Finding the right university at which to earn a Master of Library Science (M.L.S.) degree is sometimes the most difficult part of becoming a librarian. Living in northern Virginia, for instance, I would have to spend up to an hour and a half to reach Catholic University in Washington, DC. The only other DC-area college offering the M.L.S. degree is the University of Maryland, which charges Virginia residents out-of-state tuition. Increasing availability of online M.L.S. degree programs has been the answer for hundreds of prospective librarians in the last few years. But how do you find the right program?
While some colleges and universities offer undergraduate degrees in library science, most employers prefer to hire an individual with an M.L.S., according to DistanceEducation.org. Graduating from a program accredited by the American Library Association provides an edge when job hunting.
A common misconception is that online programs are less rigorous than those conducted on campus. In fact, you’ll normally study more than a year and take courses in areas like information science, research methodology, issues in librarianship, building a collection and information organization.
OnlineDegrees.com reports that in 2009, the average starting salary for a librarian was nearly $42,000. Around 94 percent of new M.L.S. graduates found jobs. Baby boomers currently saturate the profession, with 60 percent of librarians aged 45 or older.
Types of Degree Programs
In addition to the M.L.S. degree, some colleges offer Master of Librarianship (M.L.) and Master of Library and Information Studies (M.L.I.S.) programs. For any of the three types of programs, you should expect to complete between 36 semester hours to 72 quarter hours of training.
Most graduate programs in library science require you to have a sufficient undergraduate grade point average, Graduate Record Exam scores, references and varying degrees of computer competency for admission. A program described as “online” might offer all courses via distance education or require some sort of short-term residency. Some require you to complete a certain percentage of classes on campus.
Finding the Best Option
The best place to start looking for the right Master of Library Science or similar program is the American Library Association (ALA) web site. It has a searchable database that includes a Google map for the location of the various programs and links to these schools’ sites.
The ALA site also lists accredited online programs here. Schools offering online M.L.S. programs include Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Florida State, Northern Carolina Central University, Rutgers, Wayne State, San Jose State and Texas Woman’s University. Also on the list are the Universities of Alabama, Puerto Rico, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Two universities that are conditionally accredited round out the list.
The first step in picking the right M.L.S. program is deciding whether you need or prefer a program that’s 100 percent online. If you do, eliminate any schools that don’t offer one. Once you’ve narrowed your selections to half a dozen or fewer, take a close look at the cost of each one. Some exceed $40,000. If you need loans or other financial aid, find out from each school what’s available to distance learning students.
After you’ve found programs in your price range, you’ll want to find out how graduates have fared in the job market. You’ll also want to know if the coursework requires access to a local library of a certain size or subject-matter orientation.
Perhaps you have an interest in a particular career path, such as becoming a medical librarian. Before applying, determine whether each M.L.S. program of interest offers any specialized training.
Fortunately, finding the right online M.L.S. program to meet your needs is much easier today than it was even a few years ago. If you have the focus necessary to organize your time and the ability to work independently to meet the requirements, you’ll be headed for a rewarding career.