Hack Your Program

Hack Your Program – Pratt

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.

Pratt

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.

Coursework
  • 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.

Strengths

  • 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.