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Public librarianship concentrations, specializations, and pathways continue to be a popular option within many Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) programs. These graduate programs emphasize advocacy and outreach, collection and program development, community needs analysis, and information technologies.
Obtaining a degree in public librarianship prepares the individual to meet the educational, recreational, and cultural needs of their community through specially created services, timely programming, and curated resources.
Are there online Public Librarianship programs?
Yes. Many online MLIS programs offer a public librarianship concentration, specialization, or pathway. These programs are especially popular with those interested in working within the community they live. Typically students are able to focus on a specific area of service while completing the program. You can search library science degrees by state if you are looking for campus based programs.
Are there ALA Accredited Masters in Public Librarianship programs?
Yes. The American Library Association (ALA) accredits master-level public librarianship programs at a number of colleges and universities. Currently, ALA accredits 50 programs offering public librarianship or related degrees. You can review the list of the top ALA accredited Master of Library Science degrees for more information.
Overview of what a Public Librarianship Degree is
Public libraries often provide an important service to the communities they are a part of. Activities for children and families, job search and professional training for adults, and English classes for non-native speakers are some of the value added services offered by public libraries.
Urban libraries may double as community or event centers. Additionally, libraries in rural communities often provide access to online and electronic resources that would otherwise be unavailable.
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Are there Bachelors in Public Librarianship programs?
Yes. There are library science degrees online that grant undergraduate degrees in library and information science Bachelors BLIS. These programs are designed to give students a foundation in the profession, while creating opportunities to hone skills in public library services.
An undergraduate degree with an emphasis on public librarianship prepares the holder for an entry-level, paraprofessional position in a library. This may be a good option for someone interested in starting their career as a library technician or library support staff member. It is important to note most librarian positions require a master-level degree from an ALA-accredited program.
Are there Masters in Public Librarianship programs?
Yes. Public librarianship continues to be a popular option in many master-level library and information science degree programs. Even in programs where there is no specific designation for public librarianship, there are often numerous relevant courses applicable to working in a public library.
Review of the top 5 online MLIS programs with Public Librarianship concentrations
While a number of online MLIS programs offer public librarianship concentrations, each will have its own unique benefits. Some concentrations emphasize a particular service or technology, while others feature their community partnerships. It is important for potential students to consider their personal and professional goals before applying to a program. Admission requirements will vary and should be verified prior to completing an application.
University of Arizona Online - Public Librarianship Concentration
This ALA-accredited, 37 unit Master of Arts in Library and Information Science program is available fully online. A total of 9 units are required core courses, with the remaining units going toward electives. Some options for elective courses in the Public Librarianship pathway include: Information Intermediation, User Interface and Website Design, Introduction to Copyright, and Managing the Digital Information Environment. Finally, students must complete a capstone internship and ePortfolio.
Students pursuing the degree through Arizona Online can expect to pay $941.50 per credit for tuition and fees. Graduate assistantships, scholarships, and departmental funding opportunities are available for qualified students. View more Arizona library science degrees online.
North Carolina Central University - Public Libraries Specialization
NCCU is a historically black university offering a 36 credit hour, ALA-accredited online public libraries specialization. Core courses in the degree program, which account for 18 credit hours, include: Foundations of Librarianship and Information Services, Selection and Use of Information Sources, Management and Leadership of Information Organizations and Libraries, Organization of Information, Uses and Users of Information, and Research Methods.
Those interested in the public libraries specialization may elect to take relevant courses to satisfy 9-18 credit hours, including: The Public Library, Introduction to Digital Libraries, Children's Resources and Services, Ethnic Materials for Children and Adolescents, or Family and Community Relationships. Online tuition and fees are determined by resident status. Click to read about North Carolina library science degrees online.
Long Island University - Public Librarianship Area of Study
This is a 36 credit hour, ALA-accredited degree program delivered fully online. An internship is included in 18 credits of required courses, though students with extensive library experience may elect to complete the master's project instead. Options for electives in the public librarianship area of study include: Children's Literature and Emotional Intelligence, Readers' Advisory, Film and Media Collections, and Emerging Web Technologies. Guidelines and course recommendations are offered for students interested in focusing on General (Adult) Public Librarianship or Technology Leadership.
Students typically take between 18 and 24 months to complete the program, when taking six credits per semester. GRE or MAT exam scores may be required for applicants whose undergraduate GPA is below 3.0.
University of Iowa - Public Librarianship Specialization
This Master of Arts in Information Science consists of 36 semester hours, with five core courses and seven elective courses. Of the 21 semester hours required for the public librarians specialization, students may choose from: Database Systems, Evidence Based Practice, Information Policy and Ethics, and Reading Culture: History and Research in Print and Digital Media. The program is delivered fully online, through synchronous courses, and has been accredited by the American Library Association.
When taking nine semester hours per semester, the program can be completed in two years. Online students enrolled in nine semester hours can expect to pay approximately $12,005 in tuition and fees per semester. All incoming students are considered for departmental funding, including scholarships and assistantships.
University of Kentucky - Public Libraries Concentration
Students interested in the UK public libraries concentration can choose from a number of courses to meet the seven elective course requirement. Course options include: Information Behavior of Children and Youth, Foundations in Instructional Communication, Consumer Health Information Resources, and Collection Development. The program also offers practicum and study abroad options.
The fully online, ALA-accredited, and nationally ranked MSLS consists of 36 credit hours. Students enrolled in online courses can expect to pay $700.50 per credit hour, regardless of resident status. Fellowships, assistantships, and internships are available for eligible students.
Typical Online Public Librarianship Curriculum
Curricula for public librarianship often emphasize courses that investigate resources and services for specific users or populations. In addition to serving the general public, these courses allow students to focus their education on children and youth, young adults, or adults. Other areas of focus may include information and emerging technologies, electronic resources, cataloging, outreach and marketing, or administration.
Overall, courses emphasize proficiency in information literacy, evaluation and assessment, and collection development and management. Courses especially prepare students for user-centered and evidence-based practice. While offerings will vary by program, courses in the public librarianship curriculum typically include:
Public Libraries 101
A study of the history, development, role, and philosophy of public libraries in society. This foundational course investigates the principles and techniques of public library organizations, in historical and contemporary contexts, through trends and issues. Topics include: operation, services, facilities, policies, intellectual freedom, and how to identify and serve specific populations and organizations in a community.
Information Seeking Behavior
This course provides an examination of the theory, psychological factors, and data related to human information seeking behavior. Through an interdisciplinary lens (psychology, communications, sociology), the social, behavioral, and interaction components existing between people and the information they access and use will be discussed. Current research, case studies, and real-world observation will be used to inform student understanding of factors influencing information seeking.
Information Literacy & Library Instruction
Introduces the theoretical aspects and practical application of information literacy methods in libraries and other information organizations. Connections between information literacy and critical thinking, decision making, problem solving, and knowledge acquisition will be discussed. Course includes review of research, contemporary literature, and best practices. Students will design, implement, and assess an instructional program.
Technology Integration & Technical Services
This course offers an introduction to the technology and technical services utilized in information settings. Students will explore theory, basic concepts, and applications of information technology through a user-centered lens. Topics include: computing basics, hardware/software, networked environments, human-computer interactions, the Internet, accessibility, and legal issues. Technology and services for delivery of text-, image-, audio-, and data-based content will be discussed.
Resources & Services for Children
This course focuses on the resource and service needs of the specific library user group of children ages 0-12 (pre-school to adolescence). Provides theory, practice, and frameworks for developing collections (digital and analog), creating programming, and curating relevant services for this user group. Topics include: early childhood development, working with families and caregivers, and literacy. Consideration will also be given to young users with disabilities and special needs.
Resources & Services for Teens & Young Adults
This course focuses on the resource and service needs of the specific library user group of young adults ages 12-18 (teens). Provides theory, practice, and frameworks for developing collections (digital and analog), creating programming, and curating relevant services for this user group. Topics include: YA literature, partnering with parents and community, and applying new technologies. Consideration will also be given to young adult users with disabilities and special needs.
Resources & Services for Adults
This course focuses on the resource and service needs of the specific user group of adults. Provides theory, practice, and frameworks for developing collections (digital and analog), creating programming, and curating relevant services for this user group. Topics include: readers’ advisory, popular culture materials, lifelong learning, adult beginning readers, and English as a second-language. Consideration will also be given to adult users with disabilities and special needs.
Resources & Services for Diverse Communities
This course examines library resources and services for multicultural and multi ethnic communities. Populations discussed in the course include: racial/ethnic minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, elderly/aging, homeless, latchkey children, gifted and talented, English as a second-language, adult beginning readers, those with learning disabilities, and the sensory/mobility-impaired. Issues surrounding federal regulations and policies are also investigated. Students will develop an understanding of the special interests and needs of these users, informing future collection development, programs, services, and advocacy and outreach efforts.
Marketing Library & Information Services
In this course students will explore the principles and practice of communicating library collections, programs, exhibits, events, publications, and services to the community. Consideration will be given to current and potential library users, user needs analysis, news media, and public relations. By applying the marketing cycle to the library environment (physical and virtual spaces), students will become adept at planning, branding, service promotion, at evaluation.
Students will demonstrate their understanding and application of core program competencies through this culminating experience. Under the guidance of a qualified librarian serving as site supervisor, student will complete a pre-determined number of working hours in a public library. Ideally student will work in a capacity that reflects their chosen area of service. Requirements for completion include: maintenance of an activity log, submission of an evaluation by the site supervisor, submission of a self-evaluation, and an optional presentation or paper on the practicum. Pre-approval of the practicum site by the student’s faculty advisor is required.
ALA requirements for Public Librarianship programs
As with all accredited MLIS programs, ALA requires those offering concentrations, specializations, and pathways in public librarianship to meet certain minimum standards. These specific standards ensure the educational quality and value of the program and that it meets or exceeds industry expectations. For both accreditation and continuation, ALA requires stringent, criteria-based self-evaluation and peer-assessment for all programs.
What careers can you have with a Public Librarianship degree?
When most people think of librarians, they imagine those in a public library setting. While these professionals are an important part of culture and society, their roles and responsibilities have evolved dramatically over the years. Today’s public librarians are responsible for developing relationships with community-based organizations, delivering programming that meets the needs of diverse popuations, and curating collections (often times digitally) that feature new and dynamic resources.
On a regular day, a public librarian might troubleshoot technology for a senior citizen, read stories to a group of pre-schoolers, facilitate a financial literacy workshop for young adults, and create a job-finding aid for veterans. All of these are usually in addition to “typical” librarian duties, like helping patrons locate resources at the reference desk. While the responsibilities might be broad, there are ample opportunities for specialization within public libraries of all sizes.
Public librarians may work nights and evenings, depending on the hours of their branch or district. Additionally, some librarians may rotate between multiple branch locations. Note that some states require additional certification for public library workers. It is important to contact the library branch or district within the state you are interested in working for information on education and/or certification requirements.
Possible careers include:
- Adult Services Librarian
- Information Technology Librarian
- Outreach Services Librarian
- Reference Librarian
- Instructional Librarian
- Acquisitions Librarian
- Circulation Librarian
- Systems Librarian
- Cataloging Librarian
- Electronic Resources Librarian
- Youth Services Librarian
- Local History & Geneaology Librarian