online masters in library science
May 12, 2014 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning to get a Masters in Library and Information Science. There are no schools that offer this program that are close enough to me at present. There are several online programs that are ALA accredited that I'm interested in. Does anyone have any experience with whether online masters programs are looked down upon when hiring in the library field? (Primarily looking at being a public librarian, if it matters.)
posted by firei to Education (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a hiring person. I know a lot of people who have gotten online MLIS degrees. I think if you get your degree online but you have real world people experience, whether it's in a library setting or some other sort of "working with people" setting that is what a lot of places care about. Since most (not all) public library jobs involve a decent amount of interaction with the public I think some places may be concerned that you don't have the "soft skills" for the job if you only have an online degree. This may or may not be accurate, so it's good to have experience with people/work in a real life setting to help give a better more well-rounded picture of what you can do at a job.

What programs are you looking at? I think people might be more willing to give you "X is good in this, Y is good in that" type of advice if you're trying to narrow down some choices.
posted by jessamyn at 5:19 PM on May 12, 2014

I hire newly minted librarians. Do you have experience working in a library? That's the part that really matters. There is still some preference for traditional degrees over online degrees, but that tends to take a back seat to experience.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:20 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just as a quick update: I worked in a library for a year and a half, and other jobs have been mostly customer service/public interaction work.

The programs I am looking at are: University of Alabama, University of Buffalo, Clarion University, and University of Wisconsin.

Thank you. :)
posted by firei at 5:25 PM on May 12, 2014

Online degrees are fine, but the benefit of going to a school is that often they have student positions in the library field that give you valuable real world experience. I know you already have some, but the library field is evolving pretty quickly, so it would be a good idea to get some more recent experience if possible.

As for programs, I've heard good things about the online program for San Jose State University. Check it out!
posted by Fister Roboto at 5:37 PM on May 12, 2014

Best answer: I was a public librarian and involved in hiring. All we cared about was work experience - in a library (preferably in a similar role; cataloging is really different from storytime) and in related jobs (customer service and other public-facing jobs, like you mention, are great preparation for public library jobs). We needed people to have the degree so we could tick the MLS ticky box, but otherwise didn't care.

We did not care at all about where the degree came from as far as online vs. traditional, and cared a tiny amount about which program it was. You'll get more side-eye about SJSU than Illinois, for example, but I wouldn't have any real opinion about the programs you've listed (good feelings about Wisconsin, but "whatever" feelings about the rest). Library what it is. Get the degree as cheaply as you can, and work (IN A LIBRARY) the entire time you're in school.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:38 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your experience matters so much more than where/how you get your degree. If you can do internships while getting your degree, that will help a lot. You might be at a bit of a disadvantage if you want to move to a city after finishing your degree that has a library school, but if you plan to stay where you are, hiring libraries will be used to seeing applicants with degrees from all over. As for choosing between programs, prioritize cost first, with the availability of courses that interest you second.

You might also miss out a bit on networking and interacting with your fellow students in person. Being able to hang out with your peers after class to vent about the assignments, etc can do a lot for your sanity, so I would make an effort to make personal connections as best you can online. A
posted by wsquared at 5:40 PM on May 12, 2014

Best answer: I'm admittedly a bit of a geezer, having gotten my MLS at the dawn of the internet (Archie, anyone? Dialog blue sheets? Gopher?) Buffalo, as it happens. I've worked at a very major metropolitan public library and a smaller county system, as well as two major vendors in public library collection development. The only thing that really matters is, as jessamyn and others say, the soft skills. I feel very strongly that much of library school is vo-tech stuff: classification, methods, cataloging. We call it grad school, but it's basically an applied skill set. What doesn't come so easily is what makes a good librarian great - an interest in people, a willingness to listen, and the ability to communicate in person. You worked in a library, which is great - you already know this. Just get the credential!
PS, Buffalo has undergone a lot of changes since I went and the online program is relatively new. Could mean potential for needing to iron out some kinks. Clarion's program seems very organized, for what it's worth. Two colleagues have gotten their degrees from there in the past 5 years.
posted by Otter_Handler at 6:49 PM on May 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: All of the librarians I've ever talked to, back when I was seriously considering library school, recommended the cheapest/easiest/fastest path to the MLIS. One of them got his degree online and part-time while working at a library, and it hasn't impeded his career at all. Library school is in the minority today, I think, as a field where the name of your school truly doesn't matter unless you're getting a PhD (which you shouldn't be unless you have a burning desire to teach and research information science).
posted by serelliya at 6:56 PM on May 12, 2014

Best answer: Online programs are fine. Recent library experience is essential.

Are you looking to do your degree online because you can't move, now or in the future? If so, I'd advise you to research more about the job market for new MLS grads. It's rough out there, and typically folks have to move to find librarian jobs.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:23 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I help hire for my special library's internship; we don't care at all where people went to library school (we also don't care about GPAs, I am actively unimpressed when I see GPAs on a resume). Go to the cheapest school you can and get work experience.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 2:46 AM on May 13, 2014

Echoing bluedaisy - library work can be the best ever for problem-solving challenge, eclectic fun, intellectual variety (speaking as a public services person here), if you can get a right job in a right library. But that is increasingly extremely difficult to score - even with relevant experience, and your social skills fitting in with the existing work group (finding an influential mentor would help). Library jobs, not just the work involved, were recently profiled (in an NPR story?) as the most rapidly disappearing jobs in the marketplace.

One reason I went into this work was because it would allow me to be on my feet, moving around all day, meeting different people. Completely the opposite environment, here & now.
posted by mmiddle at 6:43 AM on May 13, 2014

Mod note: This is an answer from an anonymous commenter.
My wife is the hiring manager for an academic library, so YMMV since your interest is in public libraries. She's hired and served on her fair share of hiring committees and likes to talk the process through with me, so I feel confident answering on her behalf.

There seems to be little weight to degrees obtained online or in-class, but there is a tremendous amount of weight given to the 'soft skills' jessaymyn and others have mentioned above. I would say it could hurt you in the sense that you would not be in an academic setting where you could work/volunteer for your school's library to gain valuable on-site experience (working with the software, patrons, management, etc).

It's really difficult to overstate (again, from my wife's perspective and the hiring she has done) how critical it is to have depth and/or breadth in a library. A year and a half is good, but I don't think it would stand out to her against candidates who would (and usually do) have more experience in the library setting. So if you go the online route, make sure to bolster your experience credentials by volunteering at your local library (if possible) and using that opportunity to learn as much as you can, especially in regards to software, policy, best practice, etc.

Good luck!
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:52 PM on May 13, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all for your reassuring words. You generally confirmed what I thought to be true.

My applications are in, now I'm just waiting for my references to get their butts in gear! And for those pesky transcripts and test scores to wing their way to my schools. :)

And hopefully soon I'll be in a position to at least volunteer at a library even if I can't work there (I left my other gig only because it was part time and I couldn't turn down a full time position elsewhere when an offer came my way.)

Thanks again!
posted by firei at 6:11 PM on May 15, 2014

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