By pursuing an online master's in library science, students prepare for a variety of careers in libraries, colleges and universities, public and private schools, court systems, and corporations.
Below, prospective students can learn about the requirements and time commitment involved in earning an online library science master's degree and how to find a top program relevant to their career goals. Read on to learn about the skills required to succeed in the field, types of careers graduates can pursue, and professional organizations that can help students and graduates achieve success.
Overview of an Online Master's Program in Library Science
A master's degree in library science provides a solid foundation of knowledge for students who want to become reference librarians, children's librarians, archivists, library directors, and information technology managers. While specific course offerings and titles vary by program and school, this information provides a general idea of what to expect from an online master's program in library science.
Common Classes and Coursework
This course prepares students to manage and access information collections. It covers information-gathering organizations; generation of knowledge and later storage of that knowledge; characteristics of recorded knowledge; organization and management of resources; and skills necessary to facilitate access to information in a library, school, or online.
Libraries, Information, and Society
This course examines the relationship between libraries and the communities they serve, covering topics such as ethics, intellectual freedom, intellectual property, the role of community service, and historical and international library models. Students will develop a cultural understanding and values of library systems to serve their communities successfully as librarians.
Research, Assessment, and Design
To better understand library resource management, students in this course undertake research projects and use library resources to collect, analyze, and report on results in the form of a research project.
This class provides students with the tools to understand, manage, and access digital libraries. Students may explore existing resources to understand the foundations, and they may be responsible for designing their own digital library systems. With information and library systems mainly available online, librarians must be proficient at handling digital resources.
Some programs offer students the opportunity to earn credits while gaining experience in a supervised environment. With faculty support, students may engage in hands-on work in libraries, information centers, or other professional environments related to their individual career goals.
Skills You Will Gain
By pursuing an online master's in library science, students gain skills they need for successful careers as librarians and information technology professionals. Online library science master's degree programs help students hone skills they need to succeed in the field, such as:
Librarians must be proficient in navigating reliable online resources to conduct in-depth research and find hard copy resources through library catalogs. Librarians must know how to navigate online databases and find obscure resources.
Librarians help patrons with personal, professional, and educational research, often guiding people in the use of these resources. These tasks require communication and patience, which library science students can practice over the course of their master's degree studies.
Through conducting their own research during an online master's degree program, librarians become well-versed in research-related problem-solving. With a deep knowledge of the field, librarians have the background to help patrons with their research and provide secondary resources when a lead comes up dry.
Librarians must be willing to invest in continuing education, embracing new technologies and learning about how new tools can transform their organizations. By pursuing an online master's in library science, students obtain the foundations they need to embark on a career of learning.
Average Degree Length
By pursuing an online master's in library science, students gain the flexibility to work in the field while they study, racking up real-world experience while attending to responsibilities that may keep them close to home. With an online degree, students need not be limited to schools nearby, but can choose from among the best in the country.
To obtain a master's degree in library science, students complete 35-40 credits, typically spread across two years. Timelines vary depending on factors such as:
- Full- or Part-Time Study
Some schools may allow expedited completion with full-time study or additional courses per term, while others may extend the timeline for part-time students.
Depending on whether a student decides to specialize in an area such as archiving, data and asset management, information organization, or school librarianship, requirements may vary.
Since some online programs charge students per term rather than per credit, expediting the degree might be cost-efficient for those who can accept a busier workload.
How to Find a Top Program
When seeking out a quality online master's program in library science, students should consider professional accreditation from the American Library Association (ALA), specializations offered, graduation rates, resources for online students, and job placement assistance.
Since most employers look for ALA-accredited programs when assessing resumes, selecting an ALA-approved program is a must. ALA sets professional standards for library science degrees and reviews programs periodically to make sure they meet these requirements.
Some programs take a general approach to library science education, while others allow students to specialize. Students should assess their career goals and carefully research available programs, discussing options with faculty and asking to speak with alumni about their experiences.
High graduation rates point to student satisfaction with a program. Prospective students should seek out these figures if they are not readily available and consider factoring program retention rates into their final choice of program.
Prospective students should seek out a program that offers significant resources for online students. Depending on the student's goals, these resources may include career services, tutoring, academic advising, and community-building practices that encourage distance learners to participate in some form of student life.
Many online master's degree programs in library science offer job placement services for students and graduates. With strong career guidance in place, students can be confident that they will be placed successfully for employment when they graduate.
Library Science Careers After Earning Your Master's
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for librarians across industries will increase 9% between 2016 and 2026. For graduates who hold a master's degree in library science, career options are diverse and exciting.
Graduates with a master's degree in library science can pursue work in libraries as reference librarians or school librarians -- working with the general public, in colleges and universities, or in public and private schools where they teach and develop programs for youth. They may continue their careers to become library directors, overseeing all library operations.
Librarians are not limited to public and school environments. They may work in the court systems as law librarians, or pursue careers in archiving. The table below details a few of these options.
Reference librarians work in colleges, universities, and research institutions. They manage library resources, create bibliographies and guides for specific topics, and help students and members of the public with research projects.
Average Annual Salary: $49,121
School librarians work with children and adolescents in public and private school libraries, helping students with school projects and orienting them to library resources.
Average Annual Salary: $49,476
Archivists manage both physical resources and online databases. They assess and preserve historical documents, create catalog systems where they are lacking, and present digitally archived materials to the public via management of website content.
Average Annual Salary: $49,267
Library directors supervise staff and manage operations in a library environment. They may schedule and oversee events, ensure materials are handled neatly and properly, and manage budgets.
Average Annual Salary: $63,402
Law librarians may work for law schools, law firms, corporate offices, or the court system, where they maintain a library of law-related resources and may be tasked with fact-checking and research related to a particular case or legal problem.
Average Annual Salary: $60,491
Additional Certifications for Library Science
While an online master's in library science prepares students for many library science careers, some states require additional certification for librarians to work in schools and public libraries. ALA also offers certification for library administrators who wish to prepare for career advancement. Though requirements vary by state, some options are listed below.
School Librarian Certification
A master's degree in library science is the minimum requirement for a career in library science, but many states require school librarians take additional steps (past the master's) in order to work in the public schools. Requirements vary, but they may include a state examination and application process.
Public Librarian Certification
Some states require public librarians to complete additional certification requirements before working in government-funded libraries. Certification may be optional, although library funding may be contingent on whether librarians and/or directors are state-certified. Most require librarians to hold a master's in library science. Additional requirements may include tests, continuing education, and proof of experience.
Certified Public Library Administrator
ALA offers a certification in public library administration, which validates competencies in budget and finance, management of technology, organization and personnel administration, planning and management of buildings, and three electives. CPLA certification prepares librarians for advancement and/or helps to fill gaps in professional experience. Certification requires seven courses and is valid for five years. Renewal requires proof of continuing education.
Professional Organizations and Resources for Library Science Students
Professional organizations in library science offer abundant resources for students and graduates, such as in-person and online networking opportunities, professional advocacy, continuing education opportunities, and career mentorship.
- American Association of Law Libraries AALL supports law librarians and legal information professionals through membership resources such as webinars and conferences, mentorships programs, job boards, professional publications, and a robust online community.
- American Association of School Librarians A division of ALA, AASL is the only professional organization in the U.S. dedicated to school librarians and libraries. AASL members can attend national conferences, take advantage of webinars and continuing education opportunities, and get involved as volunteers and professional advocates.
- American Library Association ALA works with librarians, libraries, and library educators to establish professional and ethical standards for the field, as well as to advocate for literacy and library services. Members have access to online courses, online member community, local chapter events, and an annual conference.
- ARMA International This professional organization focuses on information management, serving professionals who secure, analyze, manage, and disseminate information. Members can join local chapters, access educational materials, and access online job boards.
- Association for Information Science & Technology ASIS&T is a professional organization dedicated to combining information science practice and research. Librarians join researchers, developers, students, and professors in a membership body that works to improve general practices around the subject of information technology.
- Association for Library and Information Science Education ALISE provides resources for library and information science students and educators. Membership is available to both individuals and institutions. Individual members can participate in special interest groups, network and search for jobs, and receive discounted conference registration.
- International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions IFLA represents and advocates for libraries, library users, and information science professionals internationally. Members become advocates in the field, build professional networks around the world, and join profession-specific chapters.
- Public Library Association A division of ALA, PLA is a 75-year-old organization that supports public libraries and librarians through advocacy, continuing education, and conferences. Librarians can join PLA to receive publications, online education, and discounted conference registration.
- REFORMA An affiliate of ALA, REFORMA promotes Spanish-language library development, including the recruitment of bilingual professionals. Members can get involved with local chapters, attend a national conference, and apply for professional awards and scholarships.
- Special Libraries Association SLA's membership is made up of librarians across specialties, including general librarians, data specialists, and research directors. Members have access to an online networking community, local chapters and events, and job postings.