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.
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.
- 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.)
- 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!