Editor’s Note – This is a guest post by Anastasia Chiu, a 2014 graduate of St. John’s.
Disclaimer – This post consists of the perspectives of one student of St. John’s DLIS, and does not represent the experiences of the entire student body of the program. All criticism is intended to be constructive.
St. John’s University’s Division of Library and Information Science (DLIS) is, as of 2014, one of four ALA-accredited Master’s-granting programs in the New York City metropolitan area. Its main offices are on St. John’s’ Queens campus, with some classes taught at the Oakdale campus on Long Island. DLIS is a division within St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, one of five schools within the university. The division celebrated its 75th anniversary in the 2013-2014 academic year. It offers an MS and an Advanced Certificate in Library and Information Science. The Public History program, which grants an MA degree, is closely linked and overlaps in many of its courses.
Free Laptop Program
DLIS grants its students free laptops as part of St. John’s’ free laptop program; it’s the only graduate program of the university that does. Each year, entering students choose between 3 laptop options. The Mac option costs $400 to maintain AppleCare Protection, so it is technically not free, but is still a very small fraction of what a Mac laptop usually costs. The laptop is school property, and becomes the student’s property after graduation. I am using mine to write this post.
The MSLIS requires 36 credits of coursework and completion of an ePortfolio. The Public History MA is 33 credits, and the Advanced Certificate in LIS is 24; almost all classes are 3 credits. Overall, most of the courses are now conducted online or mixed-mode (that means about half of the course delivery is in-person, half online) because students all have laptops. I took 8 of my classes fully online, 4 mixed-mode; some of my classmates went the other way and took all in-person and mixed-mode classes.
The core courses required for the MSLIS are:
- Introduction to Library & Information Science
- Information Organization (colloquially known as “the cataloging course”)
- Information Sources & Services (“the reference course”)
- Collection Development & Management of Knowledge Resources
- Research & Evaluation Methods
- Management of Libraries & Information Centers
Students are strongly encouraged to complete internships. Former director Dr. Jeffery Olson once explained to me that internships are not required because for-credit interns can’t be paid, which can place undue financial burdens and time constraints on students. I haven’t heard of any student who failed to get practical experience while in the program; most of my classmates found part-time jobs in libraries/archives/museums that they worked concurrent to their studies.
St. John’s is on the semester system, with Fall and Spring semesters and a Summer term. Three courses in a semester is considered a full-time load. DLIS offers summer courses, and has taken advantage of the Rome and Paris St. John’s campuses to transform some of them into study-abroad experiences.
There are 8 concentrations available to specialize the MSLIS degree:
- Academic Librarianship
- Archives Librarianship
- Information Analyst
- Law Librarianship
- Public Librarianship
- School Librarianship
- Special Librarianship
- Youth Services
The School Librarianship program is approved by the New York State Education Department as a K-12 teacher preparation program. A concentration is not required to complete the MS degree.
Students are admitted on a rolling basis for the Fall, Spring, and Summer terms. The application includes a statement of professional purpose, 2 recommendation letters, official transcripts from the other institutions you’ve attended, and a $70 application fee. Applicants to the school librarianship program who intend to get state-certified in K-12 librarianship also need to show evidence of coursework in teaching and literacy. Some students may be asked to interview with DLIS’s director (Dr. James Vorbach, as of 2014).
The graduate assistantship is a popular option because it grants full tuition remission for 3 classes per semester (which is the whole degree over 2 years) and a small stipend. Students of DLIS can do graduate assistantships in DLIS itself, or in the university libraries. Public History also offers a number of graduate assistantships to its MA students. There are generally about 6 graduate assistants in DLIS in any Fall or Spring term, and about 5 in the libraries; positions open up as the students holding them graduate. I was a library GA, and got to rotate through various departments of the Queens campus library (Serials, Info Management, Reference, Instruction, etc.). Several of my classmates were GA’s in DLIS, and worked on everything from research with faculty, to web and database design for administration, to managing DLIS’s social media.
Student chapters of the American Library Association, Special Libraries Association, and Progressive Librarians Guild exist at St. John’s DLIS, and a chapter of the Society of American Archivists is also being built. Students are encouraged to join these, as well as other associations such NYLA, Metro, ACRLNY, and more, for professional development and networking.
Areas for Improvement
Firstly, student group involvement could be more robust, especially if their purposes and activities were clearly stated in official communications and during orientations. Luckily, if you are reading this blog and considering St. John’s, it’s likely that you have the proactive spirit to fix that and appreciate the position you are in to lead the charge to inspire your fellow classmates to join you!
At times, faculty and administration convey more information through face-to-face communication, than they convey than through email or course communications. This is natural, but perhaps not ideal, given that it’s a mostly-online program. By and large, they make excellent use of the department listserv to disseminate opportunities and other information to students, but a few things sometimes fall through the cracks, especially during the prospective-student stage. For example, if you haven’t read Marilyn Johnson’s This Book is Overdue!, it’s likely that this post is the first you’ve heard of the free laptop program for St. John’s DLIS students. As another example, when I applied to St. John’s, I didn’t apply for a graduate assistantship because I missed the application deadline by months, and there was no way to know that any positions were still available; it was only thanks to my very proactive program director that I found out I could still apply.
Though the program provides some very solid courses in website and database design, they focus mostly on conceptual architecture. There aren’t courses that specifically teach you programming or coding, like Python or CSS. There’s some general coverage of basic HTML and XML in some classes, and you will likely learn some very basic CSS as you customize your ePortfolio, but no courses are specifically designed to teach the nitty-gritty parts of networked computing.
Lastly, dual-degree options are not explicitly presented as formal options for DLIS students. One of my classmates enrolled as a MA/MS student, with the MA in Government & Politics, and probably worked out the dual curriculum between the two departments through his own proactive efforts. MA students in Public History are encouraged to also pursue an MSLIS. However, by and large, I don’t think that many students realize that they can pursue a dual degree with full support from faculty and administration.
Faculty in St. John’s DLIS are working to ameliorate the theory/practice divide by incorporating academic service-learning into their courses. This means that they coordinate with local organizations with needs related to DLIS courses, so that students can perform projects for those organizations, gaining practical experience within the course context. For courses with a service-learning component, 12 hours of service-learning are completed over the semester and a formal paper on the project is usually required as the course’s final project.
The cocktail of free laptop and online coursework works out very well if you are looking to gain experience and insight into the 21st-century communication aspects of librarianship and the way they affect what libraries do and how they do it. At first, I was leery of how much of my coursework I would be completing online, but it turned out to be highly engaging, and I’m far more proactive in all of my learning pursuits as a result.
The program strongly supports scholarship, professional development, and professional networking, as evidenced by its bi-annual symposium on current issues and trends in library and information science. The symposium always has prominent speakers and presentations by students, alumni, and faculty. In my time as a student, I heard keynotes from Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center, ALA President Barbara Stripling, and NYPL Andrew W. Mellon Director Ann Thornton. The entire symposium is simulcast online so that distance-learning students can also participate.
The faculty are incredibly dedicated and attentive. They consistently respond to emails within 24 hours on business days (sometimes even weekends), and I often received responses within a half hour. They are willing to include students in their research activities, and extend professional opportunities presented by them to local organizations directly to students. I had only to mention that I was interested in such-and-such a professional activity, and the professor I was talking to would start brainstorming ways for me to do it on the spot.
St. John’s DLIS is constantly “forgotten” as one of the ALA-accredited programs in the New York Metro Area, and this is a source of both pride and chagrin to me and several of my classmates. It’s a small program with small cohorts of students, and you get all the benefits of faculty attention that comes with that. It is a hybrid program that accommodates both local students in the New York metro area and distance-learning students. It’s an excellent place for self-starting students, like you Hack Library School readers. Overall, I’m really grateful for my St. John’s experience. I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments below or through my personal email at anastasia dot chiu at gmail dot com.