Online MLS: Master of Library Science Degrees

School Program ALA Accredited?
Syracuse University Online MS in Library and Information Science
University of Denver Master of Library and Information Science
St. John's University Online M.S. in Library and Information Science

A MLS, or Master of Library Science degree, qualifies recipients to work as a professional librarian in a variety of vocational settings. Curriculum focuses on the organization, access, and preservation of information resources. This includes both physical and digital materials.

The foundational principles of the MLS degree are rooted in history, ethics, research, and practical application. Coursework is designed to examine different information systems and services, including new and evolving technology trends.

ALA Accredited MLS Programs

There are a growing number of institutions offering online MLS programs that are accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). The coursework and graduation requirements are similar to those for in-person MLS programs.

Click to find online library science programs currently accepting applications.

Why online MLS programs are becoming more prevalent

Some institutions offer both online and residential programs as well as hybrid models, which allow students to attend classes in-person and online. Online programs provide more flexibility in terms of scheduling and affordability. Many online programs also offer financial aid packages to qualifying students. Most importantly, choosing an online program expands your options for MLS programs since an institution's physical location doesn't factor into the decision.

To be successful in an online MLIS program, students must have reliable access to a computer, internet and email, and a quiet place to attend virtual class sessions. Most online programs require students to use specific hardware and software products to complete coursework effectively.

Featured Online Library Programs

School Level Program
Syracuse University
Website
Master Online MS in Library and Information Science
ALA-accredited. No GRE required to apply.
University of Denver
Website
Master Master of Library and Information Science
ALA-Accredited, No GRE Required.
St. John's University
Website
Master Online M.S. in Library and Information Science
ALA Accredited. Complete in as little as 2 years.
East Central University
Website
Master Master of Education in Library Media

What is the difference between a MLS and MLIS?

There are several different names associated with Library Science degrees, but the heart of each program is very similar. Some institutions refer to their program as a Master of Library Science (MLS) while others call it a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) or a Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS).

Some schools offer multiple degree programs with different library and information science concentrations. For example, you could choose between a Master of Library Science or a Master of Information Science.

Coursework between concentrations would be different, depending on your learning track. However, while curriculum between programs may vary, those that are accredited by the ALA comply with a specific set of standards and benchmarks. For this reason, most ALA-accredited MLIS and MLS programs are comparable regardless of their designated title.

Top 5 Online ALA Accredited MLS Programs

University of Southern California

The USC Master of Management in Library and Information Science (MMLIS) is the only library and information science degree offered by a business school. Available through the USC Marshall School of Business, this program's curriculum emphasizes management, communication, and business essentials. With a 90% graduation success rate, this program supports students seeking high-level opportunities in the workforce. MMLIS students can expect to gain advanced critical thinking and leadership skills over the course of their education. Guided by the ALA's core competencies of librarianship, coursework highlights the fundamental principles of library and information science. This program also prioritizes teamwork and experience-based learning that lends to practical application in the real world.

This program also offers a Graduate Certificate in Library and Information Management, which is completely online. The certificate program is intended to support students who have already earned their MLIS and are looking to bolster their qualifications.

To apply, prospective students must complete an online application and provide a resume, three letters of reference, a statement of purpose, and transcripts from their undergraduate institutions. Applicants must have completed their BA and maintained an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above.

Tuition costs $1,995 per credit hour. Full-time students can expect to graduate in 20 months, or after completing 40 units. Financial aid opportunities are available for MMLIS students.

The University of Alabama

The University of Alabama Master of Library and Information Studies is available as a residential or online program. The online MLIS program is designed to be flexible, affordable, and convenient. Based on a cohort model, students work closely with their peers on coursework and projects. Curriculum includes three required courses, including Information and Media, Information in Communities, and Professional Paths. Students are able to choose nine elective courses to complete their coursework. Elective courses include topics about academic libraries, digital stewardship, information literacy, public libraries, special libraries, social justice, and youth services, among others. Students can also choose to graduate with a concentration in Archival Studies or School Library Media.

Applicants must submit an application, statement of purpose, resume, transcripts, and up to three letters of recommendations. A 3.0 undergraduate GPA is required for admission. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, but the priority deadline for admission is February 1. Prospective students must attend an orientation before applying.

Tuition is $420 per credit hour. 36 credit hours are required to graduate. Students who enroll in two online courses per semester are able to complete the program in two years. Students complete coursework online and attend virtual sessions, during which instructors moderate discussions and students complete assignments in small groups.

University of South Florida

The University of South Florida (USF) Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program is available in an entirely online, asynchronous format. While some faculty offer in-person meetings for students, it's not required. Accredited by the ALA since 1972, this program's major research areas include information storage and retrieval, public and academic librarianship, school media specialist, archives and record management, visualization of information, information technology, human information behavior, information policy, and information literacy. Curriculum includes six core courses and ten electives, including one technology course. To graduate, students have the option to take a comprehensive exam or complete a portfolio requirement.

To apply, students are expected to submit GRE scores unless they can demonstrate having maintained a 3.5 or higher GPA in a completed master's program or a 3.25 or higher GPA in a completed undergraduate program. Students must also submit an academic writing sample, three letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose.

Graduate tuition at USF is $431.43 per credit hour for in-state residents and $877.17 per credit hour for out-of-state residents. To graduate, students must complete 39 hours of coursework and maintain a "B" average or better. Students typically graduate in two to four years. There are several scholarships available through the USF School of Information. Students can also receive funding through graduate assistantships, national scholarships, and fellowship opportunities. Financial aid is available to qualifying students.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Master of Arts in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) has been accredited by the American Library Association since 1924. Available online or in-person, this MLIS program offers small class sizes, flexible scheduling, and advanced career services. Students can expect to take three required courses, one technology course, and one management course, as well as a variety of electives. To graduate, students must also complete a field experience and an e-portfolio. This program offers five concentrations areas, including librarianship, digital archives, UX and information technology, data/information management and analytics, and organization of information.

Admission requirements are minimal and include a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. GRE scores are not required or reviewed. Applicants whose first language isn't English must take an English proficiency test. International students must also submit proof of funding.

Program tuition is $850 per credit for online students, regardless of residency status. Students must complete 39 credits to graduate and can do so in two to four years. Scholarships and financial aid are available for eligible students. The University of Madison-Wisconsin also offers funding opportunities for international students.

University of North Texas

The University of North Texas (UNT) Master of Library Science (MLS) program allows students to choose between an online, residential, or blended format. Students take a combination of core courses, major course requirements, and electives. Students also have the opportunity to gain field experience by completing six months in a paid position or a 120-hour internship. A culminating e-portfolio is required for graduation. This program offers seven concentrations, including archival studies and imaging technology, general programs of study, information organization, law librarianship and legal informatics, musical librarianship, youth librarianship, and school library certification. UNT is a member of iSchools, a partnership with other information schools. This alliance allows students to access the Web-based Information Science Education Consortium, which provides access to courses from other library science programs and institutions.

To apply, prospective students must complete a program application and submit a resume, statement of purpose, and two letters of recommendation.

Tuition, per credit hour, costs $768.58 for Texas residents and $1,177.58 for out-of-state students. Students must take 36 credit hours to graduate. Depending on whether students are part-time or full-time, this program can be completed in two to four years. Financial assistance is available through UNT and the Information Science department. Funding opportunities include scholarships, loans, graduate assistantships, internships, and part-time employment.

What careers can you have with a MLS degree?

Because of its broad scope, students can apply their MLS degrees to numerous different fields and career paths. Many MLS programs offer special tracks that allow students to tailor their degrees to their chosen profession. For example, some MLS programs offer specializations in digital humanities or youth services. Even without concentrating on a specific field of study, MLS graduates can apply their skillset to a variety of professional environments beyond libraries, including museums, archives, private businesses, and government entities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for librarians and media collections specialists, as of May 2020, was $60,820. Furthermore, the BLS projects that this field will grow five percent from 2019 to 2029. This is a faster rate compared to other occupations. This growth is attributed to the changing role of librarians in society.

Careers you can have with a MLS degree include but are not limited to:

  • Reference librarian
  • Subject specialist librarian
  • Special collections librarian
  • Law librarian
  • Library director
  • Database developer
  • Archivist
  • Museum registrar
  • Records manager
  • Media specialist
  • Research analyst
  • Taxonomist
  • Information technology specialist
  • User experience designer
  • Data curator

What can you do with a MLS degree?

Most MLS programs cater to a wide range of career paths. For this reason, there are different ways students can customize their MLS degree.

Some MLS programs allow students to specialize in a specific area of study, such as archival studies or informatics.

MLS students can also take elective seminars, which explore more advanced topics like rare books, children's librarianship, or database management. MLS degrees typically take two to four years to complete, depending on whether a student is pursuing a full-time or part-time course load. Above all else, a MLS degree is intended to provide the theoretical framework, knowledge base, and skillset for a meaningful career in the field.

Typical Online MLS Curriculum

Most online MLS programs require a certain number of courses for graduation. Among these, there is often a set of core requirement courses that cover foundational concepts and theories in the field of Library and Information Science. Students can also choose different electives to complete their coursework.

Electives are typically selected in the area of study that a student is interested in pursuing professionally. Other curriculum can include independent study and research, internships, and a thesis or capstone project. Typical course listings for an online MLS program can include the following:

Foundational Concepts of Library and Information Science

This introductory course is intended to provide a broad understanding of the library and information science field. Coursework explores the history of the profession as well as how it has evolved in the digital age. Students can expect to learn about the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and discuss issues related to ethics and management. This course also highlights the different functions and goals of libraries and information agencies.

Information Organization

Another introductory course, this seminar examines issues related to the access and retrieval of information. Students are invited to analyze different information service organizations and the ways they use specific information systems. This course provides a general overview of subject analysis and classification, which are the foundational concepts of cataloging. This course may also delve into reference services and user experience.

Research Methods

This course is designed to teach students the processes and procedures for conducting professional research in the library and information science field. Students can expect to learn how to write and evaluate research proposals. Most Research Methods courses are structured around a specific research project the student develops throughout the duration of the course.

Introduction to Archives and Records Management

This entry-level course discusses the standard protocols and best practices for managing archives and other record repositories. This course can focus entirely on archives or records management or provide an overview of both entities. Through readings and lectures, students learn how to organize, classify, preserve, and destroy documents in accordance with industry standards and guidelines.

Collection Development and Maintenance

This course focuses on the framework for managing a library collection. Covering both print and digital materials, this seminar looks at the tools and strategies necessary to maintain a relevant library collection. Students can anticipate learning about access policies, budgeting, and methods for weeding and retaining materials. This course also addresses how to evaluate and select materials based on industry trends and community demographics.

Cataloging and Classification

Designed for students interested in more traditional library work, this course covers the basic theories and practices of cataloging. Coursework explores both the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Classification system. Other topics include descriptive cataloging, online cataloging, and subject description.

Information Ethics

This course is often included in the core requirements for MLS degree programs. Typically framed as a seminar for meaningful discussion, this course tackles contemporary issues in the library and information field. Students can expect to analyze and assess the different perspectives and values associated with controversies that arise when working in the field. Topics can include human rights, information privacy, and library policy development.

Metadata

This course examines the creation and management of metadata. Focusing on digital collections or database systems, this seminar allows students to learn about the terminology and applications for metadata. This course also looks at the use of metadata in a variety of information organizations, including libraries, museums, and scholarly digital repositories. Students usually get hands-on experience with a metadata project.

Management and Leadership

This course provides a professional toolkit to understanding the organizational structure and practices of libraries and information agencies. Assignments and discussions examine leadership roles and responsibilities, budgets, interpersonal communication, and project management. The seminar also covers different management philosophies, styles, and trends.

Public Libraries

This course is specifically designed for students interested in pursuing a career in public libraries. Expanding on other introductory courses, this seminar explores the history and functions of public libraries. Students can expect to learn about reader’s advisory, collection development, and public programming. Core concepts develop students’ knowledge and skillset necessary for public librarianship.

ALA Requirements for MLS programs

The American Library Association (ALA) is the largest national leadership organization for the library profession in the country. The ALA provides standards and guidance on advocacy, information policy, professional and leadership development, and equity, diversity, and inclusion.

When a MLS program is accredited by the ALA, it means that an external panel has reviewed the program and determined that it meets certain criteria for educational quality. The evaluation process is based on self- and peer-assessment. Many employers prefer to hire those who have graduated from an ALA-accredited MLS program because it signals a higher level of academic proficiency. ALA accreditation is based on a variety of standards and requirements, including:

  • Standard I: Systemic Planning
  • Accredited MLS programs must have a mission, goals, objectives, and student learning outcomes. These benchmarks must be clearly stated in a public place and routinely reviewed and updated.

  • Standard II: Curriculum
  • Accredited curriculum must be based on a MLS program’s goals and objectives. Curriculum should be relevant to the Library and Information Science field. Institutions must review and update curriculum based on current industry trends and standards.

  • Standard III: Faculty
  • Accredited MLS programs must have a faculty that’s qualified and diverse. Faculty should demonstrate a commitment to teaching and research. Faculty should have advanced degrees from a variety of different academic institutions. There should be enough full-time and part-time faculty to accommodate the necessary courses and research activities available through the MLS program.

  • Standard IV: Students
  • To gain accreditation from the ALA, MLS programs must have recruitment policies that support its goals and objectives. MLS programs should be focused on providing opportunity and ensuring the success of its student body. Admission and financial aid protocol must also be clear and consistent.

  • Standard V: Administration, Finances, and Resources
  • ALA accreditation is contingent on having an effective administration that provides leadership and support to its students and faculty. MLS programs must also be able to demonstrate adequate financial support and resources to support its mission, goals, and objectives.

What are the top admissions requirements for most MLS programs?

Admissions requirements differ between MLIS programs, but they can include the following:

  • Bachelor’s Degree:
    To be eligible for an MLS program, entrants must have previously earned a bachelor’s degree. Applicants don’t typically need to have completed specific coursework or majors, but many programs do require an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • GRE:
    Many MLS programs ask prospective students to submit their GRE scores with their application. The GRE is a standardized test used to determine academic competence, similar to the SAT for undergraduate admissions. Depending on the institution or program, there may be a specific GRE score necessary to be admitted. Some programs allow students to bypass this requirement if their undergraduate GPA meets a certain standard.
  • Statement of Purpose:
    Most MLS program applications include a section for a prospective student’s statement of purpose. This is a long form written response intended to explain the prospective student’s qualifications, work experience, and future career goals.
  • Recommendation Letters:
    Similar to most other graduate school applications, MLS programs ask for recommendation letters. Letters should come from qualified individuals who can vouch for a prospective student’s academic capability, work history, and other pertinent qualifications.
  • Resume:
    Some MLS programs require applicants to attach a current resume to their application. This provides evidence of relevant work experience and academic achievement.
  • Interview:
    While it’s not as common with online MLS programs, some institutions may request to interview an applicant as part of the admissions process.
  • TOEFL:
    International students may be asked to complete the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as part of their application process.