Hack Your Program – Pratt

02/08/2011 § 13 Comments

Many readers have expressed interest in hearing more about the SILS program at Pratt and so we’re happy to say that we have two really great posts this week!

Lauren Bradley

Lauren Bradley

Lauren Bradley recently graduated from the Pratt Institute School of Information & Library Science in New York City. She is a technical services and cataloging librarian with two organizations at the Center for Jewish History. She enjoys costume librarianship, database searching, and government documents. Follow her on Twitter @BibliosaurusRex

All views expressed here are my own and any criticism is meant to be taken constructively.


Program Overview 

Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science is unique in that is one of two non-art related programs at a primarily art and design school (the other is the Construction Management program, a part of the Architecture School).  Although the main campus is in Brooklyn, the library school occupies the sixth floor of a pretty awesome building on 14th St. in Manhattan.  Pratt does not have an online component.  All classes are taught in Manhattan, except for few classes that are taught off-site at libraries around New York City.  Off-site locations include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Public Library, and New York Public Library.

  • 36 hours
  • Required Core Classes (12 hrs)*
    • Information Professions
    • Information Sources & Services (aka Reference)
    • Knowledge Organization (aka Cataloging)
    • Information Technology
      • *Certificate programs have additional required courses
  • Electives

Concentrations and/or specializations

  • Dual Degree Programs with M.S.L.I.S.:
    • M.A. in History of Art & Design
    • J.D. (in partnership with Brooklyn Law School)
  • Certificates
    • Archives
    • Museum Librarianship
    • Library Media Specialist (in New York state, public school librarians are required to have this certification which is a MLIS + teaching certification)
  • Concentrations:
    • Arts & Humanities Library Services/Cultural Informatics
    • Business/Corporate Information Services
    • Health Sciences/Medical Library Services
    • Law Library Services
    • Archives & Records Management

Internship Availability

Pratt SILS officially has two internship programs: Project CHART which works with the Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Public Library on a historical photography digitization project and Project M-LEAD, which is in its final grant year.  Students can also take the Practicum class which places them in a semester long internship at a variety of places.

Students are also highly encouraged to find internships on their own, which can often be done for-credit.  The school’s listserv is constantly being bombarded with internship opportunities.  Many students even have luck finding internships by cold-emailing different libraries in the city and through the help of their professors.  There are a variety of places for internships including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Columbia, NYU, the Whitney, Catalyst Inc., Coney Island Museum, and Scholastic.

A word to the wise: New York has lots of awesome library jobs.  Unfortunately, there also lots of very qualified and experienced librarians here.  Internships are absolutely necessary and should be a requirement in Pratt’s program (in my humble opinion), although it currently is not.  If you don’t have time for a least one internship (many Pratt students do multiple throughout all of grad school), Pratt is probably not a good fit for you.

Student Involvement

The two most active student organizations are SILSSA (SILS Student Association), which is Pratt’s ALA chapter, and SLA@Pratt.  Both bring speakers to the school, organize social and professional events, and provide limited scholarship money to attend their respective national conferences.  Their activity varies from semester to semester.  The highlight of SILSSA every year is the free day-trip to the Library of Congress; the highlight of SLA@Pratt is the Skill Share Fair.  Recently, SILS students has also started a student chapter of ASIS&T at Pratt.

Areas for Improvement

  • Priorities: To be frank, the library school is not a top priority for the institute.  It’s shocking how few people in the Pratt community know that Pratt has a library school (despite the fact that it is one of the oldest in the country).  Because Pratt is not a liberal arts school, we have a very sad database selection, which is frustrating, especially since we know that one day we will have to teach other people how to use these databases.  However, there are some fierce advocates for the library school on the faculty, and most professors are pretty clever at working around our access issues.  Luckily for us, NYPL has an amazing collection of databases, most of which are available remotely.
  • Communication: This seems to be an institute-wide issue, but there is a serious communication breakdown at Pratt.  Deadlines get changed, what is/isn’t required changes from person to person, emails don’t get sent out.  Example: my orientation had three different times listed, two of which were both on the website in different places.  Also, the website is impossible to navigate, which is sad since Pratt has such a strong and popular set of Information Architecture/Usability courses.
  • Teaching Quality Disparity:  Some of the SILS professors are amazing, passionate, and innovative teachers, while others…are not.  The quality in classes can differ so much that it drastically changes one person’s experience at the school from another.  It is imperative to ask around about professors and classes before taking them.  I was burned twice before learning this lesson, and after I wised up, I had a totally amazing library school education.  SILS also keeps all of the course evaluations on the reference shelves in the library, which is located two floors below the library school.  Be sure to check them, because people will be brutally honest.
  • Core Classes: Again, there is a vast disparity in the core classes.  These classes are not uniform, so their syllabuses can vary drastically.  This flexibility allows some classes to be amazing, while others are quite lacking.  Example: my Knowledge Organization class (which was great!) spent about two weeks on MARC, while also covering Dublin Core, XML, MODS, METS, VRA, TEI, as well as other metadata standards.  A friend’s KO class spent 15 weeks on MARC, which is the same curriculum for the Advanced Cataloging class.


  • Location: New York City is an amazing place to learn library and information science.  Within our reach are three of the biggest public library systems in the world (NYPL, Brooklyn, and Queens Borough), many prestigious universities and museums, corporate headquarters, financial institutions, world class hospitals and law firms, as well as tons of small special interest libraries.  Pratt students reap the benefits of having professors who have worked or currently work in these institutions, getting to hold internships and library assistant jobs there, having folks from these institutions be guest speakers in our classes, as well receiving private tours.  The New York librarian community is extremely tight-knit and has very active professional groups like SLA-NY, Radical Reference, the Desk Set, the Metropolitan New York Library Council, and the New York Library Club (founded by Melvil Dewey in 1885).
  • Creative Space: Pratt as an art school really tries to be a space that fosters creativity and innovation.  This is also true of the library school.  Professors try to be on top of emerging trends in the library and information world and encourage their students to try new things.  Creative problem solving is valued here and most teachers encourage creativity in class discussions and assignments.  Want to catalog your hair flower collection, famous buildings, or mix-tapes for your Knowledge Organization class?  Do it.  You want to write an XML schema for tattoos?  Right on.  How about a visualization of wins and loses for the First Amendment?  Sweet.  Would you like to work on a semester-long collaborative class project on building a digital archive for Lesbian Herstory Archives?  Done.  One professor allowed me to skip the 12 page term paper and create an online reference guide to doing costume and fashion research, because he thought I’d learn more from it, which I did.  SILS also strongly encourages students to explore different kinds of librarianship and non-traditional LIS careers.
  • Art/Museum Librarianship: New York is obviously a major art center and many of the city’s art librarians are Pratt graduates.  Pratt has very close ties with many of the museums here and they use these connections wisely to develop classes with museum staff, create internships, and teach classes on-site at some of these museums.  Be warned: Pratt does prepare more art librarian graduates than there are actual available positions for.  Getting an art librarian job usually requires also having a Masters in Art History, being fluent in at least one other language, and some serious library experience.  Be prepared to either consider other library jobs or to move away from New York.
  • Professors: Although I already complained about some of the professors at SILS, for the most part I had really great teachers from whom I learned a lot.  These people are so passionate about their work and many are forerunners in their field.  They are very happy to help students even after graduation.  They have great connections in the field, and are more than willing to make introductions happen for students.

Despite a few hiccups, I’m very glad that I decided to go to Pratt.  Overall, my experience was very positive and I learned so much in the past two years.  I would encourage interested students into applying to Pratt, especially for those who aren’t quite sure what they want to do with their career yet.  I’m happy to answer any questions about Pratt at Lauren.messages@gmail.com.

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§ 13 Responses to Hack Your Program – Pratt

  • Mia says:

    This was so helpful! Just what I was looking for, thank you so much.

  • Thanks for this Lauren. As a student at Florida State who lived in Brooklyn for a while, I have to say Pratt SILS, for its faults, is an extraordinarily productive program. I was employed by Project CHART when I lived in New York, and the caliber of students that end up at Pratt, and in New York generally, are super driven, self-motivated, and hungry for knowledge. There are many courses and specialties at Pratt that I would have given my right arm to take, and I always tried to stress to my Pratt interns that they are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities that New York City provides.

    One thing that would be interesting to explore further about Pratt is how many graduates leave the city and work elsewhere, or even outside the NE. The focus on art librarianship and just being able to be part to the museum/archive world there has a substantial impact on the careers that graduates go into. To be totally honest, I moved from Tallahassee to Brooklyn for the sole purpose of having greater opportunities than would ever be available to me in Florida. That said – it is tough to break in to the work culture there, unless you are really dynamic and willing to do lots of work for free. I’m interested in regionalism in America generally, but I’d love to see some studies about how where you got your MLIS affects where you can and do get a job.

    One tip for people considering this program: Cost. This one is beau coup expensive as it is a private school. But – if you want to live in the greatest city in the world and have your choice of opportunities, I’d argue the cost may be well worth it.

  • Kate says:

    One question that seems to come up for me personally as a future MLS student with regards to these Hack Your Program posts is: is it smart to attend an MLS program in the geographic location (New England, Pacific Northwest, etc) where you want to work, or does it not really matter? When I was first doing research into library science the main piece of advice I was given is that you would have to do a lot of relocating for your first two or three jobs to gain experience, but these posts all seem to indicate that people have a lot of luck finding positions in the general location of their school. Any MLS students or recent grads willing to offer their input? I’d really appreciate it!

    • Kate-

      I think this really depends a lot on the individual–for me personally location is always the most important factor for anything, whether it be for school, work, vacation, etc. I am an urban person to the core and flourish best in large cities. I spent my undergraduate career somewhere I hated living and it was a very miserable experience for me. The location of Pratt was the most important factor for me going to school there. However, that being said I realize many other people could care less about where they are located. More importantly what I learned in grad school was that library school is what you make of it. There certainly students wasting the opportunities nearly being handed to them. On the other hand I have many friends in library school in a variety of locations (urban, suburban, rural, online, offline, all regions of the U.S.) who have found really great opportunities where they are. In that case, motivation and innovation are the most important factors. Good luck with whatever you decide!

  • Nicole Fonsh says:

    Hi Kate

    That’s a really good question. There are a LOT of programs on the East Coast. I went to Simmons, and although there are a lot of libraries in the area, there are also a lot of graduating students. However, I have found that there is a mix, of graduating students getting jobs in the area, and then others relocating. I think many people come to Boston, at least, for school, and then plan on heading back to their hometown anyway. But it is definitely worth considering before applying to schools. The great thing about a program in a city, as Lauren and Micah point out, is the opportunity for internships, should you take advantage.

    I’ve also linked to your question on our Facebook page to see if others have thoughts: https://www.facebook.com/hacklibschool

  • Diana says:

    Kate, I go to Drexel and I’ve noticed that many of the librarians attended school elsewhere. I’ve noticed that librarians tend to hire employees from other places probably for the reasons that JaTara mentioned on the Facebook post. I’m always asked if I’m from the Philly area on interviews (I am) and employers generally appear sad to hear that. I assume their rationale is, if a person is willing to move to Philly from LA, Florida, or Michigan, then obviously they *want* this job. I know I’ll most likely not find a job in the Philly area upon graduation. The upside is that there are a lot of local museums and libraries that are providing me with great experience.

    • Annie Pho says:

      I’ve been told that many places hire from outside the area because they want a different perspective in their institution. Now if you’ve been working in a different library and want to go back to the area where you went to school, you might be more likely to get hired after a few years of living somewhere else. I think their rationale is that people who have grown up and gone to school in the same area have a particular mindset and sometimes it’s good to have fresh perspectives.

      • I think it all depends on the institution. In my case I was hired because I came from outside of the system and didn’t have any political baggage. The idea was since I don’t have any prior history with these folks I could “shake things up” a bit more than someone who came from within the system like Annie said.

        Thought I can see this going both ways….

  • Diana says:

    *and by librarians, I mean librarians in Philly, not just ones at Drexel

  • I’m also at Pratt and echo Lauren’s comments. I work full-time so have only been able to squeeze in one internship, but if you can afford it (in terms of time and money), going through Pratt slowly while getting a bunch of internships would be tremendous in terms of experience and connections – New York City has so much going in many different fields. We have a friend who interned at everything from a hospital to a world class museum to a new media company, and how has a job with the United Nations. (The unpaid labor thing is a little disturbing though.)

    New York City, the students, and most of the faculty are the assets at Pratt.

  • Alex Watkins says:

    Yes internships are key! But they are also plentiful here in New York. However I have to disagree about if they should be required. I have done many internships, none for credit. I’m not about to pay for credits to do free work, however if you do work full-time, having your internship be a class is an excellent way to reduce your coursework. Different strokes I say, elective is the way to go.
    Have to agree with every other point, especially about the teachers, there are many really excellent teachers but more than a few bad ones.

  • [...] to work or intern in a specialized library of their choosing. Read our Hack Your Program posts (here and here) from other Pratt [...]

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