After the MLIS

For librarians looking to change career course, post-MLIS certificates can help them learn a new specialization or catch up on technologies.

For librarians looking to change career course, post-MLIS certificates can help them learn a new specialization or catch up on technologies

After the time and expense of completing a master’s degree in library science, many librarians are done with formal education. But in a profession committed to innovation, and one that naturally attracts lifelong learners, some feel drawn—or obligated—to pursue additional training. For those looking for something more in-depth than a professional development workshop without committing to a doctorate, this frequently takes the form of certifications or continuing education programs (different from the certificate/associates degree programs, which can help train library workers without a master’s degree). Options abound for those taking this path.

Many information schools offer focused certificates, which can be earned independently or paired with a graduate degree. Such programs focus on growing areas of interest in information management, like data science and digital projects; or on specialties requiring unique skills, such as youth librarianship, leadership and management, or archives and records management.



At the University of Arizona, available graduate certificates include specialty topics like archival studies, legal information, and medical information. Others focus on emerging skills and technologies of interest to information professionals. A Foundations of Data Science graduate certificate covers topics like data analysis and data mining, while another certificate focuses on Natural Language Processing (NLP). According to Cristian Román-Palacios, assistant professor of practice and coordinator for the M.S. in Data Science at the School of Information, the most important thing about these certificates “is that they allow people to be able to tell potential employers that they have those specific skills in that area.”

This can cement skills that they have already started to develop informally through their work or self-directed learning, and can make them more competitive when applying for jobs. These certificates, in other words, are as valuable for credentialing as they are for learning itself. They are useful for “people who have had informal training on these topics…people who have experience in other fields and for some reason they start learning a certain topic that is covered in the certificate—they can now certify that they know this specific topic,” Román-Palacios says. There is a demand for these types of programs, he tells LJ, and the Data Science and NLP certificates—started in 2021—are growing very quickly.



San José State University (SJSU) School of Information in California offers two certificates. A Post-Master’s Certificate in Library and Information Science is aimed at MLIS graduates who have been working in the field for several years and need to update their skills. According to Linda Main, associate director of the program, “most people who take it are working in the LIS or archives field.” Available pathways for the certificate program include relevant skills areas like data science, digital archives and records management, digital services and emerging technologies, and web programming and information architecture.

As Main explains to LJ, “I think a post-master’s certificate is probably the most useful kind of certificate, as it helps working professionals update their skills and often move into a higher position or move sideways into a position requiring different skills.” The SJSU Digital Assets Management Certificate is available to matriculated students at the School of Information or non-matriculated students. “This non-matriculated option is taken by a few people not long out of their MLIS who find themselves in a different career trajectory than they had followed in the MLIS,” says Main.

Other programs support those who work or hope to work with rare books or other special or archival materials. The California Rare Book School (CalRBS), part of the School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, offers professional certificates in Rare Books and Manuscripts and in Critical Librarianship, Activism, and Justice. These certificates are awarded after completing five CalRBS courses (each consisting of five days of programming) and incorporate training in topics like preservation, the history of the book, descriptive bibliography, pedagogy, critical theory, and activism. Rare Book School (RBS) at the University of Virginia also offers a certificate of completion for students completing a series of five classes. As is the case at CalRBS, the courses offered through RBS vary from year to year, and cover a range of topics like bookbinding, collection management, history, and electronic resources. The certificates document the time commitment and intensive training of course participants.



Of course, these programs and certificates do charge tuition, and participants must find funding—and this may prove more challenging than it is for degree programs like the MLIS. At the University of Arizona, for example, certificates, because they are non-degree-earning programs, are not eligible for traditional financial aid, and do not receive departmental funding. Most certificate students pay for the program out of pocket. Other programs may have options for scholarships. Tuition for a CalRBS course is $1,200, while tuition for most in-person courses at RBS is $1,395. The certificates at both schools require five times the single course tuition. Scholarships could cover some, but likely not all, of that cost. At CalRBS and RBS, scholarships through the programs and partner organizations cover tuition, although recipients are still responsible for expenses such as travel to attend a course. As enriching as these kinds of continuing education programs are, limited options for funding present barriers to professionals who might otherwise be eager to expand their skill sets and boost their resumes.

Is it worth it? Kendra Lyons, who is pursuing the University of Arizona Foundations of Data Science graduate certificate, tells LJ, “I think the main pro is that having technical skills (especially on paper) makes almost everyone more employable.” Lyons notes that this certificate may catch the eye of employers beyond the library world, expanding her post-master’s career prospects. “Having the certificate will definitely support my career goals, because it will make the skills gained for my MS Info degree more obvious to employers. While ‘information science’ is very broad and not that clear to most people, ‘data science’ is a popular and recognizable term,” she says.

Marina Morgan, metadata librarian at Florida Southern College, completed the SJSU Post-Master’s Certificate after eight years of experience as a cataloging and metadata librarian. Morgan says she decided to pursue the SJSU certificate “because I was at a time in my career when I felt I needed to learn certain technical skills if I wanted to lead library initiatives related to improving access and discovery. I am a metadata librarian, and over the years technical services have changed, with more advanced technical skills needed.”

She chose a program pathway focused on Web Programming and Information Architecture to gain practical skills in designing, developing, and implementing web-based information systems, as well as user experience and user interface design. “I strongly believe any informational professional should keep up with new trends in librarianship,” she says. Morgan has used the skills learned in her certificate program for projects like Find@Roux, a stacks mapping solution for her library. “Honestly, I could not have developed this web tool, had it not been for the technical skills I learned during the SJSU program.”



Lyons and Morgan both acknowledge that their pursuit of these certificates, gaining technical expertise without a related background, came with a steep and sometimes challenging learning curve. Although the certificates follow the MLIS, it doesn’t necessarily follow that MLIS coursework is sufficient preparation. Lyons says, “some folks in library science might need to do what I did as someone with a Bachelor’s in Arts and Humanities and no coding experience, and take a few undergrad or online courses to get the necessary prerequisite skills.” According to Morgan, it can be difficult “if you want to learn a new skill without having any background in that area.... My biggest challenge was the Javascript/jQuery course. It made me realize the complexities of programming and that programming is not for everyone.”

These programs, like any educational pursuit, are an investment of time as well as money, and whether they add value for post-MLIS professionals will depend on each individual and their goals, resources, and opportunities.

The experiences detailed here represent only a small sample of the post-MLIS programming on offer. Fully 39 of the American Library Association–accredited library school programs offer post-master’s certificates. Some 24 of them are available 100 percent online, making their offerings accessible to librarians wherever they are found. (To see the full list, search ALA's database of accredited programs.) The profession has recognized a need for continuing education and training, and these opportunities can provide a helpful boost to librarians who want to shift to a different position or library type, modernize or refresh their skills, or otherwise fill gaps in their knowledge and experience—something that may be particularly important now as many in LIS and all fields reevaluate what they want from their work. 

Jennifer A. Dixon is a law librarian, and most recently was Collection Management Librarian at Fordham University School of Law, New York.

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