Academic Librarianship


Academic Librarianship — MLIS Career Pathway

Academic libraries are found in institutions of higher education — in community colleges, private colleges, major universities, or specialized research institutes. Academic libraries support the mission of their institution, a mission that can range from undergraduate instruction to graduate and faculty academic research in the humanities, social sciences and hard sciences. Increasingly, the focus is on undergraduate instruction, emerging digital technologies that can enhance preservation, access, and discoverability of library resources, online education, marketing and assessment, open access, and cooperative collection development and resource sharing among institutions.

Please see the Academic Library Career Environment pages for additional detailed information about academic library jobs and worklife, salaries and promotion, tips to ace the interview, and more.

The ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee in 2020 listed the following “top trends” in higher education as they pertain to academic librarianship.

  • Research data services
  • Digital scholarship
  • Collection assessment trends
  • Content provider mergers
  • Evidence of learning new directions with the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy
  • Altmetrics
  • Emerging staff positions
  • Open educational resources

The leading issues to be considered in the roles and functions of the academic library in the immediate future are:

  • Collaboration with and outreach to academic faculty, researchers, end users, and content providers
  • Educating “by design,” or with an emphasis on undergraduate research methodologies
  • Evolving and leveraging digital library service frameworks
  • Implications of online access to content, especially data curation, digital preservation, conservation, open access, copyright, and intellectual property
  • Librarian roles supporting federally funded scientific research
  • New forms of scholarly publishing
  • Libraries as publishers

See: New Roles for the Road Ahead

Employment Opportunities

Today’s academic librarians are involved in a variety of challenging activities devoted to meeting the information needs of students, faculty, researchers, and other campus stakeholders.

Typically they perform the following duties:

  • Collaborate with classroom faculty, information technology specialists, and instructional developers
  • Consult with individuals in analyzing, identifying, and fulfilling their information needs
  • Contribute to effective teamwork among colleagues
  • Create campus-wide information literacy programs and develop and teach library instruction sessions or courses both in the classroom and online
  • Design and manage Web sites
  • Evaluate, purchase or license, and organize electronic databases
  • Facilitate the use of social media tools
  • Keep abreast of technological advancements and develop strategies to take advantage of them
  • Participate in and lead public relations efforts to promote and raise funds for academic libraries
  • Plan, implement, and administer computer-based systems
  • Select, organize, and facilitate access to information in a variety of formats, chiefly digital

MLIS Skills at Work

The MLIS Skills at Work includes important trends and data that are needed to prepare for career advancement within the information professions. The following information within the report relates directly to the Academic Librarianship career path. However, slides #14, #15, #16 and #17 showcase/highlight the skills most valuable to employers.

  • See the MLIS Skills at Work report, slides #5 through #11 for more detailed information about hiring trends and slide #22 for representative job titles
  • See slide #37 to view sample job titles, job duties, job skills, and technology/standards for college, university and research libraries
  • See also slides #27 (Collection, Acquisition and Circulation), #26 (Cataloging and Metadata), #34 (Reference and Research), and #33 (Outreach, Programming and Instruction) for additional roles within this career pathway

Core Theory and Knowledge

  • Ability to work in a team environment
  • Experience in teaching
  • Experience conducting library or archival research at the college level or higher
  • Familiarity with research methodology in the context of a research university
  • Good online technical skills especially in Web site development and social media
  • Knowledge of the issues facing libraries and higher education
  • Knowledge of the uses of technology for access to and dissemination of information
  • Leadership ability
  • Strong communication skills: in person, in writing, and online
  • Strong academic background (preferably a college major) in the humanities or social sciences

MLIS Requirements

The MLIS program requires 43 units for graduation. Within those units, six courses (16 units) are required of all MLIS students and must be taken as part of all career pathways: INFO 203, INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204, INFO 285, and either INFO 289 or INFO 299. Beyond those six courses, a student is free to select electives reflecting individual interests and aspirations. 

If you are interested in this career pathway, you may choose to select from the foundation or recommended course electives listed below. Foundation courses form the foundational knowledge and skills for this pathway. If you can only select a few electives, then choose from the foundation courses. The recommended courses are very relevant, but not as foundational to this career pathway.

The career pathway described here is provided solely for advising purposes. No special designation appears on your transcript or diploma. All graduating students receive an MLIS degree.

Recommended Coursework

Required Courses:

Foundation Courses:

Recommended Courses:

Effective leadership and management (of people and information) is critically important for all types of work environments and clients.  We recommend that students also consider selecting courses from the Leadership and Management career path to complement or supplement core skills in other areas.

Areas of Emphasis within the Academic Librarianship Pathway

While all students earn an MLIS degree from the iSchool (no special designation appears on academic transcripts or diplomas), students may include Area of Emphasis information about their skill sets on resumes and in cover letters. The iSchool faculty (with input from the Leadership and Management Program Advisory Committee) developed the recommended courses below for these Areas of Emphasis.

Information Literacy Instruction in Higher Education

Scholarly Communication Services

Academic Library Management


Faculty pathway advisors are available to help guide you and answer questions about planning a career in their area of expertise.

Learn More