid-1970s, the heyday of graduate training in library studies. In fact, the percentage of all master’s degree earners who studied in this field has fallen by about half, but the past few years have seen a rebound in the number of scholars earning library science master’s degrees.
And it should be little wonder why library science is enjoying a renaissance, whether it’s the evolving and exciting subject matter, the increased reliance on public libraries or the expansion of online education.
So many schools now offer their library science master’s degrees that deciding between which schools to pursue may be tougher than determining whether it’s right to make the leap on an online Master’s in Library Science. Let’s take a closer look at MLS degrees and how to decide if an online course of study is right for you.
Who Should Consider an Online MLS?
A total of 54 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer library science degrees that have earned accreditation from the American Library Association (ALA), which is a critical signifier of quality for many jobs in the field.
Of schools with ALA accreditation, 40 offer students the option of earning their degree online, while a handful of additional programs are in a hybrid format. What types of learners should consider getting an online MLS?
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Different degree types: MLS is just one possible degree in the field. Other common ones have similar acronyms, such as Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS), Master of Science in Information (MSI) and Master of Science in Information Studies (MSIS). A few schools offer more than one type of library science degree, but that is rare, and each specific program is a bit different.
- Career goals: Many degrees in library science are designed for people coming straight from an undergraduate track, while others are constructed around working professionals. These programs will appeal more to people who currently or formerly worked in libraries and want to elevate their earning potential by moving up the career ladder.
- Skills and interests: While the word “science” is part of the field itself, not every program actually includes the term, and Master of Arts programs also are available. That said, most library science programs include a mix of courses that allow students to hone their organizational, information-gathering and reference skills. Additionally, online education can be a very different experience from attending courses in person, and for those who lack the self-motivational drive to keep themselves on task, an online MLS may not be the best option.
- Tuition: There are many low-cost options in the graduate study of library science, and some but not all public schools offer online learners the same tuition as they offer in-state traditional scholars. Private institutions tend to be more expensive, with some options topping a $60,000 total tuition cost. When weighing programs, be sure to closely investigate.
Overview of Online Program Goals
The learning outcomes at the heart of MLS programs vary depending not only on the college or university but the degree type and specialization. For example, it’s common for degree tracks in school library media to offer training specific to the requirements to earn school librarian licensure in a given state, while a program that focuses on public librarianship won’t include as much education-related training.
Common program goals include things like being able to design or evaluate information retrieval systems, designing learning experiences, demonstrating leadership and communications skills, performing administrative and technical functions of library practice, organizing information and more.
Typical Online MLS Curriculum
Details of curriculum vary by college or university and by specialty. But courses in several areas are common, and students should expect to see at least a few of the following when reviewing program catalogs:
- Design Methods for Librarianship
- Research, Assessment and Design
- Management of Information Organizations
- Organization of Information
- Information Science and Technology
- Collection Management
- Digital Information Literacy
- School Library Media
- Reference Materials and Service
- User Services
- Data Curation
- Digital Preservation and Archives
Most programs also include graduation requirements like internships, practica, thesis projects and e-portfolios that give students a chance to showcase their newfound skills in real-world settings. Specifics vary by institution, but almost all programs require at least one of these to complete your degree.
Potential Online MLS Careers
Regardless of whether you earn your degree online or in-person, there are several potential career goals that could be in your sights. Possible MLS careers comprise a diverse range of options. Here’s a look at just a few:
- School Media Collections Librarian
- Public Librarian
- Law Librarian
- Digital Curator
- Library Director
- Media Librarian
- Reference Manager
- Chief Information Officer
- User Experience Analyst
- Web Developer/Designer
- Project Manager
Online MS in Library Science Career Outlook
Public libraries have surged in popularity in recent years, with a recent Gallup study finding that going to the library is the most common cultural activity Americans engage in. In fact, more library trips were taken in 2019 than trips to the movie theater.
Of course, public librarianship is not the only potential career destination for those who earn an online MLIS or related degree. That said, understanding the growth projections for librarians can help give you a picture of what to expect in the industry at large.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings for librarians and library media specialists should expand by about 5% through 2028, which is slightly higher than the growth rate expected for all jobs in the U.S. About one-third of these workers have jobs in elementary and secondary schools, while another 29% work in public libraries and other government-funded institutions. However, given the diversity of skills MLS graduates have, they can expect to find jobs in many places, including:
- School and public libraries
- Major corporations
- Law libraries
- Government agencies
- Information centers
- Colleges and universities
- Small businesses
Online Masters in Library Science Salary
Salaries for MLS graduates vary by specialty and individual educational attainment. For those considering graduate study in library science, it can be assumed they’ll earn higher wages than those who have only a bachelor’s degree or less.
However, even for those with MLS or MLIS degrees, salary ranges can vary quite a bit. While the median librarian earns about $59,500 according to BLS data, recent job openings posted on online job boards range from about $75,000 for medical librarians to $100,000 for library directors.
Here’s a look at salary ranges for some of the most common MLIS/MLS jobs, according to recent posts on Indeed and Glassdoor:
- Medical librarian: $74,750-$94,500
- Library director: $105,900-$135,000
- School librarian: $45,000-$70,000
- Museum curator: $85,000-$110,000
- Reference archivist: $59,000-$81,000
In addition to varying salary rates, librarian and related positions often come with other added benefits. That’s because many are connected to major institutions, such as universities, government agencies, hospitals, museums and more. Consider all non-salary benefits, such as pensions, insurance, vacation time and more, when thinking about how much you might be able to make over the course of your career.
Review Online Masters in Library Science Programs
As we mentioned, deciding which online MLS/MLIS program is right for you is a major decision, and your reasons for pursuing whichever universities you’re interested in will vary based on what’s most important to you.
Explore more about the 40 ALA-accredited institutions that offer graduate degrees in library science, and pay close attention to things like specialty areas, costs, time to completion, graduation and admissions requirements, and more.
- Clarion University of Pennsylvania
- Dominican University
- Drexel University
- East Carolina University
- Florida State University
- Kent State University
- LIU Post
- Louisiana State University
- North Carolina Central University
- Rutgers University
- San Jose State University
- Simmons University
- Southern Connecticut State University
- John's University
- Syracuse University
- Texas Woman's University
- University at Albany SUNY
- University at Buffalo SUNY
- University of Alabama
- University of Arizona
- University of Denver
- University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
- University of Iowa
- University of Kentucky
- University of Maryland
- University of Missouri
- University of North Carolina Greensboro
- University of North Texas
- University of Pittsburgh
- University of South Carolina
- University of South Florida
- University of Southern California
- University of Southern Mississippi
- University of Tennessee
- University of Washington
- University of Wisconsin
- University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
- Valdosta State University
- Wayne State University
In the end, answering the question of why you should consider getting an online master’s degree in library science is probably pretty simple: because you can. About three-quarters of all ALA-accredited degrees in this space can be earned entirely online. For those fresh out of college that could mean saving some money on gas, while for working professionals, it could be the key to being able to get a degree in the first place.