School Program More Info
Syracuse University Online MS in Library and Information Science
ALA Accredited ALA-accredited. Multiple professional pathways or specializations available. No GRE required to apply. Complete in as little as 18 months.
University of Denver Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)
ALA Accredited ALA-Accredited, No GRE Required. Complete in as few as 21 months.
St. John's University Online M.S. in Library and Information Science
ALA Accredited ALA Accredited, 24 months to complete. 4 specializations and 2 certificate options.
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Many Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) programs offer a reference and user services concentration, specialization, or pathway. These typically emphasize information literacy, research, instruction, outreach, and assessment. Students in these programs learn the organization and structure of information and how to bring these resources to the user. Additionally, the degree prepares graduates to serve diverse communities and ensure equal access to library and information resources.

Click to find featured online library science programs currently accepting applications for 2024.

Are there online Reference and User Services programs?

Yes, but the most common is the online MLS with coursework that focuses on reference or user services. Reference and user services concentrations, specializations, and pathways are popular options found in many online library and information science programs. Completing the degree online gives students the flexibility to juggle personal and professional obligations, while engaging with peers and faculty.

Sponsored Online Library Programs

School Level Program
Syracuse University
Master Online MS in Library and Information Science
ALA-accredited. No GRE required to apply. School Media Specialization available.
University of Denver
Master Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)
ALA-Accredited, No GRE Required.
St. John's University
Master Online M.S. in Library and Information Science
ALA Accredited. Complete in as little as 2 years.
University of West Alabama
Master Online Master of Education in Library Media
Develop knowledge and skills in school library media with our online library media specialist degree.
University of West Alabama
Doctorate Online Ed.D. Rural Education: Library Media
Explore the essential role of library media within rural schools and districts.
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Are there Bachelors in Reference and User Services programs?

Yes. Some colleges and universities offer undergraduate degrees in library and information science, including online Bachelors BLIS programs. These bachelor-level programs typically emphasize foundational library skills. Graduates are prepared for paraprofessional, entry-level positions in libraries and other information centers.

The foundational skills required for reference and user services can be gained by selecting appropriate undergraduate courses. Successful completion of a Bachelor's in Library and Information Science (BLIS) could be a good first step for an individual hoping to become a reference and user services librarian. It is important to note, most librarian positions require a master-level degree from an ALA-accredited program.

Are there Masters in Reference and User Services programs?

Yes. A number of MLIS programs offer a concentration, specialization, or pathway in reference and user services. In some cases, programs without a specific designation still offer courses relevant to the career path.

Are there ALA Accredited Masters in Reference and User Services programs?

Yes. The American Library Association, a professional organization, grants accreditation to master-level library and information science programs. At this time, ALA accredits more than 30 programs offering reference and user services or related degrees.

Top 5 online MLIS programs with Reference and User Services concentrations

Reference and user services continues to be a popular option across MLIS programs. Students gain valuable knowledge and skills to become experts in information literacy, online search, and information technologies. Program objectives and course offerings will vary by program, so it is important prospective students fully evaluate the program to ensure it will meet personal and professional goals. Each of the programs below has been accredited by the American Library Association.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign - Research & Information Services Pathway

This nationally ranked program offers a research and information services pathway as part of the MS in Library and Information Science. The pathway emphasizes research methods, reference work, and instructional strategies. Students need only complete two required courses before selecting classes to satisfy the professional pathway. Sample research and information services courses include: Use and Users of Information, Information Services for Diverse Users, International Librarianship, and Project Management.

A total of 40 credits are required to complete the fully online program. Students may also choose to complete a practicum, independent study, internship, or thesis. Online tuition is based on resident status, with a resident rate of $663 per credit hour and a nonresident rate of $958 per credit hour. Campus fees are not assessed on online tuition. Assistantships, graduate hourly positions, and scholarships are available for qualified admitted students.

Wayne State University - Library Services Path

Designed for students interested in working in any type of library, school media center, or information agency, this online program includes multiple opportunities for specialization. Options within the library services path include: Library Users and Communities, Library Tools and Resources, and Library Systems and Infrastructures. Courses across the specializations vary, some options include: Design Thinking and Knowledge, Advanced Reference Service Strategies, Advanced Online Searching, Introduction to Web Development, and Information Behavior.

Upon completion of six core courses (18 credit hours), students are able to focus on their specialization to reach the required 36 credit hours for graduation. An outcomes assessment, in the form of an ePortfolio, is required prior to graduation. Online students pay tuition of $818.26 per credit hour, a $56.69 per credit hour student service fee, and a $328.01 per term registration fee. Qualified admitted students may be eligible for scholarships, graduate student assistantships, or work-study opportunities.

Florida State University - Reference Services Program of Study

This online Master of Science in Information (MSI) program includes a reference services program of study. The program prepares students for careers as reference and/or instructional professionals. Recommended courses for the program include: Introduction to Information Services, International and Comparative Information Service, Business Information Needs and Sources, and Information Needs of Children/Young Adults/Adults.

Four required core courses and one technology skills required course are part of the 36 semester hour program. Students have the option to complete a thesis as part of the program. All coursework for the degree must be completed within 7 years of first registering for graduate credit. Tuition and fees are based on resident status. Students are also subject to facilities use, technology, and FSU card term fees. Scholarships, assistantships, and other funding and award opportunities are available to qualified students.

Valdosta State University - Reference Sources and Services Area of Interest

The core curriculum for the program, 21 credit hours, gives expertise in administration, resources for clients, services in the knowledge society, and technical knowledge. Core courses include Research Methods and a Capstone Course. Electives can be used to satisfy the reference sources and services area of interest. Course options include: Online Searching, Genealogy for Librarians, Information Literacy Instruction, and Library Services for Patrons with Special Needs.

The program is a 39-hour, online, non-thesis format. When enrolled full-time, the degree can be completed in two academic years. Students in the MLIS program pay e-rate tuition and fees, regardless of resident status.

Syracuse University - User Services & Community Engagement Professional Pathway

This pathway, in the nationally recognized MS in Library and Information Science, emphasizes preparation for careers in libraries or cultural institutions. Examples of courses within the pathway include: Accessible Library and Information Services, Motivational Aspects of Information Use, Storytelling for Information Professionals, and Instructional Strategies and Techniques for Information Professionals.

The program consists of 36 credits, 15 of which are for electives, and can be completed in as few as 18 months. While the program can be completed online, students are required to attend at least one in-person, non-credit immersion per year. The exit requirement for the program is either a 3-credit internship or independent study. Online students are charged tuition on a per-credit-hour basis ($1,734), with an additional technology fee per course credit per term.

Overview of what a Reference and User Services Degree is

Often times when people imagine librarians, they think of a person working at the reference desk of a public library. Reference librarians are generally described as individuals who help library patrons identify their information needs, evaluate available resources, and locate specific materials. While this description is still valid, the role and responsibilities of information professionals specializing in reference and user services continues to evolve. This evolution is due largely in part to the changing needs of information seekers and our reliance on digital technologies and electronic resources.

Specializing in reference and user services gives graduates broad opportunities in a variety of information settings. The physical or virtual reference desk of a research center serves as the hub for visitors needing help locating documents or specialized records. For those interested in working in a college or university library, experience in reference and user services may prepare individuals to be embedded within a specific academic department or program.

Typical Online Reference and User Services Curriculum

Reference and user services curricula are designed to facilitate the exploration and assessment of user information needs in various information environments. It is not uncommon for curricula to include multiple courses dedicated to investigating the information needs of individual user groups, such as children, young adults, adults, and those with special needs.

Introductory courses typically emphasize understanding information organization and structure and the skills needed to access resources and materials. Additionally, courses for specific information settings, such as archives or corporate libraries, highlight tools and techniques unique to those environments. Finally, courses on technologies and systems, technical design and development, and human-computer interaction prepare students to understand and create effective technological infrastructures.

While courses will vary by program, the following represent those typically included in a reference and user services curriculum:

Information Sources & Services

This foundational course presents an introduction to the theory, concepts, and methods used in reference services and an overview of specific information sources. Sources examined include widely utilized print and online materials. Topics include: the history and future of reference services, information needs analysis, evaluation of information sources, and ethics of information services. Students will develop question negotiation skills and search strategies.

Academic Libraries

Explores the history and role of academic libraries within college and university settings. Topics include: collections, services, instructional and research support, technology integration, scholarly communication, preservation and storage, and staffing. This course will also take an in-depth look at contemporary challenges and issues faced by academic librarians and library staff.

Public Libraries

Explores the history and role of public libraries within communities and society. Topics include: collections, services, community engagement, partnerships, evaluation, staffing, and legal and ethical issues. Trends and issues facing public librarians and library staff will also be discussed. Public librarianship degrees are also widely available.

Special Libraries & Information Centers

This course examines non-traditional information settings, including special libraries and other information centers. Settings include corporations, associations, and institutions. Emphasis is placed on understanding inherent cultures evident within the settings these libraries and centers are placed. Students will gain knowledge of the history, contexts, organization, and functions of various special libraries and information centers.

Collection Development

Investigates principles, policies, and practices related to the development and management of collections in various information settings. Emphasis is placed on user-centered material selection and data-driven evaluation. Students will explore collection development policies, methods for collection assessment, budgeting, acquisitions, consortium collaboration, maintenance, deselection, preservation, and legal and ethical issues.

Information Literacy Instruction

Students will learn the theory and practice of developing and implementing library instructional services. The information literacy model, as it relates to contexts and applications, will be discussed. Topics include: learning theory, teaching methods, the instructional design process, and evaluation of instruction. Students will gain the skills necessary to deliver user education to diverse populations.

Online Searching

Teaches the theory and methods of information retrieval in online environments. Focus is placed on skills development, understanding and analyzing user needs, and the organization of digital information sources. Students will compare search engines, evaluate retrievals, and review licensed online resources across broad fields and industries. Experience will also be gained with Boolean operations and keyword commands.

Government Information Searching

Provides an in-depth look at the access and use of federal, state, and local government documents in the United States. This course teaches the structure of government, how information sources are disseminated to the public, and methods for locating and utilizing these resources. Information sources created by international organizations and foreign governments are also discussed.

Business Information Searching

A deep dive into accessing and utilizing business and financial information documents. Focus is placed on real-world client and user needs of specific resources. Topics include: databases, analysis and interpretation of sources, and results reporting. This course briefly introduces strategic and competitive intelligence research.

Introduction to Legal Resources

An introduction to popular and professional legal resources and tools and methods for access. This course provides an overview of the organization and structure of legal sources, commonly used databases, state and federal legal sources, and the function of law libraries. Students will gain basic skills necessary for performing legal research, locating primary and secondary sources, and evaluating reference materials.

ALA requirements for Reference and User Services programs

To receive ALA accreditation and continuation, MLIS programs must meet or exceed standards established by ALA. These standards assess programs on academic quality and public accountability using self-evaluation and peer-assessment. All MLIS programs, including reference and user services, are evaluated using the overaching criteria established by ALA.