Note: like other posts in the Hack Your Program series, opinions expressed here are mine alone. I have grown so much and enjoyed myself thoroughly at SLIS, so the few items I offer as ‘areas for improvement’ should be viewed as constructive criticism and also understood through the lens of LIS education or the U of I as a whole: most of the things I talk about it that section are not specific to SLIS. I absolutely loved by time at SLIS and felt like it allowed me to really come into my own as a researcher and a student–I’d love to hear the thoughts of other SLIS students and alumni too, and I’m happy to share more information with folks who are considering applying!
Quick Overview: SLIS is located in the University library in Iowa City. Our department has 8 faculty members (all of whom I adore, btw) and small class sizes. The largest classes I encountered were the Foundations courses (more on that later) where the entire incoming cohort (~30 people I think is average) takes the courses together. Most of my classes had between 12 and 20 people, although some have slightly more or less. The MLS is a two-year program, although some students (like me) take longer.
Programs: SLIS offers a pretty wide array of joint programs and degrees, and I get the sense that they are open to other options too, either for an individual class you might want to take from another department, or something more formal (I haven’t actually tried that, so please don’t quote me on it!) First of all is the MLS, a two-year degree. There is also the degree that I did, which was the MLS degree in a combined program with a Center for the Book certificate. This was a lot of fun because I got to take all the MLS classwork I needed while also getting exposure to book arts and book history (this is a great option for people interested in special collections.) Other options that I am less familiar with include joint Master’s degrees with Business, Law, and the Center for the Book (they just started offering a Master’s program.) There is an interdisciplinary Ph.D available as well, along with school media certification and a certificate (or Ph.D) in Health Informatics.
Curriculum: The curriculum has recently gone under revision, so for those interested in the program it’s best to consult the website since I am speaking from the experiences of someone who entered the program before it was restructured. When I began the program, it was in three tiers: Foundations courses (Computing, Cultural, Conceptual, all in the first semester), followed by Tier II (where you choose from a handful of courses that build on the Foundations courses), and Tier III (electives). Now they have changed it into clusters, and students have more required coursework (although I think the number of hours has stayed the same.)
Financial Aid: SLIS offers some graduate assistantships in which students assist a faculty member or participate in a project. There are also some scholarships (these are mostly for new students, so apply early!) as well as work-study. The University library system has *tons* of work-study jobs available, and some students work non-work-study jobs at other places (mostly at libraries, I drove public transit as an undergraduate so I’ve been continuing with bus driving!) I worked at the State Historical Society of Iowa for a while and had a great time. Sometimes, SLIS students also receive assistantships in other departments and programs working with IT, education, and outreach. There is also a class that helps match you with an internship. I believe these are unpaid, but again, the experience is valuable!
Extracurricular Activities: SLIS students have a variety of ways to get involved in LIS outside of the classroom. Our student-run, Open Access journal (B Sides) serves the dual role of publication opportunity and educational resource for those looking to publish their work. This semester, we hosted a conference alongside LISSO (the SLIS student organization in which all students are members.) LISSO brings in guest speakers and hosts social events as well. In addition, there are plenty of libraries, non-profits, and other organizations that host SLIS volunteers and employees, which provides real-world experience. The UI and Iowa City also host an annual Festival of the Book, and there is usually a pretty good lineup of invited speakers who visit campus throughout the year. SLIS students and alumni keep well-informed about all this through the department listserv, which is always updated with the newest info by the awesome program assistant (Kit Austin) and secretary (Vicki MacLeod.) They forward job openings, funding opportunities, calls for papers, and event announcements (along with other relevant goodies) and are willing to forward info from SLIS students who are hosting an event or have found something of interest to the SLIS community. In addition, students can join the Iowa Library Association, which gives you networking opportunities and is free while you’re in school!
Areas for Improvement:
-SLIS faculty do a great job of being involved with students–I usually get feedback quickly when asking about assignments or my own research. My only suggestion here would be to clarify the expectations for the cumulative poster session early on: the students do some amazing work, but I know I felt a little more stress about the process without knowing what content I needed to include on the poster (but don’t worry, the poster presentation went off without a hitch!)
-In some ways, SLIS has a strong presence in the UI as a whole: one of our students (Sam Bouwers) is a member of the Graduate Student Senate, and we collaborate with other departments. I think it would be nice to make SLIS even more visible (which students and faculty have done some of) and to clearly express the value of our program. With all the funding cuts going around at UI (I won’t get into those here) it’s vital that we are all advocating for the value of our program!
-Student involvement has been on the rise, but as I keep harping on about in my posts it is *incredibly* important to get involved in your program beyond coursework. Students have been publishing in B Sides, presenting at conferences, and volunteering, although I feel like there are large swaths of the student population who aren’t involved. As someone who will someday be faculty, I am trying to figure out what makes some students less eager to involve themselves as deeply (and maybe readers can help here) so I can help all students get a more meaningful education. So far I haven’t had an ‘ah ha!’ moment about this.