Online Master of Library and Information Science

If you are researching becoming a librarian, you most likely know that the American Library Association (ALA) recommends that you get a Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree from a program that they have accredited. What is the difference between an MLIS and an MLS, you might wonder? And are MLIS programs offered online? We will explore the online MLIS degree here. 

How is an MLIS Degree Different from an MLS Degree?

At one time, the only master’s degree in library science offered was the Master of Library Science, or MLS degree. This was the ALA-approved gold standard for professional librarians at the time. With the dawn of the information age, however, it was accepted that librarians needed to understand information science and systems and various technologies. The ALA-accredited MLIS degree reflects that need. It also has an advantage over the MLS degree in being more technologically-targeted, giving its holder a wider variety of career choices after graduation.

Student doing homework in public library

Are There Online MLIS Degree Programs?

There are many online MLIS degree programs. Most of these programs have the same courses, admission requirements, and graduation requirements as traditional or on-campus MLIS or MLS programs. In fact, there are more MLIS online degree programs now than there are MLS online degree programs, reflecting the fact that the MLIS degree is more technologically based and is becoming a popular choice within the field of information science. 

How Can I Find Accredited Online MLIS Degree Programs?

The ALA maintains a searchable directory of MLS and MLIS programs that it has accredited. That directory may be found here. Its searchable format allows you to limit your search to online options, various concentrations that may be offered in an online MLIS program, as well as other degrees and educational opportunities. You should always choose an ALA-accredited online MLIS program when looking for online MLIS programs. Most employers will only accept candidates who hold ALA-accredited MLIS or MLS degrees. 

We have also compiled a list of the best online MLIS and MLS programs, which can be found here. 

Online MLIS Program Admittance

Just as with on-campus MLIS programs, each online MLIS program is different and has its own admission requirements. However, in general, in order to gain admission to an online MLIS program you must, of course, first meet the technology requirements. This usually includes:

  • A personal computer
  • Good internet access (most online schools recommend that you have hard-wired, high-speed broadband internet access – some say that wireless and satellite internet is not good enough, but students who have taken many online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic were able to connect, and stay connected, using a variety of wireless internet technologies)
  • Access to an email account (most schools will have you create an email account with an .edu address to be used for classes)
  • A current operating system (usually Windows 7 or higher, or Mac OSX or higher)
  • A compatible internet browser (depending upon the school, this could be Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Safari or Google Chrome)
  • A headset with an attached microphone, or a good speaker/microphone system
  • A functioning webcam (not all classes will require that you are able to be seen on video, but some will)
  • A quiet place where you can attend class online without interruption

Many online schools will offer a technology “test drive” in which you can click a button on their website to make sure that your technology is compatible with their online classes. 

Each school has its own admission requirements to online MLIS programs as well. They may include:

  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree in any field (or in library science, information science or related field – as each school’s requirements differ, check with the online MLIS program in which you are interested)
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 during your bachelor’s degree program
  • Official transcripts from all studies, not just your bachelor’s degree
  • Completed application form and fee
  • Letters of recommendation (two or three, depending upon the school)
  • GRE scores (many online MLIS programs do not require that you take the GRE, however)
  • Resume 
  • Statement of Purpose or Admission Essay (these vary with each school)

Online MLIS Program Course Work

Classes in online MLIS programs are offered in synchronous (live, same day and time each week) or asynchronous (no set class time, but you must complete assignments by a certain day/time each week) manner. Most MLIS programs average 36 credit hours, but of course this, too, differs by school. Some MLIS programs also offer concentrations or areas of emphasis, such as:

  • Archival studies
  • Academic libraries
  • Information literacy
  • School libraries
  • Public libraries
  • Youth services

Courses that you may encounter in an online MLIS program will have titles like:

  • Information Science and Technology
  • Organization of Information
  • Research Methods
  • Information Sources and Services
  • Information Technologies
  • Public Libraries
  • Academic Libraries
  • School Media Centers
  • Administration and Management
  • Internship or Practicum

An online MLIS program may or may not require a thesis and/or a portfolio prior to graduation. If a thesis is required, you must usually choose the subject area of your research within the first 9 credits of the program, as well as a faculty member who has agreed to direct your thesis. An online portfolio may have various requirements and is usually a comprehensive overview of your MLIS program. 

Must I Complete an Internship in an Online MLIS Program?

The online MLIS program you choose may or may not require that you complete an internship, practicum or other type of work experience. If not required, internships are highly recommended to gain valuable experience in the field, network, and make contacts to find jobs after graduation.

For your internship or practicum in an online MLIS program, you usually must choose your own placement in your area, and have that choice approved by program advisors. You must be directly supervised by a qualified manager (usually one who holds an ALA-accredited MLIS degree). Some online MLIS programs will help you to find placements with organizations and/or businesses in your area with which they have worked before.

Online MLIS programs may also offer you the opportunity to work at a virtual internship. During this placement, you will gain valuable experience working at a virtual library. This type of internship must be planned through MLIS advisors, but allows you to complete your internship requirement from home. Placements may be available within various college and university libraries as well as other academic or specialized libraries.