Hack Your Program: Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science
01/06/2011 § 20 Comments
*Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions and are not representative of the student body. I started in Fall 2009 as a full-time student and graduated this past semester. I hope the below, and the previous posts in the series, will provide a means of discussion and collaboration. I did not apply to any other LIS programs. I was living in London and wanted to move back to Boston where I lived during and after my undergraduate program. So my decision to come to Simmons was based on location, its prestige in the profession, and the numerous people I spoke to who all had nothing but fantastic things to say about the program. While I have had some personal ups and downs throughout the past two years, with the program, and with my own path, I have not regretted my decision in the slightest.
I just finished my program at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at Simmons College. I attended all of my classes at the Boston Campus but they also have a GSLIS West campus that is located in Western Massachusetts at Mt Holyoke College. Students are able to take classes at both campuses and the core courses are offered at both. I will speak mostly to my experience with the Boston campus, though. At the Boston campus, we are lucky to call the Palace Road Building our home, with a lounge, tech lab, and classrooms dedicated to the GSLIS student population.
Boston, itself, is a fantastic place to be in a college program as it is like one big college town with over 50 institutions of higher education in metropolitan Boston. As a student at Simmons you are also a part of the Colleges of the Fenway consortium and have access to many of the services at the other participating institutions. Simmons also offers graduate housing.
Concentrations and/or specializations:
There are three main tracks that people take, archives, school media specialists, or general. The Archives students and School Media Specialists end up with a concentration in those spaces. There are several degree options through GSLIS. The majority of students work towards the Master of Science in Library and Information Science. Other degrees include dual degrees in Archives/History, LIS/Children’s Literature, and a BS/MS program. There are also two PhD programs including PhD/LIS and PhD/MLIP. Finally, there are two certificate programs in Archives Management and the School Library Teacher certificate. GSLIS also offers several continuing education programs that are available to alumni and others in the profession. Classes are mostly taught on-campus, although, the program is extending the online program in addition to being a part of the WISE consortium and offering those courses to students.
A single credit at GSLIS currently runs about $1,100 with courses being 3 credits each. Beyond the regular merit and need-based financial assistance, the program also has several graduate fellowship positions, which are available on a rolling basis. Each fellowship operates slightly differently and I am not super familiar with them. I also suggest looking at professional associations to look for scholarships. I was lucky enough to receive two of these throughout my program, and while it didn’t fully fund my costs, it definitely helped a bit!
At GSLIS, we have 15 credit hour core courses that we must take. The degree is a 36 credit-hour program, which takes about 2 years to complete if you go to school full-time.
- Evaluation of Information Services
- Principles of Management
- Reference/Information Services
- Information Organization
- Technology for Information Professionals
You can take these courses whenever you would like throughout your program but many of the electives require that you’ve already taken certain ones. Like other programs, the electives can be tailored to your own interests. If you are in the Archives or School Media Specialist track, you will have more core classes and fewer electives to choose from. The program has also initiated a Technology Orientation Requirement or TOR that each new student must complete before the end of the first semester. It’s a self-paced online tutorial designed to orient the student with technology at Simmons and with tools at the library. There was recently an article in The Boston Globe, about the technology focus at Simmons.
I took the more “general” track during my time at Simmons so I tried to focus on electives that would give me a broad background to the library field, especially as I was slightly unclear on what kind of library work I wanted to do when I was done with the program. While I took the core technology class along with a web development course, I still wish I had been able to take more technology classes, especially something like digital libraries, but at the end of the day, it’s just not possible to take every class and I definitely went in a few directions before really deciding what kind of work would interest me most. I appreciated the flexibility of the Simmons program for allowing me to do that type of exploration and discovery. I took 4 out of 5 of my core courses in my first two semesters, though, so that I was able to really take what I wanted during the rest of my program. That made my first year pretty tough in terms of course work but I was thankful for the flexibility it gave me in deciding the rest of my course selection.
For the MLIS degree, there is no final project or thesis requirement. I would say, as Annie said, for her program, that with no final projects, “students feel either relieved or directionless.” However, as part of the course, Evaluation of Information Services, many professors are encouraging students to continue the research study they create in that class as a further independent study for credit which can then be seen as a type of final project and a way to bring together much of what has been learned throughout the program. I think having some sort of portfolio requirement could be a nice addition to the program that would then allow students for self-reflection and something more tangible to come away with beyond the degree.
If I had had to talk about internship availability at GSLIS when I started my program I would have been much more critical. When I began the degree in the Fall of 2009, the only integral internships in the program were if you were in the archives or school media specialist track. The rest of us were kind of on our own to find opportunities; assisted by a few web-based services that the program provides. Which is fine, I mean, we are graduate students, we should be able to source opportunities and have a bit of a “go-getter” mentality but I had wished that the general track students had some of the internships opportunities that archives and school media specialists did. There internships are integrated into a few required courses. However, starting in Fall 2010, GSLIS implemented a kind of practice run with internships for credit for the rest of the student body. I can’t speak directly to the program as I did not take part but I know it has continued through 2011 and I have heard positive anecdotes regarding it. It makes me feel like the program saw the gap and really has tried to do something about which I really appreciate.
There are several active students groups within GSLIS, including student chapters of American Library Association, American Society for Information Science and Technology, Massachusetts School Library Association, Progressive Librarians Guild, Simmons International Relations, Society of American Archivists, Special Libraries Association, and Art Librarian Group. The umbrella group for all student groups is the Library and Information Science Student Association.
The majority of them have regular events, brown bag lunches, and ways to connect to the parent professional organization. Every semester there are brown-bag lunches with professors, guest speakers and special events, connecting students to alumni and faculty. GSLIS also provides professional development reimbursement so students often taken advantage of going to conferences of these organizations at student rates and still are able to get the majority of the expenses reimbursed.
- Strong faculty who are considered some of the top in the field and who are the authors behind many of the books that are used in LIS programs across the country. The majority of them have a very strong presence in the field and profession. I also found that most of the faculty was more than happy to help me during my time in the program and pretty much everyone had a very “open door” type of policy. I still get emails from some professors because they have seen a posting that I would be perfect for or an opportunity that they think would suit my interests. I really value that.
- In the New England area, and beyond, alumni are still very involved at Simmons and in the profession and provide current students with a wealth of networking opportunities and ways of getting involved in the profession, both as a student and as alumni. There have been a few ALA presidents and several Movers and Shakers who are alum of GSLIS. And the current National Archivist is a GSLIS grad!
- The name of Simmons really does seem to go a far way. I think the depth of this strength depends on what you are looking for out of a program. But when I was at ALA Annual last year, every time someone saw “Simmons” on my name tag I got a variation of “ohhh what a great program” no matter where in the country the person was located.
- You have up to 6 years to finish the program and you can really mix and match how you want to spend your time at Simmons. I took a full load my first three semesters but then was able to pair it back after I started working full-time again. I found that most faculty were pretty understanding of the fact that most students had more going on in their life than graduate school.
- The Library and dedicated Technology Lab are incredible resources, along with the people who work in both. The program is also home to a Usability Lab. I found myself, in both spots, on numerous occasions, asking questions and seeking help from people who were beyond helpful and resourceful. The library also serves as a training ground for many prospective academic librarians!
- The Archives program is ranked as one of the top in the country. Again, I can’t really speak to this program but it definitely has received many accolades.
Areas for Improvement:
- More focus on the general track students. While the archives and school media specialists programs seem to have a great deal of focus and direction, I often felt a little forgotten about as a general track student. I think, though, that the administration is aware of this and is trying to correct the issue. Beyond the internship program, I know that several faculty are working on creating guides for general track students in terms of what types of classes they should think about taking depending on the library path they want to take.
- I know they continue to add more technology courses but I would still like to see more geared towards the information professional.
- The core classes continue to evolve and develop and I understand that each professor is going to have a different teaching method; however I do wish there had been a bit more uniformity amongst the core classes so that everyone, no matter the teacher, was essentially being taught the same skills. I wasn’t sure this was necessarily the case at times.
- I continue to struggle with the balance between adjunct and full-time professors teaching courses. I don’t think this is just an issue at Simmons. I believe that both can be invaluable teachers. However, at times, I was concerned that some of the full-time professors did not have a great deal of recent experience in a library or information environment.
As an alumnus, I look forward to seeing some of the changes that GSLIS implements over the next few years. I know they are hoping to integrate more online course options into the program to allow even greater flexibility to the degree. The program also just recently went through and passed the accreditation process so I’m anxious to see if there are any other changes that come from that.
Overall, I think this program still leans towards theory and some of the more specialized tracks. However, I think that it provides students with the flexibility and resources to really make the most of the experience; whether through course work, internships, student group involvement, or student-professor collaboration. I hope that its commitment to technology continues to grow and strengthen because I think that is vital to the growth of an LIS program these days. I also hope it continues to devote itself to its involvement in the profession and to making sure that students leave the program prepared to enter the profession.
If anyone has any questions I’m happy to answer them. I would also encourage other students from GSLIS, especially those that did the specialized tracks, to add any comments, feedback, etc. I know I left things out and that each student will have a different experience of the program.