Careers in Rare Books and Manuscripts: Frequently Asked Questions / Education / Qualifications
What qualifications do I need to become a librarian / archivist?
In North America, most professional librarian positions require a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree from a program that has been accredited by the American Library Association or the Canadian Library Association.¹ The name of the degree can vary slightly: some universities grant a "Master of Library and Information Science" (MLIS) or a "Master of Science in Library and Information Science" (MSLIS), for example. As long as the program is accredited by the ALA or the CLA, the degree will be recognized. Libraries also recognize degrees granted by accredited programs in other countries. Accredited master's-level degrees from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are generally accepted within all of those countries. The recognition of degrees from other countries is less regularized. See Which universities offer accredited library science programs? for more information about degree programs.
The required qualifications for professional archivists varies: the MLS is commonly required, though some positions allow an MA or a PhD in a subject related to the archive, or a graduate degree in archives administration. The current trend appears to be towards the MLS. The A*CENSUS, a comprehensive study of the profession sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, recently found that "receiving an archives education through a library/information science (MA, MLIS, or MSIS) program is increasingly preferred over an MA in history."²
Other qualifications for becoming a librarian vary depending on the position, and may require expertise in certain technologies, languages, or subject areas. See: What education is required to obtain a job in rare books or manuscripts? Is a second advanced degree required? for more information.
1. According to one study of academic library professional job postings, between 1975-2005 an average of 78.3% positions required the MLS or equivalant. Those positions that did not require the MLS usually required qualifications in another area, such as computer systems or specialized subject knowledge. See: Marybeth F. Grimes and Paul W. Grimes, “The Academic Librarian Labor Market and the Role of the Master of Library Science Degree: 1975 through 2005,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 34, no. 4 (July 2008): 332-339.
2. Michelle Riggs, “The Correlation of Archival Education and Job Requirements since the Advent of Encoded Archival Description,” Journal of Archival Organization 3, no. 1 (January 2005): 61-79.