Master’s Degree in Library Science (MLS)

The American Library Association (ALA) has determined that a master’s degree from a program accredited by the ALA is the best professional degree for all librarians. Commonly, this is known as a master’s degree in library science, or MLS. (Some programs have been renamed Master of Library and Information Science, or MLIS).  Getting your MLS is the final step in your quest to become a professional librarian. 

According to data collected by the ALA in 2019, just 34,006 of the 50,925 public librarians in the United States have a MLS degree that is from an ALA-accredited school. Librarians at 4124 of the nation’s 9057 public libraries hold an MLS degree from an ALA accredited school.  Many states require that public librarians hold a MLS or MLIS degree. The MLS is the gold standard for professional librarians, and, while not required for all librarian positions, is quickly becoming a priority in hiring new librarians. Keep reading to discover more about the master’s degree in library science. 

Smiling student in the library

Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Library Science?

Most librarian positions will require that you hold an MLS degree. Even if a job does not require one, having a MLS will give you a distinct advantage over candidates who hold just a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree in another field. 

Find Master’s Degree in Library Science in Your State

Master’s degree programs in library science are available nationwide. It is recommended that you choose a program that is accredited through the ALA. Programs are available in online, on-campus and hybrid formats. Check out our list of master’s in library science degree programs to find ones in your state.

Classes in a Master’s Degree in Library Science Program

Although MLS programs differ from one school to another, there are some courses that should be common to most programs. Required foundational courses usually include:

  • Information-seeking and reference services
  • Foundations of library and information science
  • Management of information organizations
  • Organization of information
  • Collection development
  • Research in library and information science

Technology requirements differ from one MLS degree program to another, but may include:

  • Information technology
  • Database design
  • Web design and development

Additionally, your MLS program may include a capstone project, externship, or internship. 

Specializations in Master’s Degree in Library Science Programs

If you are interested in specializing in a particular area of library science, there are many from which to choose among the ALA-accredited programs. Here are just a few specializations that are offered:

  • Young adult/youth services
  • Special/corporate librarianship
  • Special collections
  • Archive studies
  • School librarianship
  • Health informatics
  • Records management
  • References and user services
  • Management and administration
  • Organization of information
  • Digital libraries
  • Information systems design/analysis
  • Leadership and administration

Length of Time for a Master’s Degree in Library Science

It will usually take two years of full-time study to complete your master’s degree in library science. As many students work and go to school at the same time, actually finishing a master’s degree program will likely take longer than 24 months, however.

Core Competencies for Librarians 

Per the ALA, the core competencies that librarians who have graduated from an ALA-accredited MLS or MLIS program should have include:

  • Foundations of the profession (includes ethics, values, history of libraries and librarianship)
  • Information resources
  • Organization of recorded knowledge and information
  • Technological knowledge and skills
  • Reference and user services
  • Research
  • Continuing education and lifelong learning
  • Administration and management

Jobs for Master’s Degree in Library Science Holders

The ALA says that some states, and certain types of librarian jobs, definitely require a master’s degree. Some of them include:

  • Connecticut (Library Director must have MLS or MLIS)
  • Kansas (Level 4 Librarian)
  • Kentucky
  • Maine (although a bachelor’s degree is acceptable for small town librarians)
  • Iowa (depends upon level)
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Maryland 
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York (or 6 graduate credits and a conditional state certificate)
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota (for higher level librarians)
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia (only for librarians serving gowns with population over 13,000)
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Additionally, in most states, managerial, supervisory and director librarian jobs typically require a master’s degree. 

State Certification and Continuing Education for Librarians 

Many states also require librarians to hold a certificate from the state licensing or certifying their credentials. Additionally, some states require librarians to complete continuing education credits on a yearly basis. Some states with certification requirements for public librarians include:

  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Washington

States with continuing education requirements for public librarians include:

  • Alabama (4 CE meetings annually)
  • Alaska (1 CE program approved by state librarian annually, just for directors)
  • Arizona (45 CE hours every three years in core competencies)
  • Colorado (45 CE hours every three years)
  • Georgia (10 CE hours every two years)
  • Iowa (45 contact hours during certification)
  • Kansas (45 contact hours every three years)
  • Kentucky (100 contact hours if professional certificate holder, 50 contact hours if just have library experience but no certificate)
  • Maryland (6 semester hours per year
  • Minnesota (60 contact hours)
  • Nebraska (45 credits every three years)
  • New York (60 hours of professional development every 5 years)
  • Ohio (100 contact hours every five years)
  • Oklahoma (4 continuing education units yearly)
  • Pennsylvania (directors only must complete 8 hours of CE annually)
  • Rhode Island (one CE event yearly)
  • South Dakota (20 hours of CE every 4 years)
  • Tennessee (4 CE programs per year for directors, 1 CE program per year for staff)
  • West Virginia (8 CE hours per year for directors, 3 for staff)
  • Wisconsin (100 contact hours of CE)

Salaries and Job Outlook for Master’s Degree in Library Science Holders 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that as of May 2020, librarians and media collections specialists in the U.S. made a mean annual salary of $63,560.  Top-paying industries for librarians and media collections specialists include:

  • Federal executive branch, where librarians averaged $92,930 annually
  • Scientific research and development services, in which librarians made $80,130 per year
  • Legal services, where librarians made $79,710 annually
  • Software publishers, where librarians earned $75,440 per year
  • Grantmaking and giving services, where librarians garnered $73,920 annually

Approximately five percent growth is expected for job opportunities nationwide for librarians between 2019 and 2029. This rate of increase is faster than the average for other occupations. Librarians who are master’s trained and recognized by the ALA are projected to be needed for many years to come, as technology is in a constant state of change and communities are using libraries for a wide variety of services.