As we have mentioned often within these pages, the American Library Association (ALA) recommends that all professional librarians hold a Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. This degree should be obtained at a school at which the ALA has accredited the MLS or MLIS program.
The ALA has accredited many different types of MLS programs from all across the nation. Some of these programs are on-campus, others are online, and still others are a hybrid mix of both types of classes. These varied methods fit the needs of a wide range of types of students, both traditional and non-traditional. The ALA maintains a directory of its accredited MLS programs here. We have also compiled a list of some of the most highly ranked online MLS programs in the nation, which can be found here.
With so many choices when it comes to online MLS programs, how do you choose the one that’s right for you?
What Does ALA Accreditation Mean?
Most employers of librarians will require that applicants for their positions graduate from a school with an ALA-accredited MLS degree. These accredited degrees may go by names such as Master of Library and Information Science, Master of Library Science, Master of Arts in Library Science, Master of Librarianship and others.
If an MLS program, whether online or on-campus, is ALA-accredited, it means that program has been reviewed and determined to meet the ALA Committee on Accreditation’s Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies. The standards assess an MLS program’s mission, goals, objectives, curriculum, faculty, students, administration, financial support, physical resources and physical facilities. In this way, the ALA has done the assessment part of choosing a quality MLS program for you. If you are looking for an online MLS program that is ALA-accredited, you can check the appropriate box in their searchable directory to limit your search to online programs.
What Does ALA/AASL Nationally Recognized Program Mean?
Another designation you will notice as you look at online MLS programs is “ALA/AASL Nationally Recognized.” This type of recognition is intended to help students who are looking to become school librarians at the K through 12 level. If this describes you, chose a program that is ALA/AASL nationally recognized in MLS with a specialty in school librarianship. There are many such online programs available, as well as on-campus. A directory of these programs may be found here.
How Long Will an Online MLS Program Take to Complete?
Many students question if taking an online MLS program is a faster way to earn an MLS than enrolling in an on-campus or hybrid program. The answer to this question is, maybe. Each online MLS program is different, with varied expected times of completion. Some programs might be able to be completed in a year, while others could take up to three years to complete. It all depends upon how many credits you take each semester, and that is highly dependent upon your other commitments. Do you work a full-time job? If so, you might opt to go to online school part-time, and completing your online MLS degree might take a bit longer. If you are only going to school and not working, or working part-time, then you might be able to take more classes or accelerated classes and finish your online MLS degree much sooner.
Will My Online Classes Be Live or At My Own Pace in an Online MLS Program?
Another question that prospective online MLS program students may have is regarding the class format. Will classes be live or taken at your own pace? This is highly dependent upon the program and varies from one online MLS program to the next.
Some online MLS programs offer classes in what is known as a “synchronous” format. This means that the classes meet at the same day(s) and time(s) each week, usually requiring a webcam and microphone to participate. Other online MLS programs offer “asynchronous” classes, which can be taken at your own pace, following a professor’s syllabus, making sure that you complete assignments by due dates. Asynchronous classes usually appeal to those who are working and to whom meeting at the same time or day each week in a live class does not work. Most online MLS programs offer a mixture of these two types of classes, so that you can choose which ones best fit your lifestyle.
Can I Still Complete an Internship in an Online MLS Program?
An important part of any MLS program is the internship or practicum. During this time, which may last from a few weeks to a few semesters, you will be placed into a professional work environment in which you get the chance to practice the skills you have learned in the classroom. If you are considering online MLS programs, you might wonder if an internship is still possible.
While not all online MLS programs require students to complete an internship prior to graduation, most do. An internship in an online MLS program is not only possible, but also encouraged. Even online MLS programs that do not require internships often offer them as options. In an online internship, you usually choose your own placement in a professional library setting, and get an online college advisor to sign off on it. You will also need to determine that your supervisor for the internship meets the ALA/online MLS program’s requirements, as they will be expected to closely document your work experience.
The same concepts apply if you are seeking to become a school librarian through an online MLS program. You will need to complete a teaching practicum in-person, and will likely need to arrange this yourself, with advisement from your online MLS program advisor.
Is Financial Aid Offered for Online MLS Programs?
If you are considering enrolling in an online MLS program, you might also wonder if financial aid is available. Depending upon the school, scholarships, grants, and loans should be available to you. Additionally, tuition assistance, work-study programs and teaching or research assistantships may be available, depending upon your situation and circumstances. Check with the online MLS program in which you are interested to find out what help is available to students.
Will Online MLS Programs Help Place Me in a Job After Graduation?
An important part of any MLS program is the ability to find work in your field after graduation. Many college programs will offer job placement assistance to current students as well as alumni. This applies to online MLS programs as well. Some of them will offer links to job sites or search sites that offer positions specific to MLS holders.
In addition, the following job placement programs are available to anyone – not just to those who graduate with an ALA-accredited MLS degree:
- ALA Placement Services– This service is provided in conjunction with the ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference, and offers services for job seekers and employers
- ALA Job List – This site lists featured jobs in the library and information science/technology fields all across the country.
- State School Librarian Associations – Most states have their own School Librarian Associations that list job openings and professional resources for school librarians