Overview of Online Master's in Library Sciences
Librarians provide a range of library services to communities, government agencies, and educational institutions, which require specialized training. A master's in library science, which may also include the topic of information studies in its title, is required to become a professional librarian in most public and private settings. It teaches students to acquire, evaluate, catalog, and distribute information effectively, including sources in the form of books, archival materials, special collections, newspapers, and media content. This degree also covers the processes behind library operations, such as how to engage donors and design information delivery programs for different communities.
Many accredited schools and universities offer an online master's in library sciences. An online degree often allows students to schedule classes around their busy schedule, which may be especially helpful if they work full-time or have a role as a caregiver. Also, the nature of an online degree means that students do not have to relocate to a college’s destination, which not only increases their educational opportunities but saves time and money associated with moving.
An online graduate degree in library science requires at least 30 hours of coursework, and some even require 43 hours to complete the program. Students often distribute these credit hours between core courses, electives, and a thesis requirement or capstone project. While full-time students can finish this master’s degree in two years, part-time students take longer.
Students interested in pursuing an online master's in library science will need a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. Since most programs don't expect applicants to have an educational background in librarianship, students can apply for graduate programs in this field with most bachelor's degrees. However, applicants are often expected to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 that takes into account their 60 most recent credit hours.
Since most programs don't expect applicants to have an educational background in librarianship, students can apply for graduate programs in this field with most bachelor's degrees.
To apply, students must submit an application, which typically includes the following:
- 2-3 letters of recommendation
- A resume
- One or more essays outlining a student’s interest in library science
- Graduate record examination (GRE) scores
- Some graduate programs waive GRE score requirements if an applicant meets the minimum GPA threshold. However, other programs may expect students to score a minimum of 150 and 4 in the verbal reasoning and writing sections, respectively.
Common Master’s in Library Science Courses
Since the way people consume information is rapidly developing, library science is a constantly evolving field. Therefore, library science degree programs are continually adapting to account for these changes. In general, students in a master's of library science program should gain the necessary hands-on skills to identify the community’s informational and educational needs while ensuring that patrons have equal access to information. These programs may emphasize specific areas of focus, such as research, information preservation, or working in school libraries. Below is a list of some standard courses that students may expect when pursuing this degree.
- Developing and Managing Collections: This course focuses on developing collections of books and other media that meet the needs of different audiences. Students learn how to evaluate the needs of diverse communities, select media that meet those needs, and obtain/preserve collection materials, such as books, newspapers, videos, audio, and other media.
- Library Materials for Children and Young Adults: Children and young adults have a wide range of needs and abilities that require specialized library collections and services. Students learn how to select literature, nonfiction books, and other media that meet the social, developmental, cultural, and educational needs of younger audiences. Some programs cover this in one course, while others break up the content into several classes.
- Information Sources and Services: Students gain a comprehensive understanding of the different resources and services provided by libraries and other informational organizations in this course. It explores how people interact with information, digital and print reference tools, search strategies, and other sources.
- Organizing Information: This class teaches the basics of information organization, which include covering the theoretical framework, principles of the discipline, the use of tools, and practical skills for systematizing different media types in a user-friendly way. Students learn about the various functions of organizational practices implemented in libraries, including catalogs, indexes, and classification systems.
- Research Tools and Strategies: Research or reference librarians work with students, staff, and other community members to help them conduct research projects and utilize the appropriate materials. This course teaches these prospective librarians how to use online databases, library catalogs, and other resources in order to locate written and digital research materials. The material will also cover different methodologies and strategies for planning, conducting, and reporting research.
Library Science Concentrations
Common concentrations with a library science master's degree include academic librarianship, school librarianship, archival studies, and information technologies. Each specialization typically focuses on how to curate information in a specific domain. For instance, a music librarianship specialization may teach students to catalog books on musical history, acquire rare recordings, and develop reference systems for music-related materials. Completing this specialization could lead to a career in a public library's music section. Below is a list of common degree specializations in this field that describes their focus.
This specialization instructs on how to provide educational and research materials to students and faculty in an academic setting, usually a university. It includes courses on academic libraries, electronic publishing, and digital library services. Students learn how to use new forms of education technology to deliver information to a wider campus community.
Librarians need certain skills to handle archival materials, such as old books, newspapers, photographs, and other historical documents. Students often study referencing systems for archival artifacts, preservation and handling techniques for historical documents, and methods for researching older collections.
If students desire to become an information specialist in the legal domain, this specialization may be a suitable fit because it involves engaging with the court system, federal government agencies, and other legal departments. Students take courses that focus on managing information in a way that makes it accessible to legal professionals. It’s important to note, however, that select programs may require that students have a background in law.
In addition to giving students a general overview of information technologies, this concentration includes courses that delve into how children and young adults learn and process information. The tools, programs, and best practices of school media specialists are also covered in this specialization.
Financial Aid for an Online Master’s in Library Science
The most affordable online library science master's degrees cost between $4,267 and $15,300 in tuition fees per year. In comparison, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that the average yearly in-state tuition for a master's degree was $19,314 during the 2018-2019 academic year. Though it is possible to pursue your library science master's at a more affordable rate than the average master's degree, it remains a significant investment.
Online students are generally eligible for the same types of aid as campus-based students, but some scholarships may be limited to in-person programs. Online students should check eligibility requirements — such as attending an accredited school, enrolling as a full-time student, and qualifying as a state resident for tuition purposes — to make sure they qualify for aid. If a scholarship or other aid source doesn't specify whether online students are eligible, students should check with their financial aid office or scholarship provider to see if they meet the criteria.
Graduate students pursuing an online master's degree in library science have a few options to help cover the cost of tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. Financial aid opportunities are available from various sources, and students may even combine awards to reduce costs further. Four main financial aid sources are available to graduate students:
- Federal financial aid
- State financial aid
- Institution funding
- Private funding
Applying for Financial Aid
Before relying on loans to reduce the amount of debt they'll have when they graduate, students should seek out aid they don't have to repay, such as grants, scholarships, work-study funding, and tuition assistance from employers.
Once someone has exhausted their options for gift aid, they should compare the terms and conditions of different student loan options to ensure they find the best choice for their circumstances. Many students rely on loans to help pay for graduate school. Federal student loans are generally seen as a better option than private lenders because they offer fixed interest rates and tend to have more flexible repayment plans.
The most common way to apply for financial aid and determine how much aid students qualify for is by filling out the FAFSA, which is used by the federal and state governments and most universities. Students should complete the FAFSA even if they think they won't be eligible for any aid.
Where to Look For Additional Funding
The American Library Association (ALA) is the main accreditor for library science programs and offers more than 30 scholarships for students pursuing degrees and careers in the field. Below are some specific funding opportunities for students pursuing a master's in library science.
The Paul Evan Peters Fellowship
This fellowship awards $2,500 per year to master's students in library science, information science, and related fields for up to two years. This fellowship is open to U.S. citizens or permanent residents entering or enrolled in a master's program at an accredited U.S. university or an ALA-accredited program. Recipients must be progressing in their program and be enrolled in at least six credit hours per semester during the year they receive the fellowship.
Miriam L. Hornback Scholarship
This annual award of $3,000 is open to any library support staff member from the U.S. or Canada pursuing a master’s at an ALA-accredited school.
The Tony B. Leisner Scholarship
Library support staff members pursuing a master’s in library science are eligible for $3,000 that can be applied toward their degree on an annual basis.
Students should also check with their school's financial aid office and program department to find other financial aid opportunities that apply to their specific situation.
Careers with a Master's Degree in Library Sciences
Graduates with a master's degree in library science work in universities, museums, schools, government organizations, and hospitals. According to the ALA, students need a master's degree in library science if they desire to become a public librarian employed by the government or a senior-level school librarian. Furthermore, many libraries require applicants to have master's degrees from ALA-accredited programs. Below is a list of potential career paths that students can pursue with this degree, including some salary and career outlook data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Archivists work in museums to develop efficient ways to catalog historical materials. They also appraise archival materials, source new materials, and oversee museum exhibits. Archivists earn an annual median salary of $52,140, and the BLS projects that there will be 6,600 new archivist jobs through 2030.
- Library Directors oversee many aspects of a library's operations, such as determining a yearly budget, liaising with patrons and donors, determining long-term strategy, and managing employees. The ALA estimates that library directors can earn salaries from $38,000 to over $200,000, depending on the library's size, location, and the community it serves.
- Library Science Teachers work in colleges and universities teaching courses and helping students gain the appropriate skills for working in library science. Those in this role may also research how to improve existing tools and librarianship best practices. Based on 2020 estimates, library science teachers can earn a median salary of $77,650.
Is an Online Master's in Library Science Worth it?
Some people strictly associate librarians with traditionally printed books and assume that this role is no longer needed in our digitally-oriented world. However, a need still exists for tech-savvy information specialists who can help people source and interpret information. In fact, according to the BLS, the demand for librarians is projected to grow by 9% over the next decade, creating 13,000 new jobs. Public librarians earn median annual salaries of $60,820, nearly 45% more than the median U.S. wage. The promising job growth and salary outlook indicate this degree may be worth the return on investment.
A need exists for tech-savvy information specialists who can help people source and interpret information.
Earning this degree online may enhance a student’s digital skills, provide greater flexibility that suits their schedule, and allow them to choose from a broader selection of programs that fit their budget without ever leaving home. However, earning a master's degree can be a time-consuming and expensive proposition even if it’s online. Depending on personal circumstances, this may not be the best option for all students, but a career in librarianship is not necessarily out of the question. According to the BLS, library technicians and assistants working with librarians only require a postsecondary certificate or even a high school diploma in some cases.