Hack Your Program: University of Alabama SLIS

UA School of Library and Information Studies – Tuscaloosa, AL

(Pictured above: Gorgas Library – UA SLIS is located on the 5th floor)

Disclaimer: I attended the on-campus UA SLIS program from January 2009-May 2011 as a full time student. These opinions are mine, with the exception of anonymous sentiments from fellow students that I have gleaned over time. Any criticism I offer is meant to be constructive – I have LOVED my time at UA SLIS, and truly adore my professors and fellow students. As every student views the program differently, I encourage any UA SLISers out there who agree or disagree with my viewpoints to add to the discussion in the comments.

UA SLIS offers the MLIS degree, MFA in Book Arts, and a PhD in Communication and Information Sciences. The MLIS has 3 forms: on-campus, online cohort, and regional cohort (satellite campus + online and Tuscaloosa classes). The online cohort requires a separate application and completely different timeline, and accepts a set number of people each year (typically people working full time, who take 2 classes a semester for 6 semesters).

Financial aid: UA SLIS offers about 15-20 assistantships per year, including MFA students. The number used to be a bit higher, but funding has been cut. Some are year-long, some are per semester (with the chance to reapply – and it is extremely rare to keep one past 2 semesters). I do not know the exact criteria for having an assistantship, but it is a combination of academic excellence and financial need; a faculty committee chooses the recipients each semester. A few scholarships are also awarded each semester, ranging from $500-$1000. GAships are half-off the semester’s tuition + a $600 stipend, and a GA will either work in a campus library, work for a professor, or serve as an professor’s assistant in online courses. You do not get to choose which you can work in, but if you spend one semester somewhere, you can appeal to have a different assignment the next. If you can get one, assistantships are fantastic. I wish the award could cover more tuition or have a bigger stipend (or last the full 2 years), but these are the financial limitations of a program with ~300 students.

Concentrations and/or specializations: Officially, there are none except the School Media specialization, which has special requirements. Thus, if you are interested in a specific track of librarianship, you must plan to take classes in that area (if available – classes are subject to faculty availability, a certain rotation of semesters, etc.) I am aware that some programs have tracks, but I was okay with not having an official one.

Internship availability: Internships are optional, but we have 9 hours of pass/fail credit to do 1-2 internships, transfer credit from another graduate degree, or do a directed study.  We have a FANTASTIC internship coordinator. If you tell her what you’re interested in, where you’d like to work, etc., she will suggest some libraries/info centers, and she will probably have a contact there! Students can do internships in-state, out of state, or even internationally, but paid internships do not count for class credit, and you must fund internship expenses yourself (gas money, lodging, etc). If I could change anything about the internship program, I would have some funding set aside for students to do internships out of state, etc., but I realize that that is a pipe dream!

Coursework: UA SLIS has SIX required courses, out of the 12 courses needed for the degree (and none of them are cataloging, which some people tend to find shocking). I still don’t know quite how to feel about this. The Intro to Library Studies course, while typically taught by one of my favorite professors, could probably be cut as a required course. It’s a fun class to get to know librarianship in, but I do wonder just how much it is needed, since you tend to get a big picture of librarianship through your other courses. While Research Methods is an excellent course, especially for those of us who intend to perform studies and/or publish, I do not think it should be required for those students who have no desire to ever attempt it. As I mentioned above, we are allowed 9 pass/fail hours to supplement our coursework. I did a wonderful directed study that turned into a summer job, and transferred in 6 credits from the USM British Studies Program. (If you’re wondering, I also did 2 internships, one volunteer and one paid – neither for credit). There are a lot of possibilities for the 9 pass/fail hours, so this does allow students to get creative, and join a professor’s project or create a class (with a willing professor’s sponsorship, of course). No thesis or comprehensive exams are required, which makes the program feel less like graduate school, but I’m truly not complaining.

Student Involvement: There are 3 established groups at UA SLIS – the Student Advisory Committee (SAC), the ALA Student Chapter, and the SLA Student Group. This past semester, two new student groups were added – the SAA Student Chapter, and the ASIST Student Chapter. You must be elected to SAC to serve on it, but any other group can be joined with small dues. SAC and ALA often hold joint events, and Student SLA sometimes holds joint events with the state chapter of SLA. All of these groups are fantastic – WHEN students choose to get involved. There is always a core group of people willing to be involved and gain leadership skills, but for some reason, all of these groups suffer from a severe lack of participation. I was involved in all 3 groups and absolutely loved it, but trying to get other students to come to or assist with events or community outreach was like literally pulling teeth. I don’t know if this specifically a UA SLIS thing, but I’ve always envied the super active ALA and SLA student groups at other library schools.


  • Sense of community. Those of us who tend to get involved may feel more strongly, but I’ve found that there is a close-knit community among SLISers (especially SLIS alumni), should you choose to be a part of it. Commuters and those who work full-time often miss out on this, which is always sad to me.
  • The online program. It is synchronous (via Wimba), it is structured well, the cohorts have their own sense of community and bonding, and the students selected are typically hard-working overachievers (and I mean that as a compliment, for I am one). And the tuition is about the same, if not cheaper, than the on-campus program!
  • If you’re specializing in children’s and/or youth services librarianship, with a dash of cultural diversity, UA SLIS has THE professor for you. Even students who want nothing to do with youth librarianship want to take Dr. Naidoo’s courses. These courses are also the most consistently offered, though maybe not in the order you always want.
  • The SLIS administrators genuinely care about your concerns, and are always helpful and easy to contact.

Areas for improvement:

  • We wish the name were School of Library and Information SCIENCE, not “studies.”
  • There is a neverending “controversy” that elective classes are gradually all going online, for the benefit of the online cohort. Conversely, there are some courses only offered on-campus that the cohort can never take. I wish we could find a happy medium here. I don’t dislike online classes, but they do not hold my attention the way on-campus classes do, and I tried to take all on-campus classes (it’s tough – I don’t know anyone who hasn’t taken at least one online course).
  • Need fewer students admitted each semester, with higher standards (but this is a library school problem, not just a UA SLIS problem)
  • It is a small program, so often there are too few professors for the number of students and courses that students would like to be offered.

Changes (aka, the program may soon be very different):

  • Dr. Elizabeth Aversa, the program’s director the past 8 years, has stepped down to move into a professor-only position, and Dr. Heidi Julien is taking over as director. Dr. Aversa leaves BIG shoes to fill, but I am confident that SLIS will continue to be great under new leadership. I hope Dr. Julien listens to her students–and gets involved with them–as much as Dr. Aversa did.
  • The professor who had been with SLIS the longest, Dr. Margaret Dalton, retired as of May 2011. Her reference classes were infamous for their intensity (I learned a TON from Intro, and then took her Advanced Reference course. She will be greatly missed).
  • There is a new full-tuition fellowship opportunity, funded through IMLS, for Fall 2011 – it is called Project ALFA, and it is a “specialization within an ALA-accredited Master’s degree program centered on a philosophy of service to a diverse community.” I wish this had been at SLIS when I went through the program – it sounds truly fantastic, and it was dreamed up by a UA SLIS professor committed to facilitating universal access in libraries.

I’m sure I’m forgetting many other things I would like to say about my MLIS program, but if you have any questions about UA SLIS, please, ask away!

27 replies

  1. Nice post, it’s always nice to hear what other programs are like.

    On a side note: “and none of them are cataloging, which some people tend to find shocking” … I’m honestly a little more shocked that you only have 12 courses needed. We have 16 to do, which is basically a whole extra term.


    • Hi Cynthia, thanks for the comment! What program are you in? I’ve heard of a few programs that were longer than 12 courses, but I don’t know what is “typical.” I know where to find those statistics, though, so maybe I’ll look it up! It really is fascinating comparing the differences between programs.


      • Hey Lauren, Having just seen the newest post, I suppose our 16 might be a little longer than the typical. It would definitely be interesting to see the statistics on that. I’m in UBC’s LIS program.


  2. Great post Lauren. SLIS will miss your leadership and your awesome personality in the lounge. I know I miss it. 🙂

    I did just want to reiterate a little of what Lauren said about UA SLIS’s strengths:
    1. The DE program. I was a TA for one of the intro classes and the camaraderie and fellowship the DE students share is unmatched (in my humble opinion). You miss out on a lot of networking by not being an on-campus student, but having synchronous online classes really aids in getting to know your classmates and making all-important connections. If anyone is interested in DE and has concerns over getting a job, I suggest looking into UA SLIS’s DE program. It’s an excellent choice.
    2. UA SLIS has a great sense of community thanks to being a relatively small program. I met and befriended Lauren in the common room and we’ve stayed friends even though I graduated well over a year ago. Like anything, SLIS is what you make it, but if you want to do the on-campus program, move to Tuscaloosa (not Birmingham and commute) and GET INVOLVED! There are ample opportunities for that (as Lauren already stated) and those of us that were involved have maintained friendships and connections to other former UA SLIS students. If you get involved in the community (join the groups, hang out in the common areas, attend the social functions), I personally think your chances of finding a great library job increase.

    Just some food for thought from another happy UA SLIS grad. 🙂


    • Thanks, Elizabeth! And thank you for fleshing out the strengths (my post was getting too long)! I could not agree with you more, both about the DE program and community involvement. I truly appreciate being a part of the UA SLIS community – and you’re right, making these connections is a huge asset to the job hunt!


    • To be perfectly honest, it’s hard to articulate. I remember a fellow classmate suggesting it to the ALA accreditation committee when they came, and I agreed with it. I constantly hear about “information science” programs, and I think they sound more professional, defined, and modern than “library studies.” With that said, I don’t want to take the L out of MLIS – I just prefer to say I have a degree in library and information science. What do you think? What is FSU’s program called?


      • Officially FSUs program is a Master’s in Library and Information Studies, and we actually covered it in our Foundations course. (will go into detail in my post). Essentially, I think there is a difference in the field of Info Sci and Info Studies, where the Studies leans more cultural/anthropological and the science toward the social sciences. I could be wrong, but that’s the sense I got. Ultimately I don’t think it matters that much and often I’ll say Lib and Info Science when describing my degree. BUT if I had to choose, I’d choose the info studies just because it feels more interdisciplinary to me, and thats the background I am familiar with. Perhaps a topic for another day/post!


  3. Love this feature – it’s great to hear about other programs.

    I find it very interesting that paid internships can’t be counted for credit. Is there a concern that a paid internship = a job, and there won’t be a good learning experience and development of skills?


    • Thanks, Anne! This idea came from the brilliant mind of Micah.

      I don’t actually know why paid internships cannot be counted for school credit. I wish they could, especially since you’re basically paying tuition for one course to be a volunteer (which is why I skipped it and just did a traditional 150 hour internship as a volunteer – but I set it up myself with the library in question). I might just ask someone about that. What is the internship/practicum policy in your program?


      • Internships aren’t required per se – we have to get at least 8 Practical Engagement Program credits as part of our total 48. Some coursework counts as PEP credits, but nearly everyone does an internship to complete the requirement. Commonly this is a 6 credit (360 hour) internship during the summer between year 1 and year 2. U of M doesn’t offer summer classes, so it makes a lot of sense to do an internship then.

        Both paid and unpaid internships are fine. They heavily encourage paid internships, especially because internships are viewed as professional work that also develops skills. We also do a whole process of setting goals and evaluating what we’re doing/learning.


        • I can tell you a lot of people would be envious of that part of your program. We have the same debate at our school wondering why we cannot get credits towards graduate for something that is paid, particularly since we still have to pay full-time tuition while on internships.


  4. I think in general, it’s hard to get people to participate in student government. I know our campus had this problem and talking to others, it’s not just our school. Did I understand you correctly when you said that you have 9 credit hours of pass/fail? Are these part of the other 12 units needed to graduate? or are they optional?


    • It’s good to know we’re not the only ones – I know there are many active and brilliant student groups out there, and I’ve always wanted UA SLIS to be up there with them!

      Yes, we are allowed 9 hours of pass/fail credit, but they are optional. Thus, we could take all 6 elective courses and never do an internship or directed study. My degree breaks down as follows – the 6 required courses, 1 directed study (which was actually participation in an outreach program), 2 courses in British Libraries (study abroad trip), and 3 electives of my choosing.

      Also, re: the 9 hours of pass/fail, only 6 hours can be internship credit. So you cannot do more than 2 internships for credit (not sure why, it just is).


      • Just to kind help everyone see how the pass/fail optional credits work at UA SLIS, here’s how my hours break down:
        6 required classes (18 hours), 5 electives (15 hours), 1 internship (3 hours, pass/fail). Classes are also offered at the 600 level (SLIS classes are 500) and regular MLIS students are allowed to take 2 to count towards their degree. I did that so I could take History of Libraries and History of the Book.


  5. Thanks for this post! I just received my acceptance to the online cohort program at UA. This information has helped. I did confirm my acceptance but had that 1% question in my mind if I should choose UA or Wayne State where I was also accepted.

    Does anyone have any info to compare UA to Wayne State?


  6. I’m in the online cohort and would just like to affirm Lauren’s views. I have been impressed with the quality of instruction and the concern the department takes in our success. Thanks to a weekend in Tuscaloosa and having synchronous classes, we have been able to form a pretty tight network.


  7. I agree with Lauren wholeheartedly! I am a UA SLIS DE student graduating this August, and I feel like I got really lucky by discovering the program. I heard about it from a library coworker, who had heard rave reviews from her former coworker. Studying online allowed me to work full-time in a library, and I didn’t have to move (from Wyoming).

    The long weekend orientation at the beginning of the program is the only time you are required to be on-campus. It was great to meet my whole cohort and bond before we started taking classes. I feel like I have a support network around the country, going through the same things as me.

    Another benefit of the online program is that classes have audio, text chatting and desktop sharing, so it isn’t as isolating as an online class based on discussion boards. Thumbs up for SLIS!

    And Lauren, I think we had a class together last year. Congratulations on graduating!


  8. April, please contact me if you wouldn’t mind me asking you many more questions about UA’s SLIS DE program. I am actively pursuing my application packet right now, and would really appreciate learning more from you if you would be willing to spend a little time discussing it all.

    With high hopes all around,
    (p.s. I live a little ways outside of Laramie)


  9. I went through the UA DE program. I agree with what others have said. i would like to caution future students that I was much happier with the courses that I took from the actual faculty than with the ones from adjuncts (I took three from adjuncts). I understand that it is important to provide courses from folks “out in the field” rather than providing only instruction from “academics” so I do appreciate the option.
    What I would like every prospective student to know is that I applied to many schools and was accepted by them all. I didn’t make my final choice until the deadline because I wanted to see how much prospective students were supported by each school. University of Alabama provided far superior student support. I mean far superior to schools costing four or five times as much. The extraordinary support provided even before I signed on the dotted line conveyed to me that they were interested in one thing, my success. I credit SLIS’s office staff, the Graduate School staff, the SLIS faculty and the previous student support that is offered to prospective students with turning my final choice away from all other school and only having eyes for UA.
    I would also ask prospective students to spend the time and effort to apply for all types of financial aid, you would be surprised at how many organizations and philanthropists are interested in helping you become a qualified information professional. Often times funding goes unclaimed. Research financial aid and get the support you deserve.

    Only one thing left to say
    Roll Tide


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  12. Hi! This entry is getting up there in years, so I’m wondering if anyone has any more current information to add? I’m also wondering about the ALFA program that was mentioned, since when I clicked on the link, it still had information for the fall 2012 cohort. Can anyone tell me if that program is still in existence?


    • Hi Laura – I’m nearly finished with my Alabama application for fall 2018. When I searched for information on the ALFA program, everything seemed to be several years back. I did a lot of looking, but didn’t find anything current.


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