Best Master’s in Library Science (MLIS) Online Programs

Unleash your potential as an information professional by earning a master’s in library science online. Discover the best MLIS programs and learn about possible careers and earnings for professionals with this degree.

Experts in library science curate knowledge and increase access to information. They organize and catalog material and assist patrons from a variety of information-rich industries by determining and efficiently meeting research needs. Earning an online master’s in library science gives you the credentials for working in a variety of areas, such as a library or a university research unit, as an archivist or research assistant, and as a marketing and communications specialist.

Online master’s degree programs in library science help you earn a degree while continuing to work and balance other life responsibilities. This guide profiles the best MLIS programs available online and tells you what you can expect to learn. It also lists popular career paths for MLIS-holders, discusses key benefits of earning the degree, and looks at factors like cost and accreditation. Get started on your search for a top program below.

Top 3 Online Library Science Master’s Programs for 2022

Three of the top-rated online library science programs are profiled below. These programs were chosen based on their flexible delivery, affordable tuition, and accreditation by the American Library Association (ALA) – all essential components of any quality online MLIS program. Find out which programs stand out for 2022.

University of Washington

The University of Washington’s Information School offers an online master of library and information science program that prepares graduates for work in data curation, information architecture, and academic, public, or school librarianship. The 63-credit program includes courses in information technology, knowledge organization, and research design. Its asynchronous delivery accommodates a variety of schedules and draws on the same faculty, curriculum, and learning objectives as the school’s residential program.

Students must attend a 3-day on-campus orientation session that overviews the program and gives an opportunity to meet faculty and network with fellow cohort members before beginning online study. For those interested in the legal field, UW offers a law librarianship focus to prepare them for work as legal information professionals. The school also offers several endowed and merit-based scholarships.

University of Southern California

Administered by the Marshall School of Business, the University of Southern California’s online master of management in library and information science requires 31 credits, and most students complete the program in as few as 20 months before then assuming key roles in special collections, metadata analysis, and a range of public and private libraries. The curriculum includes core courses that build knowledge foundations in library science fundamentals and information management along with electives in subjects like instructional design, archival studies, and collections development.

USC delivers all content for its online master’s in library science using flexible learning technologies to make it convenient for students to complete their training. The program runs on 15-week semesters and is designed to be completed in five consecutive terms. Prospective students do not need to complete the GRE for admission but must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree and possess relevant work experience.

University of South Florida

The University of South Florida offers a master’s in library science online that focuses on information professions in diverse cultural contexts. The program requires 39 credits, including six foundational courses plus a range of exploratory classes in areas like information visualization and information technology, data storage, records management, and information literacy. USF’s program also offers a pathway for aspiring school librarians or media specialists to obtain licensure and certification.

In addition to traditional coursework, students also complete a comprehensive exam and produce a professional portfolio. The school offers the program in fully online formats using asynchronous methods with some options for hybrid or face-to-face learning. Applicants need recent GRE scores and are eligible for several scholarships and financial aid opportunities USF sets aside for aspiring library science professionals.

Why Earn a Master’s in Library Science Online?

Earning a master’s in library science online comes with a unique set of benefits that go beyond having a bachelor’s degree alone. This credential adds value to your professional portfolio by increasing your earning power and broadening your employment prospects. The primary benefits of earning an online MLIS include:

  • Quick and Convenient

    Online library science master’s programs offer more flexibility than in-person study. They can accommodate various circumstances and schedules, enabling you to pursue the degree in a way that meets your needs. Online learning not only gives you greater freedom to explore your own interests in library science, it also puts you on a quicker path to completion.

  • Lower Tuition Rates

    Earning your master’s in library science online saves you money. In addition to offering competitive financial aid packages, most programs also extend affordable tuition rates and offer flat-rate fee schedules for online learning rather than charging different rates depending on residency.

  • Targeted Career Advancement

    Online MLIS programs blend broad information science instruction with concentrated study that deepens your skillset. This means you’ll have a solid, transferable background in library science along with specialized training in the subfield of your choice.

What You’ll Learn in a Library Science Online Master’s Program

Online master’s in library science students learn about the history and development of the field, including its origins and philosophical underpinnings and its interaction with new and emerging technologies. Curricula build proficiency in data management and information services, information classification, and both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Most programs blend theory-based learning with interactive experiences geared toward practical application. Most schools have students complete a sequence of core courses, like those discussed below, with a cohort while building foundations in information science. You’ll then move to more hands-on or specialized requirements. You can also expect to complete a special project like a comprehensive exam, professional portfolio, or capstone research project near the end of your studies.

Common Courses

  • Fundamentals of Library Science and Information Services

    This core course surveys the history and development of information science professions with a focus on contemporary legal, ethical, and technological issues. It overviews the profession, including looking at its main subfields (e.g., archival studies and collections management) and major theoretical frameworks.

  • Information Science Research Methods

    This class builds foundational knowledge in the qualitative and quantitative research methods used by librarians and information science professionals. Students consider procedures for gathering information, analyzing research, and organizing knowledge for public consumption. Texts include literature reviews and historical readings as well as contemporary case studies.

  • Collections Management

    This course focuses on the key steps and processes involved in curating and maintaining special library collections. Topics include policy preparation, community evaluation, records and database administration, and asset acquisition. Students also look at new technologies in collections management and implement new solutions in a final project.

  • Information Literacy

    Typically an upper-level seminar, this course focuses on information literacy and looks at how this concept has shifted in the 21st century. Students learn to apply information literacy principles in online environments and consider the role of the librarian as an advocate for information literacy in the digital age.

  • Capstone Project

    During their final semester of study, most students complete an integrative capstone project. Specifics vary depending on the program and chosen concentration. In these projects, students apply what they’ve learned about information and library science to solve real-world problems in schools, public libraries, and private archives.

Specialization Paths

Most schools offer individualized specialization paths as part of their curriculum that allow you to tailor your experience, ensuring that your online library science master’s degree aligns with your professional goals. They’re also a great way to build additional skills and help you stand out as a competitive job applicant. Below are examples of library science specializations along with information on what you can expect to learn in each.

  • Archives and Record Management

    This specialization focuses on the skills and knowledge necessary to appraise, collect, and preserve a range of significant artifacts (e.g., texts, images, objects, historical records, etc.). Core classes look at electronic records management, archive organization, taxonomies for catalogs, and other areas. Some schools also offer hands-on internship opportunities.

  • School Librarianship

    A key prerequisite for aspiring school librarians, this concentration prepares you for professional work in primary or secondary settings. It focuses on state-level licensure requirements and trains students for additional responsibilities as media specialists and information literacy professionals. Students specializing in this area graduate with certification as K-12 school librarians.

  • Public Librarianship

    This pathway trains students for leadership roles in public libraries. Courses prepare you for interaction with patrons of all ages and walks of life. Instruction covers work with diverse populations along with project management, community programming administration, and working with genealogical sources.

  • Information Organization and Management

    An ideal option for students interested in metadata and web-based librarianship, this specialization builds proficiency in information organization standards and the key tools used to uphold them. The curriculum looks at internet privacy concerns, data mining, information policy, and database architecture. Students graduate as experts in project management and information interfacing.

  • Research and Information Services

    This concentration prepares students to help library patrons with targeted research efforts in a variety of settings. You’ll learn to conduct high-level research and navigate between multiple tools and databases depending on the subject and desired outcomes. Curricula looks at prominent research methods, instruction strategies, and delivery systems for information services.

Accreditation for Online Library Science Master’s Degree Programs

There are two forms of accreditation important for a master’s in library science. Institutional accreditation applies to entire schools. Independent bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation grant either regional or national accreditation to institutions that meet their standards of quality and excellence. Any school you consider should possess institutional accreditation.

Programmatic accreditation has a narrower scope. It pertains to individual programs rather than the whole school and is in addition to institutional accreditation. In library science, programmatic accreditation is administered by the American Library Association (ALA). Graduating from a program with ALA accreditation broadens your career prospects and increases your value and mobility.

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Library Science?

A master’s in library science gives you a versatile set of skills that improve your job prospects and increase your earning power. Possible career paths for degree-holders include advanced roles in information organization, education, public or private librarianship, and archive management.

The salary potential for those with an MLIS degree is higher than the median annual wage for all occupations nationwide. Most roles also outpace average job outlook numbers as well. Graduates planning to become curators or archivists stand to benefit the most, enjoying growth numbers more than double the national rate. Find out more about potential occupations for individuals with an MLIS below.

Librarian or Media Specialist

A top job for graduates in the information sciences, librarians and media specialists help conduct research and locate knowledge resources for professional or private use. They manage databases and other library collections and organize material for patron access. Some also plan and coordinate public programming.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$37,300

$61,190

$97,870

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Archivists or Curator

Archivists and curators focus on records management and preservation of materials with cultural or historical significance. They typically work alongside librarians and other information professionals to acquire, restore, and catalog items found in museums or special libraries. In some cases, they also appraise valuable texts or objects.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$30,450

$50,120

$96,500

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Instructional Coordinator

A master’s degree in library science can also qualify you for work as an instructional coordinator. These professionals develop education programs and implement new curricula in schools, libraries, and other organizations. For those with a background in information science, responsibilities include training new librarians, assessing instruction, and managing professional development initiatives.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$38,390

$63,740

$101,090

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

High School Teacher

High school teachers prepare students for vocational or post-secondary success through instruction and assessment. In this context, librarians and media specialists teach subjects like information technology or information literacy in addition to managing the school library. Many online library science master’s programs offer concentrations designed to prepare you for this role.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$46,090

$61,820

$100,310

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Historian

MLIS graduates can also work as historians by conducting research, documenting events, and explaining the historical significance of extant artifacts. Some positions require additional training, but students specializing in curation, records management, or archival studies are especially suited for this role.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$37,310

$63,940

$118,380

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Paying for Your Online Master’s in Library Science

Understanding the financial commitments this degree requires and developing a funding plan puts you in a good position to graduate with fewer obstacles and less stress. Fortunately, there are quite a few financial aid opportunities available for MLIS students. In fact, many of the schools discussed in this guide administer grants or scholarships to students in library or information science.

Professional organizations like the American Library Association also extend opportunities to new and returning library science students. For more information, see our online graduate education financial aid guide and our resources on master’s degree scholarships and employer tuition assistance.

How Much Your Online Master’s in Library Science Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Total Tuition Cost

Louisiana State University

Online Master of Library and Information Science

36

$485

$17,460

Drexel University

Online Master’s in Library & Information Science

45

$1,342

$60,390

University of Arizona

Library and Information Science – Master of Arts

37

$900

$33,300

FAQs About Online Library Science Master’s Degrees

What are the typical admissions requirements for an online master’s in library science?

Like most graduate programs, online library science master’s programs require an accredited bachelor’s degree for admission. Relevant professional experience is not a universal requirement, but it can make your application stand out, especially at more competitive schools. Applicants also need:

  • An updated resume
  • A statement of purpose explaining your goals and fit within the program
  • Letters of recommendation (usually 2-3)
  • Official academic transcripts

Some programs also ask for a writing sample or recent GRE scores. However, these elements aren’t always required and are waived in certain cases. Non-native English speakers usually need to provide proof of language proficiency.

How long will it take to finish my master’s in library science online?

While specific timeframes for completion vary depending on enrollment status and individual circumstances, most online master’s in library science programs require 30-40 credits. This means you can complete your studies in only a few years thanks to the convenience and accelerated pacing of online delivery.

Taking the schools profiled above as examples, the University of Washington administers its program on a part-time basis and expects students to graduate in three years. Others, like USC and USF, offer a more expedited path to completion with full-time students earning their degrees in just under two years (approximately 20 months).

Can I earn a master’s in library science 100% online or will I need to visit campus?

You can earn your master’s in library science entirely online. The programs in this guide all have 100% online coursework and most content is administered asynchronously, which means you can interact with material and complete assignments at your convenience.

Some schools occasionally extend opportunities for hybrid or in-person learning, but those are optional. You may also need to attend a face-to-face orientation session at the beginning of the program, after which you pivot to a fully online experience.