Library Science Degrees

Want to know about the types of degrees in library science, including the levels you can earn and what you'll learn? Get information on courses, requirements, and career certification.

How to Become a Librarian

A career as a librarian can be a diverse and challenging option for individuals with a wide variety of interests. Librarians catalogue and organize information on a wide range of subjects, conduct research, and consult with library patrons. The requirements to enter this field often differ depending on what type of librarian you would like to be. Most positions required a master's degree in Library Science (MLS), and positions in a public school or public library also often require certification.

Traditionally, the steps to become a librarian include:

  1. Graduate with a bachelor's degree
  2. Earn your Master's in Library Science (MLS) degree
  3. Get certified if it's required by your state

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Librarian?

So what exactly are the educational requirements to become a librarian? For most positions with the title of librarian, you will need to have a master's degree in library science, or MLS degree. If you are interested in entering the library field but are not ready to earn a graduate degree, there are bachelor's and associate's degree programs in library science or library technology that prepare you for related careers.

How to Become a School Librarian

School librarians have slightly different requirements than other librarians, and these requirements vary by state. The American Association of School Librarians recommends that the minimum professional preparation for school librarians is the MLS degree. Steps to take to become a school librarian include:

  1. Earn a bachelor's or master's degree in library science, as required by your state.
  2. Gain teaching experience, if this is required in your state
  3. Take any required certification tests such as the Praxis or National Evaluation Series (NES) exams. Required exams will vary by state.

Librarian Degree

You can earn a degree in library science at the associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels; however, for most librarian positions, you'll need at least a graduate degree. The specific classes in a library science program will differ at the various degree levels, but you will often take courses in research, material organization, and information technology. You may also take courses in an area of specialization, such as children's literature or music librarianship, particularly at the master's or doctoral level. Let's examine the different levels of library science programs.

Library Science Degree Program Length Potential Careers
Associate's Degree 2 years Library Technician
Library Assistant
Bachelor's Degree 4 years Archivist
Library Paraprofessional
School Librarian (some states)
Master's Degree 2 years Public Librarian
Law Librarian
Business Researcher
Ph.D 3-5 years

Associate's Degree in Library Science

If you are interested in a two-year degree, you could earn an associate's degree in library science or library technology degree. Graduates of these programs are qualified to work as library technicians, library assistants, or paraprofessionals in school libraries. In addition, many of the credits that you earn in your associate's degree program can transfer to a bachelor's degree program if you decided to continue your education. Library Science programs often include some general education courses as well as library science courses in topics such as:

  • Acquisitions
  • Cataloguing
  • Library technology

Library Science Bachelor's Degree

In a library science bachelor's degree program, you will take a courses that cover topics such as:

  • Reference and information services
  • Children's literature
  • Collection development.

Bachelor's degree programs can typically be completed in four years. If you need a more flexible option, there are online library science bachelor's degree programs available as well.

Many graduates of this program find positions as library paraprofessionals or in museums, archives, and publishing companies. In some states, a bachelor's degree in library science will meet the minimum education requirements needed to earn certification as a school librarian.

Master's Degree in Library Science

In order to work as an academic or public librarian, you will need to earn a master's degree in library science. Any undergraduate major is acceptable to pursue this degree, though if you plan on working in a specialty particular library, such as in a music library or health library, you may wish to consider earning your bachelor's degree in that area. An MLS can typically be completed in two years of full-time study, and you will often take courses in:

  • Database design
  • Information organization
  • Research methods
  • Digital libraries
  • Library systems
  • User inquires

Some programs also offer you the chance to add a concentration or area of specialization to your degree. Some of the concentration options you could choose from include:

  • Records management
  • Art librarianship
  • Rare books
  • Digital curation
  • Children and young adult librarianship

In addition to positions as librarians, career option for MLS degree holders include working in governmental information, preservation, UX design, and digital information management. Depending on your career goals, you may wish to explore dual degree graduate programs, such as a JD/MLS for those who wish to work as law librarians, MFA/MLS for those interested in becoming an art librarian, and MA/MLS programs for those interested in careers as academic librarians.

PhD in Library Science

If you wish to continue your studies in library science above the master's degree level, you might consider earning a PhD in Library Science. As a PhD student, you could take courses in:

  • The history of libraries
  • Research methods
  • Statistics
  • Theory development.

You may also need to sit for a field exam or review, which demonstrates that you are well-versed in a library science specialty, and prepare a research presentation or present a paper for publication. Your PhD program will typically culminate in a dissertation where you will be expected to conduct independent scholarship in an area of library science.

Graduates of PhD in Library Science program often seek positions as researchers or as faculty members of university library science departments.

Librarian Degree Online

At each of the degree levels discussed above, it is possible to find online degree programs in library science; although online MLS programs are most common. Most of these programs allow you to complete your courses at your own pace. An online MLS will typically take approximately two years to complete, but some programs may allow you to expedite your degree by taking additional courses to complete the program sooner. In-person requirements, such as an internship, may be necessary for you to complete your degree.

Librarian Courses Online

If you decide to complete the Master of Library Science program online, your courses should be similar to those you would take in a traditional on-ground program. Courses that you might take include:

  • Information seeking and retrieval
  • Introductory data science
  • Electronic information resource
  • Library programming
  • Storytelling

Librarian Certification

In some states, certification is required for librarians working in public libraries. In most states, you are required to hold an MLS from an institution accredited by the American Library Association to earn such certification. A small number of states, such as Ohio, also require experience working as a librarian. An equivalent degree that is similar in preparation is also acceptable for some locations. Completion of continuing education is required to maintain certification in most states.

School librarian certification is different from the certification required for public librarians. In general, school librarians must have a bachelor's or master's degree in library science and complete mandatory state certification exams.

Librarian Certification Online

Once you receive your certification as a librarian, you will need to take professional development courses in order to renew it and to continue to develop your knowledge and skills. Professional development courses can be taken through colleges or at special events and conferences for librarians. There are also a wide range of professional development courses and webinars available online for professional librarians, both from universities and from professional library associations. Some examples of courses you might take include Getting Started with Virtual Reality, Preservation Showdown, Academic Library Makerspaces, and Crowdsourced Reference.