Library School Requirement Survey Results

That’s right – I finally have the results for you. You can browse the survey results on Survey Monkey here, but I don’t feel that that gives you the full picture, so I did a little bit of analysis of my own.

First, I went through and made school names conform to one standard (where possible).

Next, I went through and added a few required classes based on people’s open ended answers (ex. Intro to Libraries/Librarianship).

Lastly, I wasn’t clear in my class descriptions, when I said Intro to Research I meant Intro to Reference/Research. Every library calls that department something different. So if someone entered Intro to Reference as an open ended answer I updated the tally for Intro to Research.


There were 504 responses to the survey. Of those 20.8% were current MLS/MLIS students and only 1.7% graduated before 1970. The majority of respondents graduated between 1991 and 1999 or in 2007.

Year of MLS/MLIS

Respondents attended 79 different schools/campuses, the top 5 of which were:

  • Syracuse University–83
  • Simmons–23
  • Drexel–22
  • Indiana University–19
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign–17

See the full list of schools/counts.

My goal (purely out of curiosity) was to see what classes used to be required and what classes are required now. I also wanted to see how much variation there was from school to school.

These results are slightly skewed because so many respondents were from Syracuse University, but I thought I’d show them anyway. Here are the required classes by year:

Required Classes Per Year
Required Classes Per Year

A chart with required classes by year and school would be way to involved for a web page, so you can see this data in this PDF.

It pleases me to see that management is being offered much more now than it was in the past. Along those lines, I’m shocked at the lack of consistency across the board. If we’re all learning something different, then how do libraries know what they’re getting when they hire a new graduate? If we’re all required to get an MLS/MLIS from an ALA accredited school in order to be considered a “real” librarian, then why is it that we all have to take such different classes?

Why aren’t we all required to learn a bit of the basics from each area of the library? All schools should require an intro to reference/research, intro to cataloging, collection development, library automation, management, and systems class – that gives students a feel for each area of the library allowing them to decide where they want to go. Then after giving a grounding throw in some practical experience.

I’m not alone in my thinking. Some of the open ended answers to “Do you feel that library school prepared you for the library world?”:

  • In a theoretical sense yes, but I would have liked more practical training. My Archives courses at Temple were more hands on. The Preservation course at Clarion was also hands on, but we could have done more. I would have liked if more interaction with librarians and library work was a part of the curriculum, but I managed to do this independently instead.
  • Meh. Cataloging was worthwhile. Intro to Business Research was good. The rest was pretty obvious/pointless. It definitely wasn’t worth the money, but it was a necessary hurdle to getting a library job.
  • Some classes do and some don’t. Most of it focuses on theory. I really enjoyed the classes I could use in the real world such as web design, cataloging and collection development. I work in a library and feel bad for those who are not able to. I have learned so much more from working in the library each day. I believe that library programs should be restructured to focus more on real life experiences.
  • Hardly. Thankfully I was already employed in the library world. I found the courses and their content woefully out-of-date (dialog?!?!) and mostly abstract. I would have come out of library school with no real inkling of the real library world at all.
  • Not as much as library work has.

Other comments that struck me:

  • In Library School, they never discussed how to work with different departments, they seem to leave that part out, but its a key part of being a successful librarian. The environment I currently work in has the saying “Serve the Customer first, and remember your colleagues are your customers too” Its something that seems to have created a very friendly work environment.
  • Classes from practicing librarians were better than the classes from tenured faculty
  • The MLS is an odd degree. For those of us coming to the library world from another profession (i.e. a lot of us! including me), the MLS means very little and either overqualifies us for entry-level paraprofessional jobs or isn’t enough on its own to get higher-level jobs. I feel frustrated by libraries that don’t have the imagination to see how my years of experience in communications may not transfer, no matter how carefully I craft my resume to draw parallels between what I’ve done and what I would be doing in a library or archive. I think there needs to be a lot of attitude adjustment!!!
  • I’m truly appalled by the decline in the teaching of knowledge organization in recent years. Some students are very reference-focused when they are at grad school and seem to be able to avoid classes on KO. As a result they have a hard time when they come out into the real world … and the real world has a hard time with them!!!
  • Even after spending 3 years and thousands of dollars getting the degree, I believe there should be some sort of certification process. The title “Librarian” should be based on knowledge and skills, regardless of how it is acquired — whether through a degree program or years of working in libraries.
  • I wish there was more practical application of theory.
  • I realize that I just said this in the previous question, but it’s rather surprising that library students in some (many?) MLS programs can complete their degrees and still have no real library experience. It’s rather like getting an MD without having gone through residency: classroom experience can’t fully prepare you for working in the field every day.

There are so many more responses I want to share, but this post will end up going on forever. In addition to the documents I provided and the link to SurveyMonkey, here are the open ended answers to Anything Further to Add and Do/Did you feel prepared?. For those who are better at compiling statistics, here is the zip file of all responses.

If you generate reports of your own, I just ask that you share with me so I can share with the people who took the time to answer the survey.

[update] I forgot to include the edited result set (the one I cleaned up) I will try to get that attached to this post by tomorrow. [/update]


  1. As a brand new MLS student (I actually start classes next week), I found this survey very interesting. Thanks for sharing! It has motivated me to really work on getting some practical experience while I’m in school since it seems that most people feel that classes alone did not prepare them for a library career.

  2. The problem with requiring so many ‘core’ classes is that there just isn’t enough time. Even in my two-year program, the required classes sucked up almost entirely the first year, and the second year was concerned with landing co-ops and internships.

    Having so many requirements also churns out thousands of generalists. Generalists are the last thing this profession needs.

  3. I’m sitting at home hacking up my lungs, so I have time to go through all the detail. This survey was a great idea and it was nice of you to go through the effort. It brings up interesting questions for future research.

    One thing that really jumped out at me was this comment from someone who graduated in the 70s, in the ‘did library school prepare you for the real world’ category:

    “Yes, but at that time our program was based on practical application, the university lost their accreditation because they were not teaching enough theory. Theory is nice, but give me people with some practical skills vs. meeting new librarians who cannot explain the relationship of AACR2 to a MARC record.”

    That theory vs practice thing will probably never go away.

    The fear seems to be that if there is too much practice, then it becomes a vocational program rather than a high-minded academic program, and then you really don’t need a masters degree, and then everyone loses what very little respect they already have and the salaries fall even lower than they already are. But higher-paying professions like accounting and law and medicine require much more practice vs theory than we do, so that doesn’t really seem like a valid argument.

    And I think you’ve keyed on a major issue with the incredible range of required coursework out there and how it sort of invalidates the idea of a single, accreditable degree.

  4. I just graduated with my MLIS and am now a new professional working in a public library, even though my focus was academic libraries in school (which is where my first library experience came from). The core classes have been applicable to both work environments and are more helpful than some think…though it is true that practical experience is just as important….so library students, get as much library experience as you can to see where your core classes can be applied.

  5. Sean,

    I took 3 courses a term for 4 terms. That was 3 fewer classes than were required due to the fact that I got credit for 5+ years of library related work. That means there are 15 classes needed to graduate from Drexel. All I’m suggesting is 6 of those be required. That leaves you with 9 electives to narrow in on your field of interest.

    Also, on the theory of ending up with generalists – I don’t agree. I think you end up with well rounded individuals who respect their colleagues. Right now you have catalogers thinking that reference librarians don’t work and reference librarians thinking that any idiot can catalog (yes I’ve heard people say these things). If you provide students with a grounding in all areas of the library you educate them on what their colleagues are doing and you help them choose which area of the library is best suited to them.

  6. Hi. I was actually in a few classes at Drexel with Nicole, although I never got to know her. I graduated from Drexel this past June and was employed in a public library by July. I did not have any previous library experience, and I was hired as a generalist. Due to my technology background, along with the technology instruction at Drexel, I have been moved more into the technical areas. I feel that Drexel prepared me very well for real world experience (minus learning dialog and NOT extensively learning Dewey). I have also participated in two Grants, implementing one and helping to draft a proposal for a second. Drexel prepared me for this task as well.

    In my opinion, you do not need previous library experience to be a great Librarian right out of grad school. Yes, you have your “getting to know the job” period as you do with any other new job; however, if you listen and apply yourself, you will find that you can fit in nicely. I have received two performance reviews thus far, and both have been excellent.

  7. I agree – you don’t need previous experience to be a great librarian – but I do feel that if we were provided with real world experience we’d learn much more than they could ever teach us in library school.

  8. Just a note on the reference vs. research distinction:

    Currently at my school (U of Oklahoma), a research class — focused on how research is conducted in the social sciences, how to do a lit review and figure out your methodology, etc. — is required.

    However, whether or not a reference class is required depends on your definition. “Information Users In the Knowledge Society” (the theories behind reference) is required, but “Information Sources and Services” (how to do a reference interview and where to find information) is not.

    While there were only six respondents from OU, I wonder how this sort of confusion of terminology might have affected other answers.

  9. Kristen,

    This is a good point! Thanks for clarifying. Just to let you know – there were several people from different schools who made comments about reference/research.

  10. One of the things that was never mentioned in Library School was the free Talking Books program by the Library of Congress. I think this should be REQUIRED learning for all library schools, as every librarian needs to know about it and promote it! Did any of you learn about it in library school? You can see more info about Talking Books and other related topics at

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