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Grad Program: Library and Information Science

Basic Information

Being a librarian is something akin to being a pirate--your job is to look for hidden treasure. The treasure is information, and the search changes with every question someone asks you. You’ll learn how to ask the right questions to find out what your customer (patron, client) is really looking for, what kind of resources to use, which search words are most efficient for your database search, or what materials to assemble for a twenty-minute story time for four-year-olds.

The range of opportunities within the field--and its ever-changing nature due to advances in information technology--makes library and information science a versatile career choice. You could be a public library professional maintaining a collection of thousands of books, a school librarian working closely with often unruly students (come on, you were one once!), or a personnel in a "special library" organizing, for example, textbooks, research papers, and databases all pertaining to heart disease at a major medical center.

The beauty of librarianship lies in the choices you will have. Any institution that keeps a large assortment of information--be it print, electronic, or both--needs someone to keep it organized, up-to-date, and most importantly, be able to retrieve it as needed. Librarians are the keepers of knowledge.

Degree Information

The first thing you will want to do when considering programs is to find out if they are accredited. Many employers require an ALA-accredited program. The American Library Association determines whether schools have appropriate faculty and courses, proven track records for graduating their students, and if they maintain the ability to continue to do so.

There are a few options that you need to consider upon entering graduate school. First, if you are interested in becoming a public school librarian, you will be following a different curriculum almost from the beginning than other library science students. There’s a little bit of latitude here, as all graduates need to take a few required general courses. Beyond that, there are still more choices.

Some schools, albeit very few, offer library science as a major/minor in the undergraduate college. For the most part, however, employers look for a graduate degree in library science with an undergraduate degree in something else that complements the field in which you wish to work. For example, a law firm looking for a librarian may want someone with a master’s degree in library science and an undergraduate degree in political science or history. A hospital librarian might need to have an undergraduate degree in chemistry or biology, and so on.

There are variations to the names of library programs, the most common being Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS). Other program names include Master of Information Science (MIS), and Communication and Information Studies (MCIS); still other degree titles may use words like "Informatics" or "Knowledge." Beyond the graduate degree, many schools offer PhD programs.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Is the program ALA-accredited?
  • Does the program offer up-to-date technology courses?
  • Do the practicalities of the program (distance, length of program, cost, etc.) fit your lifestyle?
  • Does the program offer internships, practicums, or other networking and career opportunities?
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