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Online Librarian Education: Summary of Learning Options

Research courses and programs for an online master's degree in library science. Find out what you can learn in these courses and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

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Essential Information

Fully online and hybrid master's degree programs in library science are available. Those who graduate from programs accredited by the ALA are expected to have the best job opportunities. As of 2011, the ALA accredited a total of 56 U.S. programs, including some fully online programs and others that require a few on-campus visits or courses and/or a supervised internship.

Applicants are required to hold a bachelor's degree; this degree can be in any field of study. A master's degree is typically the minimum educational requirement for working as a librarian. Some specialized positions require an additional degree in another field of study, and school librarians typically must earn teaching certification.

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Online Master's Degree in Library Science

Graduates of online library science master's degree programs are tech-savvy information experts, able to locate, access, evaluate and utilize information from myriad local and remote sources. Basic coursework covers the development and role of libraries in society, ethical issues facing librarians, technology skills, information organization, research methods and management techniques. Learning options include specializations in public, school, digital, special and academic libraries.

Some schools confer a Master of Library Science; others award a Master of Science in Library and Information Science. These programs are similar. Candidates must have a bachelor's degree in any subject, and letters of recommendation from previous instructors or advisors are usually required. The American Library Association (www.ala.org) has accredited several degree programs that occur completely online and several more that are mostly online with a few in-person courses required.

Program Information and Requirements

Online library science master's degree programs normally last 2-3 years. While most instruction is delivered through an online learning management system (LMS), some programs require attendance at several days of on-campus orientation. Internships or cooperative work experience in a library setting may be mandatory for graduation and librarian certification. Students specializing in school media may also have state teaching requirements to fulfill.

Candidates must have reliable Internet access and a solid foundation in basic computer skills, such as e-mail and word processing. Online instruction is mostly asynchronous, meaning that students do not have to be online at a scheduled time. However, some classes may have scheduled real-time online discussions, and students are expected to participate in course activities on a weekly basis. Assignments are usually submitted through the LMS.

Common Library Science Courses

Coursework varies by specialization, but 6-9 core courses usually form the foundation of the library science degree. These provide the basics of organizing, managing and retrieving information using traditional and modern tools.

Foundations of Library Science

This introductory class gives a broad overview of the history of libraries and their changing role in society. Students become familiar with relevant vocabulary, tools and resources. They learn about current trends and issues facing librarians' profession.

Collection Development

Students learn how to ensure that the library's collection of resources meets the unique needs of the community it serves. Topics and skills covered include collection analysis, evaluation of community needs, selection criteria and management procedures.

Library Management

Whether in a school, academic, public or corporate library, librarians need basic management and leadership skills. They learn how to develop effective information policies, manage staff and resources, assess patron needs, evaluate organizational efficiency and plan budgets. Professional ethics and communications skills are strongly emphasized.

Information Technologies

Students are introduced to Internet, software and hardware technologies. They learn criteria for evaluating electronic resources and tools, and they develop strategies for incorporating technology into the instructional process.

Reference Sources

Students become familiar with the many print and electronic tools that librarians use to assist patrons. They learn how to use basic search strategies, interact with patrons to assess information needs and build a collection of reference resources in a variety of library settings.

Career Information for Graduates

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) predicted slower-than-average job growth of two percent for all types of librarians from 2014-2024. The long-range outlook may be favorable because many librarians will reach retirement age in the next several years. Growing numbers of graduates from library science programs may increase competition for traditional librarian positions. The BLS also reports that as of May 2015, the mean annual wage for librarians was $58,930, while the highest wages were paid by the federal government. Librarians working for the federal government earned an average salary of $82,880 per year.

Continuing Education Information

Librarians with a master's degree can find online certificate programs for various specialties, such as digital libraries, school media and educational technology. Some librarians may need to complete professional development courses on a regular basis to maintain their certification, and many of these courses are available online. Doctoral programs in library science are available, but they are conducted primarily on campus. Certain courses may have distance-learning options.

Library science programs are available in fully online and hybrid formats at the master's degree level. These programs require a relevant bachelor's degree for admission, and program requirements can include an internship.

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