Are online LIS students doomed?
13/11/2013 § 14 Comments
Hello fellow hackers! I’m excited to join the Hack Library School team. For my first post, I thought I’d tackle the subject of online MLIS programs, even though this has been discussed on Hack Library School in the past.
You see, recently on Hiring Librarians some hiring managers have criticized online LIS education, stating that they are wary of hiring graduates who have obtained a MLIS degree online. This even prompted a survey on biases against online library school. Library Journal noticed this and followed up with a discussion of the widespread trend of online programs, concluding that, while becoming more common, they still have a way to go before being accepted by the entire library community. Oh no! Does this mean online LIS students won’t be hired after they graduate? Are we doomed? I don’t think so. It’s clear there are still major misconceptions and confusion about how LIS programs work. Of course, each school is different, but online MLIS degrees are every bit as valid as degrees earned in person.
Image from http://www.myeducation.com
Why opt for online programs in the first place? There are a variety of reasons. Perhaps you work full-time. Or there isn’t a library school nearby and you can’t relocate due to family obligations. I completely get the appeal of traditional programs. In a perfect world, I would have applied to programs that had a dual MLIS/MA in art history, which would have involved moving to another state. But, I’m not able to relocate right now and I didn’t want to delay my degree. There is only one library science program in my state and it’s entirely online. I could have considered other online programs, but I didn’t because of cost – I get tuition assistance as a university employee, but only if I attend an in-state school. Online classes are not for everyone and that’s perfectly okay. However, for others, like myself, they are a necessity.
Hiring managers who are wary of hiring online MLIS graduates seem to think that students are not getting experience. Now, if you think you can complete your MLIS online without ever stepping foot into a library and miraculously get a job when it’s over, you are doing it wrong! I actually think in many cases, students in online programs are getting more experience than those enrolled full-time on campus. Most of my fellow online MLIS students work full-time in a library as paraprofessionals or they have jobs related to the LIS field. That means they are getting about 25 more hours of experience per week than a full-time library student who, let’s say, only has time to work 15 hours a week in a library. Online MLIS programs can even give students an edge, because they are preparing us for embedded online librarian duties or newly created positions like Online and Distance Learning Librarian, since we know how online courses function and which instructional methods work best for distance students. If you think higher education isn’t going to move online to some degree, you are mistaken. That being said, I fully recognize that there are many programs that would not work well online. I was actually a full-time graduate student in Classical Archaeology before deciding LIS and art librarianship were my true passions. I know on campus academic programs provide an entirely different and demanding experience. Online LIS programs, however, make sense because the MLIS is a professional degree that has specific requirements and expectations, i.e. one where experience triumphs over coursework.
It’s certainly more difficult to have personal interactions and develop connections with professors and fellow students as an online student. I highly recommend making the effort whenever possible. My school is about four hours away and I will probably only be on campus twice during the program: for the required face-to-face orientation and graduation. Yet, despite being in the program for less than a year, I feel like I’ve made connections with my fellow classmates. How? I attended our state library conference where I mingled with faculty and finally got to meet some familiar names in person. I’ve attended networking events and plan to attend future meet-ups with students who live within a two-hour radius of my home. I found out from my advisor that a fellow student works at the same university as me (in the building next door, as it turned out) so I sent her an email and invited her out for coffee. In fact, I probably communicate more with my online classmates inside the “classroom” than I did in my previous graduate program due to discussion posts which require everyone to participate and contribute. Also, I’ve had a few group projects in my classes, which have required working around our busy schedules to complete a task or presentation. We are still gaining new skills and getting the experience of working with a team. In addition, I’ve found a warm and welcoming online community of students and professionals all over the country. Each day I feel like I’m part of the LIS world, even if I’m at home wearing my pajamas. It may require more effort to get involved, but online students can still have a rewarding and enriching graduate education and experience. Just like any other program out there, each student gets what he or she puts into it. Future library rock stars are going to rock no matter how they get their degree.
So, listen up, hiring managers and next time we apply, please take these points into consideration before assuming that an online LIS degree makes us a lesser candidate for the job.