What is a Library Science Degree?

A library science degree, often referred to as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) or a Master of Library Science (MLS), is a graduate-level program designed to prepare individuals for careers in library and information professions. These programs provide students with a comprehensive understanding of library and information science principles, theories, and practices, as well as specialized knowledge and skills in areas such as collection management, cataloging, reference services, information retrieval, and digital libraries.

Typically offered by universities and colleges accredited by the American Library Association (ALA), library science programs cover a wide range of topics relevant to contemporary library and information environments, including information organization and access, information technology and systems, information ethics and policy, user services and outreach, and research methods in library and information science.

Students in library science programs may have opportunities to customize their studies through elective coursework, internships, and field experiences in areas of interest such as academic libraries, public libraries, special libraries, archives, digital libraries, and information centers. Upon completion of a library science degree, graduates are prepared to pursue diverse career paths in libraries, archives, museums, academic institutions, government agencies, corporate settings, and other information organizations, where they can apply their knowledge and skills to meet the information needs of diverse communities and populations.

Program Options

Library science programs offer various program options to accommodate the diverse needs and interests of students pursuing careers in library and information professions. Some common program options in library science include:

  • Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS): The MLIS degree is the most common program option for individuals seeking professional training in library and information science. MLIS programs typically provide a broad-based education in library and information science principles, theories, and practices, with opportunities for specialization through elective coursework or concentrations in areas such as archives, digital libraries, youth services, or academic librarianship.
  • Master of Science in Library and Information Science (MSLIS): Some institutions offer the MSLIS degree as an alternative to the MLIS degree, with a focus on the technical and scientific aspects of library and information science. MSLIS programs may emphasize information technology, data management, and information science topics, in addition to traditional library science curriculum.
  • Dual Degree Programs: Dual degree programs combine the study of library and information science with another field of study, allowing students to earn two master’s degrees simultaneously. Common dual degree options include MLIS/Master of Public Administration (MPA), MLIS/Master of Business Administration (MBA), MLIS/Master of Arts in History, or MLIS/Master of Education (M.Ed.), among others.
  • Certificate Programs: Certificate programs in library and information science are designed for individuals seeking specialized training or professional development in specific areas of library science, such as digital libraries, archives, or information management. Certificate programs typically consist of a series of courses focused on a particular topic or skill set within the field.
  • Ph.D. Programs: Ph.D. programs in library and information science are available for individuals interested in pursuing advanced research and scholarship in the field. Ph.D. programs typically require coursework in research methods, theory, and specialization areas, as well as independent research leading to a doctoral dissertation.
  • Online and Distance Learning Programs: Many library science programs offer online or distance learning options to accommodate students who require flexibility in their study schedules or who are unable to attend classes on campus. Online programs provide access to coursework, lectures, and resources through virtual learning platforms, allowing students to complete their degrees remotely.
  • Continuing Education and Professional Development: In addition to formal degree programs, many institutions and professional organizations offer continuing education and professional development opportunities for practicing librarians and information professionals. These programs may include workshops, seminars, webinars, and short courses on specialized topics or emerging trends in library and information science.

Degrees Similar to Library Science

Degrees similar to library science often focus on information management, organization, and access, as well as related fields in the broader realm of information studies. Here are some degrees that share similarities with library science:

  • Information Science: Information science programs focus on the study of information, including its creation, organization, retrieval, and dissemination. Students learn about information technology, database management, human-computer interaction, and information systems design. Information science programs often overlap with library science in areas such as information organization, access, and user services.
  • Archival Studies: Archival studies programs prepare students for careers in archival management, preservation, and records management. Students learn about appraisal, arrangement, description, and preservation of archival materials, as well as legal and ethical issues related to archives and records management. Archival studies programs share commonalities with library science in areas such as collection management, metadata standards, and preservation strategies.
  • Museum Studies: Museum studies programs focus on the theory and practice of museum management, curation, and interpretation. Students learn about collections management, exhibition design, public programming, and museum administration. While museum studies programs have distinct focuses on museums and cultural institutions, they share similarities with library science in areas such as collection management, user services, and cultural heritage preservation.
  • Information Management: Information management programs encompass a broad range of disciplines related to the management, organization, and utilization of information resources within organizations. Students learn about information governance, knowledge management, data analytics, and information technology systems. Information management programs may include coursework on library and information science topics, particularly in areas such as information organization, retrieval, and user services.
  • Digital Humanities: Digital humanities programs integrate humanities scholarship with digital tools and technologies for research, teaching, and cultural expression. Students learn about digital methods, text encoding, data visualization, and digital archives. Digital humanities programs often intersect with library and information science in areas such as digital libraries, digital preservation, and digital humanities projects.

Skills You’ll Learn

A library science degree equips students with a diverse set of skills that are essential for success in the field of library and information science. Here are some of the skills learned in a library science degree program:

  • Information Organization: Students learn how to organize and classify information resources using cataloging systems, metadata standards, and classification schemes. They develop skills in creating descriptive metadata, assigning subject headings, and organizing materials to facilitate access and retrieval by users.
  • Reference and Information Services: Students acquire skills in providing reference and information services to users, including conducting reference interviews, searching library catalogs and databases, evaluating information sources, and assisting users in finding relevant resources for their information needs.
  • Collection Development and Management: Students learn how to develop and manage library collections to meet the information needs of diverse user communities. They gain skills in collection assessment, selection, acquisition, weeding, deselection, and preservation strategies for print and electronic resources.
  • Information Literacy Instruction: Students develop skills in designing and delivering information literacy instruction programs to teach users how to effectively find, evaluate, and use information resources. They learn instructional design principles, pedagogical techniques, and assessment strategies for information literacy initiatives.
  • Technology and Digital Libraries: Students gain proficiency in using technology tools and systems for managing and providing access to digital collections and electronic resources. They learn about digital library platforms, content management systems, digitization techniques, digital preservation, and copyright issues related to digital materials.
  • Research and Critical Thinking: Students develop research skills and critical thinking abilities to analyze information needs, evaluate information sources, and solve information problems effectively. They learn research methods, information-seeking behaviors, and techniques for conducting literature reviews and scholarly research.
  • Communication and Collaboration: Students learn how to communicate effectively and collaborate with colleagues, users, and stakeholders in library and information settings. They develop interpersonal skills, customer service skills, and teamwork abilities to work collaboratively on projects and initiatives.
  • Ethics and Professionalism: Students gain an understanding of professional ethics, values, and standards of conduct in the library and information profession. They learn about intellectual freedom, privacy issues, diversity and inclusion, and ethical responsibilities to users and communities.

What Can You Do With a Library Science Degree?

A library science degree opens up a variety of career opportunities in the field of library and information science. Here are some common career paths and job roles you can pursue with a library science degree:

  • Librarian: Librarians work in various types of libraries, including public libraries, academic libraries, school libraries, and special libraries. They are responsible for managing library collections, providing reference and information services to users, developing information literacy programs, and overseeing library operations.
  • Archivist: Archivists manage and preserve historical records, documents, and other materials in archives, museums, government agencies, and cultural institutions. They appraise, arrange, describe, and provide access to archival collections, as well as conduct research, outreach, and educational programs.
  • Information Specialist: Information specialists work in corporate settings, government agencies, research organizations, and nonprofit organizations to manage and organize information resources, provide research support, and develop information management systems to meet organizational needs.
  • Digital Resources Manager: Digital resources managers oversee the development, maintenance, and access of digital collections and electronic resources in libraries, archives, and cultural heritage institutions. They manage digital preservation initiatives, metadata standards, digitization projects, and digital repository systems.
  • Youth Services Librarian: Youth services librarians work in public libraries and school libraries to provide library services and programs for children, teenagers, and young adults. They develop and implement literacy programs, storytelling events, and educational activities to promote reading and learning.
  • Cataloging and Metadata Specialist: Cataloging and metadata specialists create and maintain descriptive metadata records for library and digital collections to facilitate resource discovery and access by users. They apply cataloging rules, standards, and classification schemes to catalog materials accurately.
  • Academic Librarian: Academic librarians work in colleges, universities, and research institutions to support the teaching, learning, and research needs of students, faculty, and researchers. They provide reference assistance, instruction sessions, and collection development services tailored to academic disciplines and research areas.
  • Library Director/Administrator: Library directors and administrators oversee the overall management and strategic direction of libraries and information centers. They develop library policies, budgets, and strategic plans, as well as provide leadership and supervision to library staff.
  • Special Collections Librarian: Special collections librarians curate and manage rare books, manuscripts, archives, and special materials in libraries, museums, and cultural institutions. They promote access to special collections through exhibitions, digitization projects, and outreach activities.
  • Information Technology Specialist: Information technology specialists work in libraries and information centers to manage and support technology infrastructure, systems, and services. They provide technical support, troubleshoot issues, and implement new technologies to enhance access to information resources.

Career Paths

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