Across the entire United States, there are fewer than 50 colleges and universities that offer ALA-accredited master’s degrees in library and information science – an average of about one per state. Considering how many public, academic, school, and special libraries our country maintains, that’s a fairly short list of degree programs relative to our expansive geography. Some entire states – and even some major metropolitan areas – lack nearby library science programs to train their information professionals. People in these locations, as well as busy people already employed full-time, are beginning to pursue their library science degrees with a handful of schools that offer 100% online programs.
Online master’s degrees have become extremely popular in a number of disciplines, though the quality of these programs and the academic freedom at the institutions that offer them is frequently questionable. Luckily, the American Library Association remains a strict body for accreditation, so all the online master’s degrees on which it bestows its deliberate, well-calculated approval are high-quality programs at “real,” not-for-profit colleges and universities that also offer conventional, on-site instruction in library and information science.
Certainly, there are undeniable advantages to attending a program with face-to-face classes, and that is why I personally chose to pursue a more traditional library science track instead of an online master’s degree. During my research, though, I weighed online programs and found that many of them provided excellent instruction, going to great lengths to ensure that their students received a quality education. After all, we need library and information science professionals in places like Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Alaska, Delaware, Georgia, Nevada, and the other states without ALA-approved library programs. And yes, that accreditation is essential – it’s as important to library schools as ABA accreditation is to law schools.
As of early 2006, the following colleges and universities offer ALA-accredited library and information science online master’s degrees that can indeed be pursued 100% online (as described explicitly by the ALA directory):
University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, AL
Southern Connecticut State University – New Haven, CT
Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL
University of Southern Mississippi – Hattiesburg, MS
Rutgers University – New Brunswick, NJ
North Carolina Central University – Durham, NC
Clarion University of Pennsylvania – Clarion, PA
Drexel University – Philadelphia, PA
University of Tennessee – Knoxville, TN
Texas Woman’s University – Denton, TX (and yes, they accept men)
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – Milwaukee, WI
Other schools, such as Syracuse University, offer programs that are primarily online master’s degrees but that do require some face-to-face classes. For details, visit the American Library Association website at www.ala.org and click on “Education and Careers” or contact institutions directly. Keep in mind that out-of-state tuition charges may apply at some public institutions should you choose to pursue the online option. However, some universities maintain tuition reciprocity agreements with states currently lacking a library and information science school.
[Final Note: there are some “library science” master’s degree programs out there designed exclusively for school library media specialists and approved by the AASL and NCATE. While those programs are recognized (in fact) by the ALA, they are not necessarily ALA-accredited library and information science programs. Typically, these niche programs, while valuable, are not broad enough to achieve full ALA accreditation because they focus only on school librarians, one subset of the profession.]