What Is a Library Science Degree?

| Melissa Sartore


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A degree in library science teaches students research, leadership, and data management skills, which can lead to rewarding careers.

An interdisciplinary field, library science explores the principles, practices, and tools of information management. A library science program trains students to manage, organize, assess, and distribute books, periodicals, databases, and other reference materials. A library science degree or certificate also builds information technology and education competencies as they apply to information resources.

Individuals interested in working in a library or archive can gain the necessary skills through a library science degree. Library science programs also prepare students for roles as information architects, knowledge management specialists, and intelligence or data analysts in business, organizational, and government settings.

What Kinds of Library Science Degrees Are There?

Library science degrees and certificates teach students how to collect, manage, and preserve information. Curricula vary by program and institution, with associate degrees preparing learners for roles as library assistants and technicians, while a bachelor's degree trains individuals to work in entry-level librarian positions. Certificate programs in library science also build the foundational skills needed to work in library settings.

To become an actual librarian, individuals usually need a graduate degree in library science. A master's degree in library science covers advanced aspects of library operations, information management, and information studies, while a doctorate in library science allows students to specialize in areas like leadership, curation, archives, or health information and education.

Depending on the level and type, degrees and certificates in library science offer different career opportunities. To choose the right program, students need to first understand the objectives and outcomes of each.

Certificate Program in Library Science

A certificate in library science is an entry into the library and information science profession. Certificate programs range from one semester to two years, covering fundamental information about the tools and techniques used by librarians.

With a certificate in library science, graduates can become library assistants at public, private, and school libraries. A certificate in library science can also lead to careers in data entry, research, and material collection at businesses and organizations.

Associate Degree in Library Science

Associate degrees in library science span two years. Students complete general education coursework in English, the humanities, and natural science, alongside introductory classes in library and information science. An associate degree in library science leads to entry-level roles or sets the foundation for continued study in a bachelor's program.

A degree in library science can benefit students already working in a library by opening opportunities for specialized roles. With an associate degree, individuals looking to enter the library profession can become library assistants, research technicians, and curatorial aids.

Bachelor's Degree in Library Science

Typically a four-year degree, a bachelor's in library science incorporates general education coursework with library and information science fundamentals. Students study cataloguing and technical processes, library management, and information literacy as they work toward a career in a library setting. Classes may also include information technology, literary studies, and research methods.

A bachelor's degree in library science prepares learners to become library assistants, data curators, and research technicians. With a bachelor's degree in the discipline, individuals can also continue on to a graduate program in library and information science. A master's degree in library science is the standard level of education required for professional librarians.

Master's Degree in Library Science

To enter a master's degree in library science, students need a bachelor's degree. The degree does not necessarily need to be in library science, but having previous coursework in the discipline can prepare students for the graduate program.

A master's degree in library science includes roughly two years of coursework on top of earning a bachelor's degree, although accelerated programs may allow individuals to earn a degree sooner.

Coursework in a master's degree in library science builds on library and information science fundamentals with specialized coursework. Students explore advanced aspects of library management, operation, and information studies, often with options to concentrate coursework in one of these areas.

Additional options for specialization include art librarianship, child and youth library services, and medical information management. With a master's degree, individuals can work as professional librarians, archivists, and library directors.

Doctoral Degree in Library Science

A doctorate in library science can lead to advanced careers in academic and archival settings. Individuals with a doctoral degree in library science often work as library directors, college and university instructors, and data managers.

The length of a doctoral degree in library science varies; they can last 3-10 years, depending on specialty and intended career. The curriculum blends lecture and research coursework, often incorporating practical experience and teaching. Doctoral students also conduct advanced research projects and produce dissertations on niche areas within library and information science.

Many library science doctorates include specializations in subsets of the field. Common specializations include music librarianship, digital humanities, data curation, health informatics, and legal librarianship.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Library Science?

College degrees in library science prepare graduates for careers in a variety of settings. Students learn how to assess and organize information, catalogue data, and distribute materials — all valuable skills that translate to varied careers. Graduates also gain computer, database, and technology training, all of which apply to roles in busines or technology fields as well as academia and libraries.

Other professional options for library science students include nonprofit work, corporate data management, and archivist roles.

Librarians

To become a professional librarian, candidates need at least a master's degree. Librarians can work in either public and private libraries. Public libraries serve patrons of all ages, managing information and materials found online or as physical books, magazines, and newspapers.

School librarians work with students, often training young learners in how to find accurate information. They also obtain and distribute materials related to educational curricula and coursework. Librarians may work at libraries that specialize in a specific type of content, such as art, music, legal texts, or medical materials.

Knowledge Managers

A graduate degree in library and information science trains future knowledge managers in the tools, techniques, and technologies used to generate, share, and distribute information and knowledge within an organization. Knowledge managers have strong communication and technological skills, which they use to assess content and build storage strategies for information.

Many knowledge managers work within a private company or organization, but they can also serve as consultants and advisors. In external roles, they provide guidance about how to manage organizational knowledge effectively and efficiently.

Archivists

Archivists oversee records and archives in public and private collections, often for museums or galleries. Archivists handle photographic information, digital content, rare materials, and written works. The role requires strong organizational skills, technological acumen, and the ability to accurately assess the importance and value of information. An archivist catalogues materials, distributes them, and ensures their future accessibility.

A graduate degree prepares individuals for archival careers, and most employers prefer a doctorate. Archival work is a specialized field within library and information science, and as such it requires niche knowledge and skills.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Library Science Degree?

Salaries for individuals with library science degrees vary by career, education level, and location. In academic settings, library and information science instructors earn among the top salaries in the field. In 2019, archivists and curators earned median salaries of over $50,000, while librarians and library media specialists earned nearly $60,000. This exceeds what library technicians and assistants earned by nearly $30,000.

Library Science Career Outlooks
Career Median Annual Salary (2019) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)
Library Science Postsecondary Teachers $71,410 3%
Librarians and Library Media Specialists $59,500 5%
Archivists $53,950 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

DLF unites individuals who design and use digital library technologies, including members from research, practical, and academic settings. DLF promotes digital library standards and best practices, offers career resources, and hosts events and online forums for members. Members also receive discounts on educational programs, access to scholarships and awards, and DLF publications. Founded in 1936, SAA is the oldest and largest association for archivists in North America. Tasked with advancing standards and ensuring diversity within the field of archival work, SAA offers educational programs, publications, and advocacy opportunities for members. Student membership includes access to SAA's mentoring program.

Accreditation for Library Science Programs

Before choosing a program, students should consider the accreditation status of a library science degree. Colleges and universities can hold regional or national accreditation, and library science students should only consider schools that are regionally accredited. Otherwise, they may not qualify for certification after graduation.

Programs can also hold programmatic accreditation. The accrediting body for library science is the American Library Association (ALA). Accreditation by the ALA is a voluntary process that involves self- and peer-evaluation of curricula, instruction, and program outcomes. Attending an ALA-accredited program at a regionally accredited school is the best way to earn a library science degree.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Schooling Do You Need to Be a Librarian?

To become a professional librarian, individuals usually need at least a master's degree in library science. Library assistants and technologists can enter their roles with undergraduate degrees, but have limited options for career advancement.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Library Science?

An associate degree in library science includes two years of coursework, while a bachelor's degree spans four years. Students typically earn a master's degree in library science in two years, while doctoral programs can last up to 10 years.

What Degree Do You Need for Library Science?

To enter a career in library science, individuals can earn degrees in library and information science or library and information studies.

Is There a Demand for Librarians?

Demand for trained, skilled librarians, archivists, and experts in information management remains strong. Many librarians also find roles in technology companies, where they work in data management.

Is Librarian a Good Career?

Working as a librarian is a good career for individuals who enjoy working with data, organizing and distributing information, and providing knowledge and resources for others.

Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

Header Image Credit: GoodLifeStudio | Getty Images

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