Hack Your Program: The University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences

03/02/2012 § 17 Comments

Ayers Hall

Disclaimer: This post contains opinions and statements that are mine and may not be representative of other students and faculty within this program.

The School of Information Sciences (SIS) at the University of Tennessee is ranked 17th in the U.S. News rankings of library science programs. The School has roots as far back as 1928 and has been accredited by the American Library Association since 1972. It is a housed within the College of Communication and Information (CCI). With twelve full time faculty members and over 200 students in the program, SIS offers a Master’s of Science in Information Science and, through CCI, a doctoral degree.

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Hack Your Program: Indiana University-Bloomington School of Library & Information Science

30/01/2012 § 21 Comments

Disclaimer: This post is a product of my experiences as an IU-B SLIS student.  Please know that my opinions are not intended to be representative of the opinions of any other student, faculty/staff member, or librarian. All criticism is meant to be constructive.

Photo of IU School of LIbrary and Information Science

So, first things first: My name is Brianna Marshall, but you can call me Bri. I’m a first year dual-degree MLS/MIS student at IU-B SLIS and this is my very first post as a contributing writer for HackLibSchool. I also blog at Not So Stern Librarian and tweet @notsosternlib. Now that we’re acquainted, please join me as I hack SLIS…

Program Overview: SLIS offers several degree options: Master of Library Science, Master of Information Science, dual MLS/MIS, a post-graduate specialist degree, and a Ph.D. in Information Science. In fall 2011 there were 333 total students enrolled in SLIS, of which 291 were Master’s candidates.  I don’t have any hard statistics to back it up but I’m pretty sure the majority of those students were either MLS or dual MLS/MIS candidates. I am a dual MLS/MIS student, but in this post I am going to focus on my MLS experience in SLIS.

Program Requirements: The MLS requires 36 credit hours plus S401 (a required introductory technology course) for a total of 39 credits. The five required foundational courses are reference, collection development, cataloging (or a theory-based alternative), a library management course, and a research course.

Specializations & Dual-Degree Programs: SLIS is incredible in its array of options for any student who wants to complete a second Master’s or specialize in a particular area of librarianship. A few examples of dual-degrees that are offered with an MLS include: African American and African Diaspora Studies, Art History, English, Folklore and Ethnomusicology, History, Law, Musicology, and Public Affairs. There are more options, though I don’t have the space to list them here. The most popular dual-degree seems to be the MLS/MIS combination but plenty of SLIS students take advantage of other options as well. Completing a dual-degree option requires admission to both programs, so if you’re admitted to the MLS track and decide you want to pursue a second Master’s in Art History, you need to also be admitted by that program’s standards. Dual-degree options are valuable because they lessen the total number of credits you need to take to earn the degrees. For instance, completing the MIS and MLS together requires 20 fewer credits than completing them separately. Obviously these are really valuable options for anyone wanting to be competitive for academic library positions, since some require more than one Master’s degree.

If you don’t quite want another Master’s, there’s always the option of choosing a specialization. Examples of specializations offered through SLIS include Archives and Records Management, Art Librarianship, Children’s and Young Adult Services, Digital Libraries, Music Librarianship, and Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship. Most students choose a specialization; it’s rare for an MLS student not to have one.

Program Weaknesses:

    • The most glaring weakness in my mind is that the MLS program does not have high expectations for its students’ technology skills. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of challenging classes offered by SLIS—you can take EAD or XML or Python workshops, and to an extent you’re expected to on the MIS side of things. There is no such expectation on the MLS side, though. The technology requirement, S401 (otherwise known as Computer-Based Information Tools), is a joke among students. It is required yet doesn’t count toward your total amount of credits, a modern variation on highway robbery. You learn UNIX (which is so decontextualized from its possible uses in libraries that most students immediately discard it), a passable amount of HTML/CSS, and, in one memorable class, how to create a PowerPoint. While the professor was well-meaning and likable, it was obvious from the get-go that we were being herded into a computer classroom so that SLIS would appear to be giving its students tech skills… while really just wasting our time and stealing our money. I don’t think that it is intentionally a useless class; however, I do think in retrospect that I am owed much more by my graduate program, and by extension that all future S401-sufferers are owed more as well. I have full confidence in the technological abilities of my MLS-seeking peers but I know some who hide from new challenges, enabled in part because of the low expectations that my graduate program has set. I think that the heads of this program should be bound by their consciousnesses to stress the importance of being technologically literate—in particular to incoming library students who are nervous about the techie stuff because they have humanities backgrounds. The bar could be set higher for MLS students without requiring any sort of radical technology bootcamp being forced upon them.
    • There are a lot of students in SLIS, so you have to rely on yourself to make things happen. If you come to library school hoping to have your hand held, don’t hold your breath. Here’s what will happen, if your experience is anything like mine was: You will have an orientation in name only. You’ll be stuffed into a room and various people affiliated with SLIS will talk at you, providing a complete repeat of everything the website says, which of course you’ve read over and over already. And then you will be thrown into figuring it all out yourself—it’s an excellent opportunity for self-growth, but only if you’re prepared for it. Sure, you’re assigned an adviser, but it’s up to you to make the connection. A lot of students never do, for better or worse. It’s not hard to become connected with professors, librarians and the SLIS staff, but nobody will take those steps for you.
    • It’s a challenge to find funding. Really, really a challenge, just like a lot of other library programs. Don’t count on getting aid from SLIS, because there are a lot of worthy students and there just isn’t enough departmental money to go around. Likewise, there are only about 30 available graduate assistantships (which often provide tuition remission) within the program. Don’t be too discouraged, though. People occasionally find funding from other campus sources. I definitely recommend applying for all possible sources of funding and making a case for yourself within SLIS; the administrative office is full of great people who will help you out if they can. Don’t ever stop working to gain skills that make you stand out and connecting with faculty and librarians; these are your best strategies to secure funding. (And, you know, a job eventually. Let’s not forget that.)

Program Strengths:

    • The many available dual-degrees and specializations help ensure that you’ll be able to tailor your experience to be exactly what you want. There’s a lot of room to create a niche for yourself in this program, so don’t underestimate yourself.
    • IU offers a rich diversity of libraries to gain experience in while you’re a student: the main library, plus 17 specialized branch libraries. Want to gain experience doing business reference? You can by working at the Business/SPEA library. Interested in rare books and manuscripts? Work at the Lilly Library. Hoping to learn more about digital libraries? IU’s Digital Library Program is nationally known. There are also multiple archives to gain experience at on campus, if that is your focus. Beyond IU, the excellent Monroe County Public Library welcomes SLIS interns each semester. While all library jobs are highly competitive, internships and volunteering are always options for students.
    • Bloomington is a wonderful place to spend a few years. B-town provides easy access to nearby large cities in that Indianapolis is an hour north, Chicago is four hours to the northwest, and Louisville is an hour south, which makes it especially nice when conferences are held in those places. Music lovers and foodies alike, rejoice! Bloomington has plenty of live music, from jazz to opera to indie, and spectacular food and beer selections. It’s a cozy college town with plenty of culture, so if that’s your thing you’ll love it here!
    • Socializing/student organizations: Although SLIS is a large program that throws together students with many different interests, I’ve found that anyone interested in making new friends within the program has plenty of opportunities to do so. There’s a healthy ebb and flow of students in and out of the SLIS commons every day, and the American Library Association-SC plans and advertises social events for SLIS students often. Other active student organizations include Society of American Archivists-SC, the American Society for Information Science and Technology-SC, the Music Library Association-SC, the Society of Art Librarianship Students, and SlisKids (a children’s/YA book club). If you’re so inclined, there’s even a SLIS-student run crafty club!
    • The University Information Technology Services STEPS Workshops are amazing! Multi-level classes are offered on Adobe Creative Suite 5, MS Excel and Access, HTML/CSS, and many other subjects (think ArcGIS Desktop, Perl, Zotero, etc.). I’ve had wonderful experiences with the instructors and the smaller class sizes are much-appreciated. These classes are a low-pressure way to introduce yourself to new programs and concepts that can help you build your resume. STEPS workshops are (blissfully) free for IU students yet I’m not sure how many SLIS students take advantage of them. Needless to say, I highly recommend doing so.

Final thoughts on SLIS: I have grown exponentially since coming to SLIS. So many of the professors, librarians and staff I’ve met at IU and SLIS have been an impressive combination of competent and kind; I could gush about them all day because they are my absolute favorite part of library school (besides my always-amazing peers, of course). While I strongly believe that the MLS side of SLIS should be more aggressive in encouraging its Master’s students to gain tech skills, it doesn’t diminish the fact that creative, motivated students will find many tools at SLIS to help them become competitive for the library job they want.

So now that you know my thoughts, what are yours? If you’re an IU SLIS student (past, present, or future), do you agree or disagree with what I’ve written in this post? If you’re attending another library school, how do the programs compare? I would love to hear some feedback, either here in the comments or on Twitter @notsosternlib!

Hack Your Program: University of Maryland College of Information Studies

18/10/2011 § 17 Comments

Alexandra Carter is the Digital Imaging Librarian at the University of Maryland Libraries in College Park, Maryland, and previously worked in both public and academic libraries. Her current interests include the digital humanities and reference service in archives and special collections. When not busy with library things she reads and watches lots of sci-fi and fantasy, cooks delicious food, and plays board games with friends.

You can find her on her blog May Subdivide Geographically or on twitter: @alexscat .

Disclaimer: These are my impressions of the MLS program at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, based on my own experiences, and are not meant to be representative of the opinions of all students, the college, or the university. I attended the iSchool, as it is informally known, beginning in Fall 2008, and I graduated in May 2010.

Hornbake Library, which houses the College of Information Studies

Maryland’s iSchool currently offers three degree programs: Masters in Library Science (MLS), Masters in Information Management (MIM), and PhD in Information Studies. As of this fall, a Masters in Human Computer Interaction (HCIM) will also be available. The iSchool enrolls over 500 graduate students each year across all degree programs — I recall being told by an admissions advisor several years ago that about 300 of those were MLS students.

The iSchool is located at the main University of Maryland campus in College Park, Maryland. MLS classes are also offered at the Universities at Shady Grove campus in Rockville, Maryland, and online. Starting this fall, it is now possible to complete the MLS program entirely online.

Specializations, Concentrations, and Dual Degree Programs

There are two MLS specializations — Archives, Records, and Information Management and School Library Media — and three concentrations — E-Government, Lifelong Access, and Information and Diverse Populations, with requirements of varying complexity for each. There is also one dual History and Library Science (HiLS) degree program. Though I did take several Archives course, I opted for what students loving refer to as “the general track.” If you’re interested in a specilization or concentration, it’s a good idea to start planning early to make sure you can complete all the required classes.

Program Requirements

There are both “core” and “required” classes at the iSchool. All are mandatory if you’d like to graduate, but there is a difference. Core classes are supposed to be completed within your first 18 credits (though I know anecdotally that this is more a guideline than a strict rule) while required classes may be taken any time during the program.

The core classes are: Information Access (aka “Reference”), Organization of Information, Information Technology, PLUS one of the following, depending on your concentration: Users and Information Context (aka “User Studies 101″), Archival Principles, Practices, and Programs (aka “Intro to Archives”), or Library Media Specialists as Information Professionals.

The required classes are: A management course (there’s a School Library Media specific version, and an “everybody else” version) and a 100 hour field study (after being an optional elective, the field study becomes a requirement for all newly admitted students in Fall 2011).

Students also have the option of writing a Masters thesis, but few actually do.

Program Strengths

One of the program’s biggest strengths is, undeniably, the location. Maryland’s College Park campus is located just outside Washington, D.C. in Prince George’s County, Maryland. As college towns go, College Park isn’t the greatest, but a 20-30 minute trip via campus shuttle and Metro gets you in to downtown D.C., which is chock full of things to do in your free time. More importantly for your professional aspirations, there are many libaries, archives, and other information centers in the D.C. Metro area.

If you’re looking to work, intern, or volunteer during school, you’re certain to find something. (It’s less certain whether it’ll be a paying gig. Sorry!) I personally worked part time on campus during my two years, but I knew others working at federal libraries, law firms, public libraries, local schools, and more. The National Archives and Records Administration is located in College Park—just a short walk, drive, bus, or bike trip away from campus—and many archives students obtain student positions there. Of course, all of this is just a quirk of geography, not a reflection of the program itself, but it’s too much of an asset to be overlooked.

As I noted before, there are a number of concentrations and specializations, many of which are well-regarded. (I don’t put too much stock in rankings, though. U.S. News recently reported that Maryland had a great program in Digital Libraries. There is no such program, or even any such class.) If you need a school media certification, want to be an archivist, or are otherwise intrigued by one of the specializations, the variety of choices is great.

Program Weaknesses

The fact that you’re reading a post on Hack Library School leads me to believe that you have at least a basic awareness of some of the common problems facing LIS education, for instance the theory/practice divide. Yes, that’s also an issue at Maryland. And, yes, course offering often don’t quite keep up with the most recent developments in the field.

One of the biggest obstacles that I and my fellow students encountered was the iSchool administration. Communication between the administration and students is generally not good. I experienced this first hand when I wanted to transfer credits from another university and received three conflicting sets of instructions: one from an iSchool administrator, one from the iSchool website, and one from the graduate school website. Be prepared for a sometimes frustrating level of misinformation and confusion.

The flip side of the variety offered at Maryland’s iSchool is that resources can be stretched pretty thin. Core and required classes have to be offered on a regular basis, which means that other classes sometimes fall to the wayside. Sadly, this means that some really interesting offerings only come around once every 2-3 years. Their appearances in the course schedules can also be dictated by the college’s ability to find adjunct instructors.

One thing that’s stood out to me over the past three years is the turnover in the iSchool faculty and staff, which stretches the resources of the school further. I’m not privy to any of the administrative politics that undoubtedly have contributed to this trend, but it doesn’t work to the benefit of the students. For instance, for some students this means having two or three different advisors over two years.

Student Involvement

iSchool students have established student chapters of several major professional organizations. They include ALA, SLA, ASIST, and SAA (the student chapter goes by Student Archivists at Maryland, or SAM). The activity level of the various organizations varies from year to year, depending on the interest level of the student leaders and the student body at large. The student groups organize a variety of events from chats with area professionals to library and archives tours to monthly happy hours.

Because most students at the iSchool are very busy, it can be difficult to connect with classmates. Students commute to campus from all over the region and most have at least one job or internship. Outside the initial core classes, students from different specializations and concentrations have little contact with each other, so I urge anyone who chooses Maryland to make an effort to meet people outside your niche area. It may involve a little extra effort on your part, but I know that the connections I’ve made here were well worth it!


There’s not a lot of funding to be had in the iSchool. There are Graduate Assistantships available in the college, either in the college office, research centers, or with individual faculty members, but compared to the total number of students, there really aren’t many. The University Libraries used to have about 40 Graduate Assistants, but do to funding cuts, there are now closer to 10. Assistantships typically include tuition remission, health insurance, and a stipend.

The federal government has student employment programs of its own. While these won’t pay your tuition directly, you should be able to earn a decent wage, and some student positions transition into regular positions when you graduate. The sheer number of federal agencies with offices in the D.C. Metro area makes these jobs well worth looking into, even if you’re not looking for a long term career with the federal government.

Maryland residents pay in-state tuition, which is significantly less than out-of-state tuition. Virginia residents are also eligible for in-state tuition through the Academic Common Market because there are no ALA-accredited LIS programs in Virginia. If you’re from out of state and would like to come to Maryland, I’d strongly recommend establishing residency first—I definitely wish I had. I had an assistantship for my second year, but took out loans to cover the first year of out of state tuition, which isn’t cheap. Also, keep in mind the high cost of living in the region! (I yearn Columbus, Ohio rents.)

The Bottom Line

I took a few great classes at Maryland, and other classes ranging from adequate to irritating. After talking to many librarians who attended programs around the country, I expect this is pretty normal. What I think makes the iSchool experience stand apart are the practical experiences available in the D.C. area for students.

Is it worth moving here from out of state to attend the iSchool? In my opinion, no. There are good things about the program, but it’s not so amazing different than any other that it’s worth taking on that much debt. If you are a local resident (or are willing to establish residency before enrolling) it’s a much better deal.

Hack Your Program : Dominican University

30/09/2011 § 9 Comments

Today’s post is from Allison Mennella.

*Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions and are not representative of the student body or Dominican University staff or faculty. I started in Winter/Spring 2010 as a part-time student and will be graduating in January 2012.

If you have any other questions after reading this article about the program, please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section, or e-mail me for a more detailed follow up.  You can also follow me on twitter, or read my blog.  I love connecting with other Librarians so please do not hesitate to contact me at anytime!  I hope you enjoy my “insider” perspective on the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University in River Forest, IL. 

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Hack Your Program: University of Michigan School of Information

16/08/2011 § 7 Comments

photo credit - Megan Thompson

Emily Thompson is a Montana native who spent a few years as a costume designer before moving to Taiwan and South Korea to teach English. When that got repetitive, she headed to the University of Michigan School of Information. Currently, she is in the middle of her job hunt, but is optimistic that she’s getting close!

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