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Library Science Degree

The old stereotype of a librarian wearing thick-rimmed glasses while guarding books and shushing patrons is far from today’s reality. Librarians can offer a deep, well-rounded knowledge of library services and resources, helping library patrons connect with and navigate through both. They can serve in public libraries, educational institutions, museums, corporations, government agencies, law firms, non-profit organizations, and hospitals.

The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.
—T.S. Eliot

Read on to learn:

  • What it’s like to be a librarian and what a day in the life of a librarian might be like
  • How to become a librarian
  • What it takes to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Library Science
  • Requirements for a Master’s Degree in Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)
  • The possibility of getting a library science degree through an online program
  • How much librarians earn and the outlook for this career

A Day in the Life of a Librarian

Every day librarians are called on to handle tasks that require a vast knowledge of books and authors on a wide variety of subjects. On any given day a librarian might:

  • Work with clerks, library assistants, volunteers, and members of the public
  • Search for requested materials
  • Answer reference questions on a range of topics
  • Help members of the public use the library’s free computers and navigate an increasingly complex world of information
  • Help connect people with books they’ll love
  • Acquire, catalogue, classify, circulate, and maintain print and digital library materials, including books, newspapers, magazines, movies, television programs, and music
  • Establish and work with databases and information systems
  • Attend meetings, respond to emails, and monitor and manage library social media accounts

Librarians need strong research and computer skills as well as excellent interpersonal and customer service capabilities to communicate successfully with many different people.

Librarians can work in public or private elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, as well as museums, government offices, non-profit organizations, and private businesses. They can specialize in medicine, law, government documents, or other areas.

Regardless of where they work, the most frequently cited positive aspect of a librarian job role is a sense of continuous learning.

How to Become a Librarian

Most librarian jobs today require a master’s degree in library information science (MLIS) from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). That means you’ll first need to earn a bachelor’s degree in library science or a related subject and then obtain a MLIS or MLS, which typically takes one to two years to complete after you earn your bachelor’s degree. Online library science degrees are available.

Many states require that librarians hold a master’s degree from an ALA accredited program because librarians manage state-funded facilities. Some states may require licensing or certification for those who work in public libraries. You can find more information at the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA) website page for state/regional certifications. Librarians who want to work in elementary or secondary public schools may be required to obtain a teaching certificate, so make sure you check the requirements for your state.

If you are contemplating a higher administration career in a large public library system or academia, you should consider pursuing a doctorate degree. There are a relatively small number of Ph.D. programs available in librarianship, and the majority have residency requirements that can make pursuing this degree more challenging.

Since librarians may specialize in many different areas, it’s important to think about the subjects that interest you most and research your options as you decide what you might want to focus on.

Bachelor’s Degree in Library Science

If you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in library science you can expect a completion requirement of approximately 120 credits in a four-year program. In addition to required general education classes, program coursework may emphasize:

  • Research methods — theory of research, the scientific method, and statistics; formulate good research questions, propose research design, conduct research and collect data, and analyze data and report results.
  • Indexing and abstracting — the role of indexing and abstracting and information retrieval; learn database organization and design and manual and automated processes and methods of abstracting and indexing.
  • Library organization, management, and administration — learn the principles of organization, management and administration required to effectively run a library.
  • Library collections management — learn the essential skills needed to manage a library collection in a variety of library settings.

Since most libraries require that a librarian hold a master’s degree from an ALA accredited program, getting a bachelor’s degree is often a stepping stone toward that goal. However, your degree can help you get a job in a library and gain valuable experience. A bachelor’s degree in library science can also open the door to many other careers, such as competitive intelligence analyst, internet trainer, knowledge management specialist, media specialist, web content strategist, and many others.

Master’s Degree in Library Science Degree (MLS Degree)

A Master’s in Library Science (MLS degree), more commonly known today as a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences (MLIS), provides depth and breadth in the library and information sciences discipline.

The primary requirement for getting into an MLIS program is having bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Most programs require a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA for admission. You’ll also need to complete an application package that typically includes:

  • Completed application
  • Personal statement or essay providing the reasons you believe the program is right for you and why the admissions committee should select you
  • Official transcript for all colleges, universities, and institutions where you’ve earned college-level credit
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Recommendations from people qualified to comment on your academic abilities and potential for success
  • Payment of any required fees

The curriculum, number of credits, and requirements to complete an MLS or MLIS degree can vary. To graduate you’ll need to successfully complete from 21 to 64 semester credit hours depending on your school and area of specialization. In addition to required classes and credit hours, thesis and/or internship completion can be required for graduation.

Online Library Science Degree Programs

Some people have trouble finding an ALA-accredited program nearby. Others want to complete a program without disrupting their family or losing their current income. For these people, and others, an online library degree program may be the best option.

It’s possible to complete a library science degree completely online. While most online MLIS programs are ALA-accredited, be sure to check and confirm this fact before pursuing a program.

Advantages of Online Programs

  • Online programs are typically less expensive than campus-based programs. Even if tuition rates are the same, you can save money on gas, parking, and meals.
  • Online programs can offer scheduling flexibility and convenience so students are able to work and accommodate family responsibilities.
  • In some cases, online students are able to complete MLIS degree requirements faster than they could in a traditional college setting.
  • Online programs let you learn at your own pace.

Disadvantages of Online Programs

  • Online learning requires excellent time-management skills and self-discipline.
  • Many people miss the social aspects of engaging in-person with other students.
  • In-person interaction with an instructor can provide more immediate feedback.

Some schools offer a hybrid model in which most of the program is delivered online, but students meet one or two weekends per semester for hands-on labs and class interaction.

Librarian Certification

Certification and licensure are intended to demonstrate that an individual possesses a required level of knowledge and skills. Certification is voluntary. Licensure is mandatory.

Many states require that librarians complete a master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program and accept that as proof of knowledge and skills, but some require that certain librarians, such as a managing librarian or library director, be certified. Additionally, different types of libraries can have different requirements. The variations in requirements from state-to-state can be confusing.

Finding information for certification requirements for school libraries in each state isn’t easy. While you can always check the Department of Education website for your state, these sites aren’t always easy to navigate. To make things even more complicated, those who want to be school librarians might also be required to hold a teaching certificate. The School Library Connection website provides a directory on the left-hand side of the page to make it easier to find the requirements for your state.

Those interested in working as a librarian in a non–public school setting can find information about state and regional certifications on the ALA-APA website.

Librarian Salary and Job Outlook

A good economy and near-record low unemployment in the United States makes the job market for new graduates better than it has been in years, especially for MLIS graduates who possess good skills in research and information services.

Salaries of Librarians

The median annual wage for librarians was $58,520 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10% earned less than $34,300, and the highest 10% earned more than $91,620.

Where you work can impact your salary. The highest levels of employment for librarians are found in:


The five states paying the highest salaries for librarians as of May 2018 were:

State Hourly Mean WageAnnual Mean Wage
District of Columbia $41.02$85,330
California $39.22$81,580
Maryland $34.84$72,470
Washington $34.51$71,780
Alaska $34.22$71,180


Job Outlook for Librarians

Employment of librarians is projected to grow 9% from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in May, 2018 the states with the highest employment levels in this occupation were:

StateEmployment (1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
New York12,6901.351.56$32.94$68,520
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