What is an MLIS? How do I get one? Why would I want one?
You may have encountered this term before, if you've ever looked at ads for library positions, and wondered what it was. Or, you may already know what it is. Or, you may think it sounds like some kind of strange abbreviation --- Monkeys Like Illicit Sweets? May Lunch Involve Sauerkraut?
An MLIS is a Master's in Information and Library Science, and is the required degree for many professional librarians in the United States. It's also sometimes termed an MLS (Master's in Library Science), and the two are kinda the same (some schools call it MLIS, some call it MLS). Basically, a lot of times, people just call it "library school." To get an MLIS or MLS, you need to find an accredited school, which means a school which the ALA (American Library Association) has approved for the degree. To get into a master's program, most schools require: a bachelor's degree, that you take the GRE (Graduate Records Examination), and .... a lot of money. Sorry, but that last part seems to hold true no matter where you go to school --- getting a master's degree is usually pretty expensive. The good news is that your bachelor's degree doesn't have to be in library science, but can be in anything. In fact, a lot of schools encourage diversity in backgrounds, which makes for a lot of students from different backgrounds, but who all have a similar interest in libraries.
My MLIS is from Dominican University in Illinois. Illinois only has two schools that offer the MLIS: Dominican and the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana). When I was in library school, they didn't have online classes at Dominican, which was a complete bummer, since it would have been nice to do classes on my own time, at home. Instead, I worked a full day of work (7 am - 4:30 pm, sometimes with no lunch break) and then went to school at night. While online classes would have been convenient, I'm glad all of my classes met physically, face-to-face. Having to drive to school and attend class meant that I had a full commitment to going to school, and there was no way to slack off. Face-to-face classes make for a lot of instant discussion and interaction, which, depending on the class, meant for some really interesting sessions. Physical classes let you make friends that you can study with, and commiserate with -- and it lets you ask questions in class and get answers right away. That being said, I would have enjoyed having one or two classes as online classes, because I didn't feel it was necessary to physically be in class to learn the material.
Since obtaining the degree, I have taken a few online courses to continue my education, and I've enjoyed them. It's really nice to be able to take classes without needing to travel. I chose Dominican over University of Illinois mainly because of the location. U of I was less money, and had an online learning program (called the LEEP program), but at the time, required physical presence on campus for some sessions --- which would have necessitated me using up all of my vacation time from my job in the first two semesters..... not an option for me, since I did not tell my employer that I was getting my degree (that's a whole 'nother story, which I may tell some other time). I think online classes are great, but I wouldn't want to give up the physical classes, simply for the interaction that happens when you get together with a group of people to discuss things face-to-face. However, online classes do allow people to get the degree who otherwise wouldn't be able to travel back and forth to class, or take the classes from an accredited school in another state --- which is very convenient.
So that answers the first two questions: what is it? and how do I get one? But maybe you're wondering -- why would I want an MLS?
Library positions for Librarians (Reference Librarians, Catalogers, Assistant Directors, and many others) usually require that you have the MLIS. If you want a position that pays more money, you need the degree. At least, most of the time --- there's no way to make a blanket statement for every single library, and every single position, but this seems to be the general way things go. However -- don't despair if you would love to work in a library, but don't have the money or inclination to get a master's degree. The other degree that you can get is a LTA, or Library Technical Assistant certificate. Some library positions ask for an LTA, but others don't require any kind of degree at all. Depending on the library, and the job, the required qualifications can really vary (which is why it's important to read any job descriptions carefully). There's a great article I found which compares the MLS to an LTA, if you want to know more.
Ok -- enough lagniappe for now. Comments and questions are welcome, as always, especially since I'll probably work them into future posts. Thanks go out to Kelly, who commented last time and asked about my degree experience!