If surrounding yourself with piles of books is your idea of bliss, then you may want to consider a career as a librarian. And now is a better time than ever to pursue a degree in Library Science…many colleges offer online programs that allow you to complete an entire degree from the comfort of your home.
The modern-day librarian is a far cry from the stereotypical spinster that caresses her many cats in a room full of dusty books. Instead, the 21st century librarian encompasses a vast set of research and technological skill as well as a mastery of interpersonal communication. Her job description includes searching databases, implementing the latest technological advances, validating sources’ credibility, assisting patrons in the development of research skills, reading aloud to groups, and performing other informational seminars.
Types of Libraries
Before selecting a degree plan, you must determine the area of Library Science in which you wish to specialize. Perhaps the simplest way to narrow the varying fields of Library Science is to determine the location and age group with which you wish to work. The most common types of libraries include city, county, school (K-12), and university. A city or country librarian will come into contact with patrons of many different ages and backgrounds. A school librarian (K-12) works primarily with children and their teachers, and a university librarian serves college students. With which age group do you work best?
Diverse Job Descriptions
Of course, librarians within each of these locations serve varying purposes. Within a given branch, there may be Reference Librarians, Children’s Librarians, Technical Service Librarians, Archivists, Collections Development Librarians, Systems Librarians, Outreach Librarians, and Instructional Librarians. Reference librarians assist patrons in their research endeavors. Children’s Librarians manage the juvenile section of the library and conduct story times and other programming for children. Technical Service Librarians order books and other necessary technical equipment for the library. Archivists manage a library’s collection of archived documents. Collections Development Librarians oversee the purchasing of books and electronic resources such as cd’s and dvd’s. Systems Librarians manage the integral systems of the library, namely the card catalog and its components. Outreach Librarians focus on groups that are likely to have difficulty accessing the library such as disabled, low-income, or incarcerated individuals. Instructional Librarians teach classes, either in-person or online, that emphasize the skills needed to explore the resources of a library. In general, the larger the library, the more specialized the librarians’ job descriptions become. If you choose to serve in a small rural library, you may wear all of those hats and more. Do you prefer great variety in your daily job duties or are you more content with the routine of a specific job description?
How would you prefer to spend your time working at a library? If you are high energy and enjoy talking with and educating others, then you might consider becoming a Children’s Librarian. Or if you prefer more interaction with technology than people, you may choose the Technical Service Librarian route. If you love the thrill of the hunt involved in research, you may prefer to become a Reference Librarian. There are opportunities for many different personality types in the world of Library Science.
Online Degree Programs for Library Science
A Library Science degree imparts the skill and information necessary to the profession of a librarian. Most libraries seek librarians that have an ALA-accredited Master’s Degree in Library Science. These degrees have varying names, including Master of Library Science (MLS), Master of Librarianship, and Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS). The courses within a Library Science degree plan cover a broad range of material from information technology, to the history of print, to legal issues such a copyright. Library Science curriculum varies between the institutions, as does the number of hours required to attain a degree. The investment of time required to attain a Master’s Degree in Library Science ranges from 36 semester hours to 72 quarter hours, depending on the program.
How to Select a Program
Review each program’s criteria before sending in your applications. Most programs require a Bachelor’s degree with sufficient GPA, GRE scores, competency in the use of a computer, and references. There are 15 universities that offer an entirely online ALA-accredited Master’s Degree in Library Science and 13 more that offer largely online programs with some face-to-face time required. With such an abundance of offerings, how is a potential student to pick a school?
A great starting place is the website of the American Library Association (www.ala.org). The ALA website lists all ALA-accredited institutions in a variety of formats. You can simply view an alphabetized list, search the database based on selected criteria, or even view a Google Map of the various programs. From San Jose State University (http://slisweb.sjsu.edu) in the west all the way to Florida State University (http://slis.fsu.edu/) in the east, online Library Science programs are spread throughout the United States and beyond, making them accessible to a wide variety of potential students. Choosing a program in your home state may qualify you for in-state tuition discounts, but make sure to compare total costs between several schools as you conduct your search.
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a handful of contenders, it’s time to get serious about figuring out the specifics of each program. Certainly, a campus visit can provide unique insight into the program. Talk to the director of the program, to professors, and to other students if possible. Sit down with an advisor and try to draw up a reasonable timetable for completion of the program. If a campus visit is not possible, check out the university’s website. Most universities are also more than willing to mail copies of campus brochures, course catalogs, and financial aid information. Don’t forget about another resource…your local librarian. Quiz all the librarians that you can find. Ask them where they got their degree, what programs they recommend, what programs to avoid, and why. Remember, librarians are a wealth of information. That’s why you’re suited to the profession, right? Gather as much information as possible, crunch the numbers, and confidently make a decision about the program that best meets your interests.
For the schools that require some in-person interaction, geography is certainly factor to consider. Are you comfortable flying across the country a few times a year to put in your face time or do you prefer a program that is accessible via a short car trip?
As of October 2009, the average starting salary for a librarian is $41, 579. Approximately 94% of new graduates with degrees in Library Science are able to find employment. Of those, 18.3% found part-time employment while the others secured full-time positions. Job growth in the field of Library Science is expected to trail slightly behind the average job markets. But, on the bright side, the library profession is saturated with librarians nearing retirement age. Sixty percent of all currently employed librarians are age 45 or older. So, plenty of openings should soon emerge for the next generation of librarians.