If you’re looking to start a career working with information or in a library, a master’s degree in library and information science (MLIS) is invaluable. With this course of study, you could have a wide range of employment opportunities after graduation.
In addition, the MLIS is a degree that you can easily attain in an online environment, giving you the flexibility you need to pursue training while also working or managing your family life. That said, there are many programs out there, and you need to find one that suits your personal and professional goals.
Schools accredited by the American Library Association (ALA) are a good starting point in your search for a program. Here is a closer look at what this type of accreditation means and how you can find ALA-accredited library schools online to help you pursue your goals. You’ll also find the answers to questions like, “What is a library science degree?” and “How long does it take to get a master’s degree in library science?”
What Are ALA-Accredited MLIS Programs?
ALA-accredited MLIS programs — also known as master’s degrees in library science — are officially authorized by the American Library Association. These degrees have undergone external review and meet the standards of the ALA committee. You can enroll in one of these programs at various colleges throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
ALA accreditation only lasts a year, meaning colleges need to reapply for this honor every 12 months. This process involves providing the organization with information about programs, course offerings, admissions processes, scholarships, and financial aid opportunities.
What Is ALA?
Accreditation shows that a degree or school has created a program that meets the requirements of the body that offers the accreditation. There are many types of accreditation for colleges and universities, but only one stands out for master’s degrees in library and information science: The American Library Association.
The American Library Association, or ALA, is the largest in the world. It supports literacy and library services throughout North America. It is also the primary organization that accredits graduate programs in library science. ALA accreditation is a key indicator of the quality of a library sciences master’s degree program.
How Do Schools Become ALA-Accredited?
According to the ALA, the accreditation process requires an external review of the academics and faculty the program offers. These factors must meet all the requirements in the Standards for Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies.
While the ALA will look at multiple factors, including faculty, curriculum, student outcomes, technology, and the goals and objectives of a program, there are several standards they are looking for before awarding accreditation. These include:
- Systematic planning – The program must have a systematic planning process that ensures the student learning outcomes and the plan to meet those outcomes is thought out.
- Curriculum – The ALA has a robust list of features it wants to see in the curriculum.
- Faculty – Quality faculty, qualified to teach at the graduate level and in the information and library services field, is required.
- Students – This standard looks at how students are recruited and admitted to the program while also considering student outcomes
- Administration, finances, and resources – The factors that make the program work, including the administrative staff, the technology, and other resources available to students, are part of accreditation.
What Is a Library Science Degree?
A master’s degree in library and information science, or MLIS, is a graduate-level program that teaches students the skills required for evaluating and cataloging texts and other forms of media. People who have earned this degree work as a librarian, archivist, or information specialist — job roles that include data organization and database management responsibilities.
MLIS degrees contain courses on librarianship and digital stewardship, which involve collecting, preserving, and organizing information and sharing it with the public. These programs also teach students how to use data responsibly and comply with data governance legislation.
Why Is Accreditation Important for MLS Programs?
When you’re looking for a library sciences program, ALA accreditation is important because it shows the program is a wise investment. The ALA’s approval means the program meets the requirements to deliver excellent education, and it carries international recognition. While accreditation may not be a requirement for all potential jobs within library sciences, it is a requirement for many. Thus, choosing an accredited program will improve the chances of landing a quality job in the future.
5 Popular Online ALA-Accredited MLIS Programs
There are many ALA-accredited library schools online that give students the flexibility of online education and the skills and accountability of an ALA-accredited program. If you want an accredited master’s in library and information science degree and the flexibility of online education, take a look at these options.
Louisiana State University
Louisiana State University offers the only ALA-accredited MLIS degree in the state. It is a fully online program with asynchronous learning. This degree requires 36 semester hours, including 18 hours of core required classes. The cost, inclusive of all fees, is $6,709 a year for full-time Louisiana resident students taking 15 hours a semester. This breaks down to about $450 a credit hour. Courses in this program include:
- Information and Society
- Information Technologies and Systems
- Information Behavior
- Understanding Research
- Organization of Information
Students who live in Arkansas, Delaware, and West Virginia may also qualify for the in-state tuition rate.
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California offers a Master of Management in Library and Information Science that’s fully online. It’s the only program in this field that comes from a leading business school, which means students learn both library management and the business side of running an effective library. It is a 31-credit course that can be completed in as few as 20 months. Tuition costs $2,035 per credit hour. In this program, students study:
- Management Communication for Leaders
- Information Description, Organization, and Retrieval
- Library Project Management
- Independent Research in Library and Information Management
- Legal, Ethical, and Strategic Fundamentals for Library Managers
The curriculum at USC has been specifically designed for online learning, which is an advantage for students.
Wayne State University
Wayne State University has an ALA-accredited Master of Library and Information Science program that students can complete entirely online. The program requires 36 total credit hours, including 18 credits in the core classes. This degree requires a graduation Assessment and has three specialization paths students can choose from to customize their degree. These specializations include Library Services, Information Management, and Archives and Digital Content Management. Tuition for online students, including those who are non-residents of the state, is $855.09 per credit hour. Courses in this program include:
- Access to Information
- Management and Leadership
- Fundamentals of Information Technology
- Research for the Information Profession
- Organization of Information
Students can choose electives based on four certificate programs, allowing them to graduate with a certificate in their chosen field.
St. John’s University
St. John’s University offers a Master’s in Library and Information Science that is fully online. This Catholic-based university works the guidelines of the Vincentian Mission of St. John’s into its core education. This 36-credit course includes four core classes and seven electives, as well as a management course. It also requires students to complete a digital portfolio. Specialization options include Youth Services, Academic Librarianship, Archival Studies, and Public Librarianship. The program costs $1,400 per credit hour. Courses include
- Research and Evaluation Methods
- Archival Principles and Practices
- Management of Information Organizations
- Introduction to Library and Information Science
- Information Organization
The program takes 24 months to complete and offers two options for certification.
University of Missouri
The University of Missouri – Master of Library and Information Science degree offers a fully online program that can be completed in as little as two years. Courses are 8-week sessions and offer both asynchronous and synchronous class options. Students also complete a practicum and ePortfolio. The cost of this program is $435.30 per credit hour and requires 39 credit hours to complete. The school also charges a few fees on top of this base tuition. Course topics for this program include:
- LIS History, Ethics, and Values
- Information and Technology Related to Libraries
- Archive and Records Management
- Child and Youth Library Services
- Managing Collections
This program offers the option to earn a secondary degree in Public Affairs if you wish.
ALA-Accredited MLIS Program Requirements
Though academic requirements differ depending on the institution, applicants typically need a completed bachelor’s degree to enroll in an ALA-accredited MLIS program. Most colleges are more likely to accept someone with an above-average GPA, while selective schools might require a GPA of at least 3.5. Experience working in a library may also improve the chances of being accepted into an MLIS degree program with ALA accreditation.
Many colleges ask applicants to provide the following documentation when applying for a place in a program:
This document might list why someone wants to study for an MLIS degree and, in particular, the value of enrolling in an ALA-accredited program. Applicants can also outline their previous academic achievements, interests, and future career goals. These details help administrators decide whether a person is a good fit for their program.
Applicants can send administrators the latest version of their resume, which lists work experience and skills obtained during prior job roles. Even if someone doesn’t have experience working in a library, they can showcase their career achievements and prove why they are a good choice for an ALA-accredited MLIS program.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation from previous employers and faculty staff in an undergraduate program can help administrators whittle down candidates for ALA-accredited programs in library science. These letters verify someone’s character and accomplishments, providing colleges with more information about applicants.
Typical ALA-Accredited MLIS Program Coursework
While each program differs from school to school, American Library Association-accredited schools must have a curriculum that fits the accreditation standards. The primary focus of this type of program is teaching students how to classify and use data or books and other objects that hold data to preserve knowledge and make knowledge accessible to people. Library programs also place a heavy emphasis on how to promote literacy in the community. Today, this field is technology-heavy, as much of the body of human knowledge has now been digitized.
Students can expect to study specific items in their program, including:
- How to manage collections of works in a library setting
- How to use library technology
- Theories of research and library organization
- Child and youth library services
- The history and ethics of library information systems
- Assisting under-served groups through library services
- Principles of archiving
The names of the particular courses will vary from school to school, but these are the general topics covered in most ALA-accredited programs.
Benefits of Attending an Online ALA-Accredited MLIS Program
While many schools offer MLIS programs, there are only a few that meet the standards to receive ALA accreditation. Why should a student attend one of these programs, and why is online education a good choice?
First, choosing ALA-accredited library schools online sets up a student for a greater number of job opportunities in the future. Because the ALA accreditation is internationally recognized, students can apply for a wider range of jobs after graduation.
Second, accreditation may be a job requirement for some professions. Professional-level positions in library organizations often require ALA-accredited master’s training, so choosing an accredited school means opening the door to the widest possible range of job options. Many states now require ALA-accredited degrees for libraries to work in public libraries and school libraries.
Third, online education is ideal for master’s degree students because of its flexibility. Many applicants for these programs are older students who are already working full-time. Online education gives these students the flexibility to continue their jobs while getting their degrees.
Finally, choosing an accredited program ensures you are getting a quality education. Because master’s degrees are a costly investment, you’ll want this peace of mind. An accredited school has put in the work necessary to ensure its program is high quality and receives the stamp of approval from the ALA. This helps maximize your financial and time investment.
MLIS vs. MLS: What’s the Difference?
As you look for ALA-accredited library schools online, you will find that some offer an MLIS program, while others offer an MLS program. Both are good options, but there are some slight differences.
A Master in Library and Information Science, or MLIS, prepares students to serve in libraries and other information centers. The “information science” part of the degree’s name indicates it has a strong focus on technology. This degree can also be called Master of Library and Information Studies, but the acronym remains the same.
MLS stands for Master of Library Science. This degree tends to cover the same courses as the MLIS, but the name is an older version of the name. It may focus less on technology, but if it carries ALA accreditation, the program will have some technology instruction.
Instead of focusing on the name, students should look at the particular course offerings as well as available specializations of a program they are considering. This will give a better indication of whether it is the right fit for their needs.
11 Master’s in Library Science Jobs for Graduates
While many students choose to work as librarians after earning a Master’s in Library Science, this is just one option available to these graduates. The information given about data, archiving, and organization can translate well into careers in libraries, schools, government offices, legal offices, museums, and more. Here are some career options that this degree could open:
1. Legal Archivist
A legal archivist maintains and organizes the vast amount of data that comes from the legal world. Treatises, statutes, reports, legal digests, and cases all need to be accessible for attorneys to do their work. The legal archivist not only knows how to archive these documents but also how to retrieve them when an attorney or judge needs them.
2. Medical Archivist
Medical archivists help organize the vast amounts of data in the medical world. They help doctors get access to the data they need to make the right diagnoses for their patients. They also know how to keep data secure to avoid violating medical privacy laws.
3. Chief Information Officer
In the business world, the chief information officer is responsible for the documents that organize and run the business. This includes the transactions, policies, budgets, employee records, and standards that the business uses in its daily operations. Keeping all these straight requires the knowledge of research and database management that comes from a library science master’s program.
4. Museum Curator
Museums do more than just display artifacts. They also house large collections of resources and data-based collections. The knowledge of archiving and organization gained in a library science program will translate well into working as a curator, ensuring that a museum’s collection is properly documented, tracked, and stored. Museum curators can also assist with making collections accessible to the public.
5. School Librarian
A school librarian works to promote literacy within the school environment. These professionals also work with schools to ensure students can access the books and research they need. School librarians will teach students how to use the library and its resources, and they will also work with teachers to provide access to the information they need for their classes.
6. Public Librarian
Public libraries are vast resources of information for the people who live in a community. Not only do they have books and other media, but they also have classes, computer labs, career services, and community information. Public librarians help organize all these resources while also providing guests with access to the tools they need for everything from academic research to job searching.
7. Business Researcher
Business resources collect and process the data businesses need for success. This includes market data, competitor statistics, consumer demand, and similar features. The research skills gained in a library sciences degree translate well into this type of work.
8. Metadata Analyst
Metadata analysts manage databases and digital information. They are essential in tagging data and cataloging metadata. Many organizations need these professionals, including banks, tech companies, schools, and libraries.
9. Digital Asset Manager
These professionals are not only responsible for metadata but also all digital assets within an organization, such as images, text files, videos, and audio. They use digital asset management (DAM) systems to collect, process, manage, and organize digital information in a central location, making it easier for people to access it.
10. Director of Library Sciences at a College
Directors of library science are responsible for all library services at a college campus. Duties include overseeing library staff and managing their performance, assisting students with services, maintaining library resources at different campus locations, and managing borrower records.
11. Professor of Library Sciences
Graduates with a master’s in library science might not want to enter the world of libraries. Instead, they can teach students about this topic. A professor of library sciences organizes and hosts lectures about data storage, data governance, information retrieval, cataloging, and other topics, inspiring the next generation of librarians.
Typical Work Environments for ALA-Accredited Programs
After graduating with an ALA-accredited MLIS degree, you might decide to work in one of these environments:
Working at a public library might prove to be a rewarding career choice.
Depending on your specific role, you might be responsible for organizing and managing library resources for communities and cataloging a wide range of information, including text, images, and metadata.
After achieving your ALA-accredited MLIS degree, you could get a job at a museum. Your responsibilities might involve archiving physical items and data, organizing exhibits, and helping the public find resources.
You could work for a company that requires you to organize their data and manage physical and digital resources. Many sectors hire graduates from ALA-accredited programs, including retail, finance, and food and beverage.
Government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels often advertise master’s in library science jobs. That’s because they need librarians, archivists, and information specialists to manage data, archive documents, and catalog digital assets.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s Degree in Library Science?
It normally takes one or two years of full-time study to graduate from a library science master’s program. However, it will take longer to complete your studies if you enroll in a part-time program, perhaps because you have family or work commitments.
Most ALA-accredited master’s degrees in library science require 36-40 hours of credit, so it will take you two years to complete this type of program full-time. Many ALA-authorized schools offer part-time study, as well as credit transfer options that will reduce the length of your degree. You might also take an accelerated schedule and finish your program in a quicker time frame.
How Much Does a Master’s in Library Science Cost?
The price tag of your library science master’s degree depends on the school. Most colleges require you to pay fees for each credit you take, which can cost anywhere from $400-$2,000 per hour. According to Research.com, the full cost of annual tuition can range from $10,000-$15,000 for public in-state institutions, $15,000-$25,000 for public out-of-state institutions, and $18,000-$62,000 for private institutions.
Other expenses might include registration fees, living expenses, and books and materials. However, you might save money if you enroll in an online program. That’s because you won’t have to live on campus or commute to lectures and workshops. You can also reduce the cost of your studies with scholarships, financial aid, and grants.
Scholarship funds can support you while you study for your library science master’s degree. Various organizations provide financial help, including the American Library Association itself. The organization’s scholarship program is available for all eligible students who enroll in an ALA-accredited program. Other opportunities include the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) Scholarship and the Christopher J. Hoy/ERT Scholarship.
2. Financial Aid
You could also apply for government-sponsored financial aid to help pay for school. This aid could be available in loans, grants, and work-study jobs, which allow you to earn money as you study a library science master’s program. You will need to complete the Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for support.
Grants from the government, private companies, and non-profits do not have to be repaid. They can provide a financial lifeline when studying for a graduate-level degree like the MLIS. Some of the most popular grants include the Fulbright Study/Research Grant and the Federal Pell Grant Program.
ALA-Accredited MLIS Programs Conclusion
An online ALA-accredited master’s in library science can help you land your dream job as a librarian, archivist, or information specialist, opening you up to new career opportunities. Consider one of the five programs listed above or choose another option on the Campus Explorer website, which lists the most popular schools that offer this field of study online. The right degree depends on your career goals, preferred work environment, and budget. However, Campus Explorer will help you find the perfect place to study.
FAQ About Online ALA-Accredited Library Science Programs
Students considering an online ALA-accredited library science program may have some questions about what to expect. Here are some answers to these frequently asked questions.
How Much Does an ALA-Accredited Library Science Program Cost?
Program costs vary from one school to the next. Most schools charge a per-credit fee in addition to registration and other student fees. These can range from $400 per credit hour to over $2,000 per credit hour. Students may find that online programs have a slightly lower cost because of fewer fees and overhead.
How Long Does it Take to Earn an Online ALA-Accredited Library Science Degree?
Most of these programs are between 36 and 40 credit hours, which means it takes around two years to complete a library science degree from an ALA-accredited school. Some programs offer the option to transfer credits or take an accelerated schedule, so students will need to check with their particular school to determine the time frame expected for their degree.
What Is the Average Salary of Someone with a Master’s in Library Science?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for librarians and library media specialists in 2022 was $61,660. A master’s degree is an entry-level requirement for most of these jobs. Those who work in the highest 10% of wage earners earn an average of around $98,650, and colleges, universities, and professional schools offer the highest pay range for these professionals.
Is a Graduate Degree Required to Become a Librarian?
According to U.S. News and World Report, most librarian jobs require a master’s degree in either library science or information studies. The BLS also indicates that a master’s degree is required for librarians and library media specialists.
Do Online Library Science Programs Require the GRE?
The GRE requirement varies from school to school. Some schools are phasing out this requirement, opting instead to look at a student’s application essay and transcripts. To know if you need to take the GRE to apply to an MLIS program, contact the school you are considering directly.