Education for librarianship refers to the educational preparation of librarians. In the United States, this educational preparation typically consists of the person obtaining a master’s degree in library science. Though there are certificates, associate’s, and bachelor’s degree programs in this field, most employers only hire librarians with master’s degrees. These other degrees, however, are often earned and used by professionals in related careers such as library technicians and clerks.
A Brief History of Librarianship
In the past, libraries were maintained by scholars. Typically, this was a university professor who had an interest in managing the library. Training programs were not available at the time, and people generally just followed similar practices as other libraries. When the 19th century rolled around, however, librarians began training as apprentices to older and more established librarians.
The first official school for librarians was established in 1887 at Columbia University by the creator of the Dewey decimal system, Melvil Dewey. Afterwards, many more schools began implementing librarianship programs in the U.S. and Canada. By 1915, other library schools began opening Europe with the first being founded in Barcelona at the Universitat de Barcelona, and Leipzig. The number of library schools continued to grow during World War II and the first school to award a Master’s in Library Science was the University of Chicago. This school was also the first to confer a doctoral degree in librarianship. A number of the school’s faculty members played a role in the development of the field including Howard Winger, Peggy Sullivan, and Louis Round Wilson. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also have three prominent library programs between them.
Though library science is available in all degree types, the majority of schools in American and Canada only offer it as a master’s degree program. The bachelor’s degree in library science has been phased out, possibly because the master’s degree is currently the standard. This also allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in another field for specialized library work such as law librarianship.
The two most common master’s degrees awarded are the Master of Library Science (MLS) and the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS).
People with an MLIS degree are qualified to work in public, academic, school, and special libraries while those with MLS degrees typically work for library vendors. Both can be used to obtain employment in related industries such as publishing.
The Master of Library Science program focuses on teaching students the fundamentals of managing a library and its associated collections. The core coursework helps students develop skills in areas such as referencing, cataloging, development of collections, information technology, and management. Elective courses may involve subjects such as genealogy, children’s literature, and coursework related to special libraries like medical literature.
As the world shifts from print media to electronic media, many schools for librarians changed their names to something that is more inclusive of new media. For example, some schools label themselves schools of library and information science (SLIS). Others drop the “library” part and simply call themselves schools of information science (SIS).
Librarianship Degree Programs
In North America, the educational standard for employment as a librarian is a master’s degree in library science, information science, or a combination, which can usually be completed in 1 to 2 years. Employers prefer people that have graduated from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Those that teach in the field, however, typically hold Ph.Ds. in Library Science. In some careers, degrees in related topics are considered equivalent to an MLS or MLIS and in other professions, a person must earn a degree in the specialty in addition to a library science degree to gain entry to the field.
Some schools offer specializations in their library degree programs. These specializations include records management, information policy, medical librarianship, archives, academic librarianship, law librarianship, and school librarianship. It should be noted that people going into school librarianship may be required to obtain a teaching credential in addition to a library science degree. Programs for school librarianship, also known as school library media specialist, are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) which is recognized by the ALA.
In the United States and Canada, the Beta Phi Mu Award is given annually to a person who provides exceptional service when it comes to the education of librarians. The first person to receive the award was Rudolph Hjalmar Gjelness. From 1940 to 1964, he was the dean of the University of Michigan’s Library Science Department and given the award in 1954.
The Future of Librarianship
Around the year 2000, issues regarding the education of professional librarians at the graduate level cropped up. The Council of the American Library Association determined that part of the problem came from the disuse of the word “library” in some schools’ names. Another problem was the lack of core competencies in many programs. There was also a shortage of librarians willing to work with specific groups and environments, particularly those in public libraries and disadvantaged populations.