If you are considering becoming a school librarian you may be wondering if you need a master’s degree to work in this profession. You may and you may not a master’s degree. Much depends upon where you work and at what level your library functions.

History of the Profession

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, librarians didn’t need degrees at all. There was a librarian training school in New York, but most employers only required a couple of years of education in library skills. By the 1930’s, libraries of all kinds, both public and school, were beginning to require undergraduate degrees in Library Service. The standard degree was a four-year bachelor program followed by a year of library science concentration. The University of Chicago also offered a graduate degree for the profession. By 1948, the undergraduate five-year program had become a master’s degree. Today, all librarians must be state-certified and states vary in what level of degree they require.

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Why Must Librarians have Degrees?

In 1957, a movie called Desk Set, starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, dealt with the advent of technology in a large public library. While the computer specialist tried to get the library staff accustomed to using technology, it remained steadfastly low-tech. The problem was that the computer only served to catalog and locate books. The librarians were walking resource centers. They had information specialties and knew where to locate the answers to questions posed by library users. The fact is that librarians do far more than catalog books and stamp library cards. In fact, school librarians often teach classes in using technology for research. Other duties of school librarians include budgetary concerns. Librarians decide which books and other materials to order and which to discard. School librarians also implement programs that encourage reading in lower grades.

School librarians are often referred to as library media specialists. Elementary school librarians do a significant amount of teaching. Some are even elementary teachers with library science certification. They teach children during the times that classes are in the library and help them conduct research. Most schools require at least a bachelor’s degree for the position. Elementary school teacher certification usually requires only a bachelor’s degree as well. Many people then question whether a master’s degree is necessary at that level. Secondary school librarians share many of the same duties, although they initiate fewer programs that promote reading and do more research coaching. College or university librarians have different responsibilities. At that level, they often supervise staff and must deal with some human resources issues. Many schools house their tutoring programs in the library as well, and so the librarians must be able to help students access information on a variety of advanced subjects. There is little question as to the necessity for a master’s degree for college librarians.

What do Library Master’s Degrees Entail?

A Master of Education degree can be specialized in many ways. Concentrations in library media usually fall under the same umbrella as media and technology. People earning this degree study how media and technology are used to address learning issues in the school environment and develop protocols for technology usage. In other words, it is a degree that focuses on some aspects of library science as an adjunct to teaching. The Master of Science in Library Science is much more specific. Most programs contain 36 credit hours, more if it is a thesis track, and take a year to a year-and-a-half to complete. Curriculum covers technology and media, children’s literature, young adult literature, library management and library programming among other courses.

The question of what degree you need depends upon a couple of issues. First, it depends upon what your state requires for certification. If your goal is long-term employment at a small school, you may need no more than a bachelor’s degree, if that is what your state requires. However, many states are turning to the master’s degree as the standard. Clearly, you must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Although the issue is debated, technology is changing the profession but where you want to work in the field will determine what degree you must have to work as a school librarian.

For more information on graduate degrees in education, please see: Top 15 Best and Most Affordable Graduate Educational Leadership Programs.