Hack Your Program: University of Alabama SLIS
24/05/2011 § 22 Comments
UA School of Library and Information Studies – Tuscaloosa, AL
Disclaimer: I attended the on-campus UA SLIS program from January 2009-May 2011 as a full time student. These opinions are mine, with the exception of anonymous sentiments from fellow students that I have gleaned over time. Any criticism I offer is meant to be constructive – I have LOVED my time at UA SLIS, and truly adore my professors and fellow students. As every student views the program differently, I encourage any UA SLISers out there who agree or disagree with my viewpoints to add to the discussion in the comments.
UA SLIS offers the MLIS degree, MFA in Book Arts, and a PhD in Communication and Information Sciences. The MLIS has 3 forms: on-campus, online cohort, and regional cohort (satellite campus + online and Tuscaloosa classes). The online cohort requires a separate application and completely different timeline, and accepts a set number of people each year (typically people working full time, who take 2 classes a semester for 6 semesters).
Financial aid: UA SLIS offers about 15-20 assistantships per year, including MFA students. The number used to be a bit higher, but funding has been cut. Some are year-long, some are per semester (with the chance to reapply – and it is extremely rare to keep one past 2 semesters). I do not know the exact criteria for having an assistantship, but it is a combination of academic excellence and financial need; a faculty committee chooses the recipients each semester. A few scholarships are also awarded each semester, ranging from $500-$1000. GAships are half-off the semester’s tuition + a $600 stipend, and a GA will either work in a campus library, work for a professor, or serve as an professor’s assistant in online courses. You do not get to choose which you can work in, but if you spend one semester somewhere, you can appeal to have a different assignment the next. If you can get one, assistantships are fantastic. I wish the award could cover more tuition or have a bigger stipend (or last the full 2 years), but these are the financial limitations of a program with ~300 students.
Concentrations and/or specializations: Officially, there are none except the School Media specialization, which has special requirements. Thus, if you are interested in a specific track of librarianship, you must plan to take classes in that area (if available – classes are subject to faculty availability, a certain rotation of semesters, etc.) I am aware that some programs have tracks, but I was okay with not having an official one.
Internship availability: Internships are optional, but we have 9 hours of pass/fail credit to do 1-2 internships, transfer credit from another graduate degree, or do a directed study. We have a FANTASTIC internship coordinator. If you tell her what you’re interested in, where you’d like to work, etc., she will suggest some libraries/info centers, and she will probably have a contact there! Students can do internships in-state, out of state, or even internationally, but paid internships do not count for class credit, and you must fund internship expenses yourself (gas money, lodging, etc). If I could change anything about the internship program, I would have some funding set aside for students to do internships out of state, etc., but I realize that that is a pipe dream!
Coursework: UA SLIS has SIX required courses, out of the 12 courses needed for the degree (and none of them are cataloging, which some people tend to find shocking). I still don’t know quite how to feel about this. The Intro to Library Studies course, while typically taught by one of my favorite professors, could probably be cut as a required course. It’s a fun class to get to know librarianship in, but I do wonder just how much it is needed, since you tend to get a big picture of librarianship through your other courses. While Research Methods is an excellent course, especially for those of us who intend to perform studies and/or publish, I do not think it should be required for those students who have no desire to ever attempt it. As I mentioned above, we are allowed 9 pass/fail hours to supplement our coursework. I did a wonderful directed study that turned into a summer job, and transferred in 6 credits from the USM British Studies Program. (If you’re wondering, I also did 2 internships, one volunteer and one paid – neither for credit). There are a lot of possibilities for the 9 pass/fail hours, so this does allow students to get creative, and join a professor’s project or create a class (with a willing professor’s sponsorship, of course). No thesis or comprehensive exams are required, which makes the program feel less like graduate school, but I’m truly not complaining.
Student Involvement: There are 3 established groups at UA SLIS – the Student Advisory Committee (SAC), the ALA Student Chapter, and the SLA Student Group. This past semester, two new student groups were added – the SAA Student Chapter, and the ASIST Student Chapter. You must be elected to SAC to serve on it, but any other group can be joined with small dues. SAC and ALA often hold joint events, and Student SLA sometimes holds joint events with the state chapter of SLA. All of these groups are fantastic – WHEN students choose to get involved. There is always a core group of people willing to be involved and gain leadership skills, but for some reason, all of these groups suffer from a severe lack of participation. I was involved in all 3 groups and absolutely loved it, but trying to get other students to come to or assist with events or community outreach was like literally pulling teeth. I don’t know if this specifically a UA SLIS thing, but I’ve always envied the super active ALA and SLA student groups at other library schools.
- Sense of community. Those of us who tend to get involved may feel more strongly, but I’ve found that there is a close-knit community among SLISers (especially SLIS alumni), should you choose to be a part of it. Commuters and those who work full-time often miss out on this, which is always sad to me.
- The online program. It is synchronous (via Wimba), it is structured well, the cohorts have their own sense of community and bonding, and the students selected are typically hard-working overachievers (and I mean that as a compliment, for I am one). And the tuition is about the same, if not cheaper, than the on-campus program!
- If you’re specializing in children’s and/or youth services librarianship, with a dash of cultural diversity, UA SLIS has THE professor for you. Even students who want nothing to do with youth librarianship want to take Dr. Naidoo’s courses. These courses are also the most consistently offered, though maybe not in the order you always want.
- The SLIS administrators genuinely care about your concerns, and are always helpful and easy to contact.
Areas for improvement:
- We wish the name were School of Library and Information SCIENCE, not “studies.”
- There is a neverending “controversy” that elective classes are gradually all going online, for the benefit of the online cohort. Conversely, there are some courses only offered on-campus that the cohort can never take. I wish we could find a happy medium here. I don’t dislike online classes, but they do not hold my attention the way on-campus classes do, and I tried to take all on-campus classes (it’s tough – I don’t know anyone who hasn’t taken at least one online course).
- Need fewer students admitted each semester, with higher standards (but this is a library school problem, not just a UA SLIS problem)
- It is a small program, so often there are too few professors for the number of students and courses that students would like to be offered.
Changes (aka, the program may soon be very different):
- Dr. Elizabeth Aversa, the program’s director the past 8 years, has stepped down to move into a professor-only position, and Dr. Heidi Julien is taking over as director. Dr. Aversa leaves BIG shoes to fill, but I am confident that SLIS will continue to be great under new leadership. I hope Dr. Julien listens to her students–and gets involved with them–as much as Dr. Aversa did.
- The professor who had been with SLIS the longest, Dr. Margaret Dalton, retired as of May 2011. Her reference classes were infamous for their intensity (I learned a TON from Intro, and then took her Advanced Reference course. She will be greatly missed).
- There is a new full-tuition fellowship opportunity, funded through IMLS, for Fall 2011 – it is called Project ALFA, and it is a “specialization within an ALA-accredited Master’s degree program centered on a philosophy of service to a diverse community.” I wish this had been at SLIS when I went through the program – it sounds truly fantastic, and it was dreamed up by a UA SLIS professor committed to facilitating universal access in libraries.
I’m sure I’m forgetting many other things I would like to say about my MLIS program, but if you have any questions about UA SLIS, please, ask away!