Dual Degree Programs

Have you ever considered pursuing another Master’s degree while going for your MLS? In my experience, having the option of completing a dual Master’s degree was one of the main draws to Indiana University. I was interested in pursuing an MLS and an MIS, or Master’s in Information Science, both of which are offered by the same program. However, my program also offered several other partnerships–with History, English, Musicology and African Studies, just to name a few. In my program, it’s not uncommon for students to be pursuing two degrees, which takes less credits to do together than if they were to do them separately.

Today I want to outline some considerations for pursuing simultaneous Masters’ degrees. It may just be a good fit for you!

Who should consider a dual degree?

Those who know they want a job as an academic librarian–especially as a subject specialist, in a tenure-track role, or at a prestigious university should consider an additional Master’s degree. Additionally, those who think they may find themselves in an alt-ac position may also find it useful.

Job postings for academic librarian positions often include a second Master’s in the required or preferred qualifications sections (again, especially if it is for a tenure-track position). If you want to be a subject librarian–think English, History, Social Science, Law–you may need an advanced subject degree or you may not, depending on the institution. But either way, having it surely won’t hurt you.

Ideally, you should ask yourself the question: What is my ultimate job goal? Look at sample job ads–does the need for an additional advanced degree ever show up? Look at librarian CVs and resumes for the type of position you are considering. All of these things should indicate whether you absolutely need a second Master’s, if it would just be helpful, or if it doesn’t really add anything to your path.

Other things to consider

  • Money – How much does it cost? This is a really important consideration. People go to grad school for different reasons with different funding, so it’s not a black and white issue. However, you really, really want to be sure that pursuing an additional Master’s degree is a good investment.
  • How it works with your program – Will it be a huge inconvenience? Do you get to combine credits through your program? Are the programs flexible and willing to work with you?
  • Others’ feedback – Just to be on the safe side, ask others in your field what they think. Try the INALJ LinkedIn group, Twitter, or your mentor. You’ll be able to get relevant advice that can help you decide whether this is worthwhile.

Steps to get a dual degree

This dual degree might be formally created by your program, or you may have to forge your way yourself. Either way, the first step is to examine the offerings of your program through the catalog. Whether your program offers dual degrees or not, be sure to talk to an adviser. Although it may not be officially on the books, the advisers may have helped someone with this process before. Discuss your options.

You’ll also want to keep in mind that both programs likely have different admissions procedures and standards. Whether you are applying to both at the same time or adding an additional degree after starting your MLS, don’t make any assumptions about the application process. Do all your research well in advance.

Dual degree experiences

I don’t regret at all pursuing a dual degree. It has given me more time to sink into my program, work more, and even find funding. It also gives me the techy edge that my MLS alone would never give me, and since I want to work with digital libraries this is vital. However, all students’ experiences are different. To this end, I wanted to include statements from three students in my program who are also pursuing dual degrees.

Anna Arays

Library Science & Russian and East European Studies (MLS/MA)

When considering dual degree combinations, I recommend area studies and librarianship as an incredibly useful pairing. For starters, completing a professional program and a humanities program at the same time is incredibly engaging — you get to gather your field skills while also exploring avenues of research for your own interests. Not only is this personally enriching, but it’s professionally valuable, as those research interests and area specializations will get noticed when you’re on the job market. Many areas of library service rely on professionals with expertise in a particular area: subject reference, foreign language cataloging, and even curating rare and special collections usually require knowledge of a second or third language, if not an entire degree. An area specialization not only lets potential employers know that you have firsthand experience with the needs and interests of students in humanities fields, but also provides a framework for how you display and market those skills. For example, Russian and East European Studies may sound like a niche field, but it can provide a wealth of opportunities for a library student with a focused set of goals and interests. At this point in my graduate career, I have identified my strengths and I have profiled the types of settings I would most like to work in — this enables me to start building networks, making connections with other librarians and professional organizations, and generally making myself known in a specific field where my subject expertise may soon prove useful. While dual degree programs are not the best choice for everyone, I do think they are an incredibly valuable option for students who wish to work in an academic library or other research institution.

Valerie Lazalier

Library Science & History of Art (MLS/MA)

I began my coursework in the History of Art program a semester after starting my Library Science coursework, and I am so glad I chose to do both. I will echo what was said above about how perusing two degrees opens up more opportunities for funding and job experience while in school, and makes you better qualified for jobs after graduation. That being said, it can be time consuming to develop your resume in libraries and another field simultaneously. To stay competitive in both fields, you’ll have to not only do (nearly) twice the coursework, but also have twice as many jobs, participate in twice as many organizations, follow twice as many listservs, and ideally attend twice as many conferences. It’s almost inevitable that it will take more than two years to complete two master’s degrees, so that extra time makes it slightly more manageable. Fortunately, during that extra time you’ll be getting the invaluable ‘2-3 years of experience’ in your field asked for on nearly all job ads I see. I feel much more confident about going into the job market knowing I’ll be qualified for a greater range of jobs and have twice the experience of other recent graduates of library science or art history programs. If you can get funding, a dual masters degrees seem like a great way to jump start a career!

Erika Jenns

Library Science & English (MLS/MA)

My decision to apply to dual degree programs stemmed from my desire to have options and to prevent encountering limitations in the post-graduate-school job market.  I was an English major as an undergraduate and was not prepared to give it up, so the dual degree option offered a nice way to continue studying English while allowing me to apply it to something more concrete—rare books—through the specialization in rare books and special collections in the Indiana University Department of Information and Library Science.

My interest in pursuing a master’s degree in library science originally stemmed from my studies in English.  After working with rare books and manuscripts at the Lilly Library at Indiana University Bloomington as a part of one of my undergraduate English classes, I began to consider pairing my interest in literature with a degree that would allow me to work with rare books all of the time.

After deciding that I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, it was time to begin applying to programs.  I had heard rumors from friends and mentors about dual master’s programs, but I found it more difficult to obtain concrete evidence of their existence than I had anticipated.  When institution websites weren’t helpful, I turned to the archaic system of phone calls and emails.

At times it was a real challenge for me to gain access to the carefully guarded realm of dual degree programs, but my advice is to keep your head up.  Don’t be discouraged by seeming obstacles or the potential unavailability of faculty and staff members.  When I received a no or an unsure answer from one department, I called the other.  I kept bothering the institutions I was really interested in attending until I got a straight answer from both departments on how I could pursue a dual degree at their institution.

Some schools didn’t have a master’s option at all, but Indiana University Bloomington did, which was one of its bigger appeals for me.  The research I did before applying was quite time consuming.  I often had to leave messages with multiple people because office staff members were unsure of whom to direct my questions to.  As a potential student, you really have to do the grunt work with some institutions to make it happen, but it’s not impossible.  Once I broke through the barriers of miscommunication (or lack of it), I found most staff members to be quite helpful and willing to discuss my options with me.

I haven’t started my program yet, but I’m optimistic.  I’m really looking forward to having some variation in my coursework and to meeting people in two different departments.  I think that the varying coursework will keep me stimulated, and I hope that in the long run, more doors will be unlocked for me because of the diverse experiences I will have in each department.

Are you pursuing a dual degree? If so, what has your experience been like? If you’re considering a dual degree, what questions do you have?

7 replies

  1. Anyone able to weigh in on the pros/cons of pursuing a subject masters AFTER the MLIS? I’m geographically bound to my LIS program (waiting on my husband to finish school), which is a distance program, and because I work at a state university I get free tuition. I really want to get a MA in Art History and I wish I had been able to apply to schools that have dual degrees (Pratt, Indiana, UNC, etc.). I think most people who do them separately usually have their subject master’s first and then do the MLIS. I’m worried that going straight into an art history MA program after finishing my MLIS will hurt my chances of library employment, although many art history programs let their students work in the visual resources center or art library (an option I don’t have right now).


  2. Great post Brianna. IU has great dual degree programs and a good reputation. However, I always wondered why instead of offering an MLS and an MIS they didn’t just offer an MLIS. The MLS really preps you for working in libraries but instead of having all those core classes, they could have maybe 2 required classes, then allow students to choose electives based on interests and offer more tech courses. The MLS needs some updating in my opinion.

    I also want to add that it’s totally possible to get a job in an academic library in a tenure track position without a 2nd master’s, although it can definitely help. A lot of university’s will help pay for a second degree so that’s another option for those who eventually want a second graduate degree. Might be a little cheaper too.


    • Thanks for your comment, Annie! A lot of people who are pursuing just the MIS here don’t want to work in libraries at all… often they are interested in information systems or going on to get a PhD in IS. Generally, only the folks who want a techy library job (or to buy themselves time before graduating) will pursue the dual MLS/MIS. It’s an interesting dynamic.

      I haven’t learned anything truly valuable from my core MLS coursework. I agree that it needs to be seriously, seriously revamped. The amount of core classes is absurd given the variety of interests my peers have within the field… and yet we suffer through the same unchallenging courses together. Lots of watered-down public services stuff. The specialized tech courses are worthwhile, but again, those I’m taking as electives.

      I like being able to pursue two Master’s degrees at once since I’m hoping that will be a worthwhile investment for my future career prospects, but it’s really all the other experiences outside the classroom that have made me qualified to be a librarian… definitely not my MLS.


  3. As someone who is looking at dual-degree programs (probably MLS and history), I really enjoyed the advice here! Thanks for the insight, and encouragement to keep pursuing with sometimes un-communicative staff members.


  4. Great post, Brianna! I chose not to pursue a history M.A. because Florida universities don’t offer dual-degree programs, because I didn’t want to postpone my professional library career for another year or two (I do have sufficient work experience), and because I didn’t want to create the impression for employers that I was pursuing LIS as a second choice, after being unable to “make it” as a historian. What I did do as an undergrad was to double-major in history and English so as to be able to liaise with the humanities and/or social sciences. I also published and presented my research to an extent that few grad students do.

    But I agree with Annie that if you have time and funding (personally, I’d avoid getting in debt for another $20,000), a second Master’s degree will enhance your opportunities to work in academic libraries. My goal is to earn a history MA after starting my career, and hopefully my employer will defray my costs. Ideally, I then could publish and teach in both history and LIS!

    From experience, I will add that public library search committees might be turned off by a second graduate degree, unless it’s a professional degree in social work, education, or public administration. As always, it boils down to what you want to do and what resources you have. And dual-degree programs are way more cost-effective than completing two degrees separately, as I’d have had to do. Thanks for reminding us of all the options out there!


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