Hack Your Program: UCLA Department of Information Studies

Like the other Hackers, this post reflects my perspective, and mine alone, on the UCLA Department of Information Studies, as experienced in my two years as an MLIS student.  I am enrolled in the Library Studies track, with a focus on public libraries and a specialization in youth services; I will be graduating in 16 days (but who’s counting?) and my time in this program, and the experiences I have gained because of the connections I have made, have definitely prepared me to be a librarian.

The Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.  Photo Credit: Graduate School of Education and Information Studies Website.

Program Overview 

The Department of Information Studies is one of two departments in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (GSEIS).  The program offers an MLIS degree, Master of Arts in Moving Image Archive Studies (MIAS), a PhD, and a Post Master’s Certificate.  The MLIS is divided into three tracks: Library Studies, Archival Studies, and Informatics.  These three specializations don’t have any specific course requirements, other than Archives, which requires the American Archives and Manuscripts “as a foundation course for the specialization,” but rather reflect your course choices.  Dual Master’s degrees are also available with the Anderson School of Management, Latin American Studies, and Asian American Studies.  A fourth specialization in Preservation will most likely be added in Fall 2011.

Info Bit: The California Rare Book School is a continuing education project of the IS Department, and offers fascinating courses (open to all) such as History of the Children’s Book from the Old Babylonian to 1989  (new this year!) and Descriptive Bibliography.

UCLA is on the quarter system, which means that we start later and go later than universities on the semester system.  We are required to take six core classes: colloquially, Intro to Information, Ethics and Diversity, Information Structures, Information Access (Reference), Information Technology, and Management, and a grad-level Research Methodology course.  The three methodology courses offered are Social Science, History, and Principles of Info System Design and Analysis.  Students must have nine more classes, generally electives in their specialization, for a total of 18 courses or 72 units to graduate.  Many students, however, end up with more courses than that because Summer Quarter course offerings are fantastic, and courses aren’t always annually offered (which means students carry heavy course loads some quarters).  The program is on-campus only, though occasionally blended courses are offered.

Info Bit: California is also home to the largest accredited library program in the world, the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science.  The program is wholly online, and they offer over 200 courses a semester to their students, who reside in 45 states and 17 countries (Source: SJSU SLIS Annual Review).

The program requires a culminating project for MLIS/MIAS students, either a thesis or a portfolio, which consists of an issue statement, career goals, and samples of work, which is then defended through a 15 minute presentation and a 15 minute question and answer session (see “Places for Improvement” for more on the culminating project).


IS Classes are usually held in the GSEIS building, located in the far north of campus.  Classes are almost ALWAYS in the famous Rm. 111, which is so cold you risk frostbite to get your degree.  Sometimes classes are in Rm. 112, which is sweltering.  The story behind this that I have heard is that the GSEIS building was meant to be a temporary building, and so is insulated poorly, making temperature regulation difficult.  We also have our own library, featuring general IS works as well as a few special collections, including two collections of children’s and youth books.  The library/lab is staffed by two librarians and a programmer who do phenomenal work supporting the needs of the entire department, which makes the Lab an excellent resource.  We also have a Mac lab, next door to the library, and our own Commons where something is always going on.  Recent displays included a “Vote For Your Favorite Picture Book” in honor of Children’s Book Week, and a whiteboard where students can share their favorite job resources.  A wall of lockers is available through a lottery system to allow students to stash their gear, and there is also a fridge, coffee pots, toaster ovens, two microwaves, and several stashes of snacks being sold by student groups to keep energy going.  Perhaps most importantly, there are also several recliners and couches, should the snacks fail to do their job!


Funding generally comes through FAFSA and professional association scholarships, through there are several restricted fellowships (I believe for one year) based on a student’s application to the program and academic achievement.  There is a Graduate Student Research program in place, in which a professor advertises for a research assistant through one of our several list serves.  I think I’ve only seen one of these the entire two and half years I’ve been subscribed to the list serves.  Students, if qualified, may participate in work-study positions, some of which include staffing the reference desk at the Young Research Library (YRL), or at the undergraduate library, Powell Library.

Info Bit: Powell Library is named after Lawrence Clark Powell, University Librarian at UCLA, and the first dean of the UCLA School of Library Service, which later became our department!  For an interesting read on the history of the program, see this speech given by Mr. Powell.

Places for Improvement

Culminating Project: I love that we have a culminating project; in fact, that GSEIS has a thesis option was one of the reasons I chose UCLA.  However (and this may be a fresh wound, as my class has just completed their portfolio defenses), the current system is not set up in such a way that most students feel any sort of satisfaction with the evaluation.  I attempted to do a thesis, and was very much discouraged because of lack of ladder faculty in my specialization (or even in my track). The portfolio is pass or fail: if you don’t pass in the first round, they’ll give you a list of contingencies and recommendations.  If you don’t pass the second time, you don’t get your degree (unless you go through the appeal process).  The culture of the presentation is very subjective according to who sits on your panel, and inspires profound terror.  I believe that since we are (generally) writing/presenting on the topic that means the most to us, we should view the culminating project as a chance to show off our knowledge, and engage in some critical discourse on the topic with LIS education leaders.  Rather, it feels as if the student is on trial.  Eliminating the pass/fail criteria and revising the evaluation sheet are some suggestions being put forth by students.

Librarians, librarians, where for art thou, librarians?: Given my specialization, I may be a little biased, but the department is lacking in library ladder track faculty, especially public library/youth services faculty, as those specializing in this area have retired (though are still active in the department). Because several components of the degree require either an academic or advisory relationship with ladder faculty, it is incredibly difficult for library track students to feel satisfied with these requirements with so few faculty to turn to.  It must be said, though, that the department is aware of this problem, and is doing what they can to address it: I believe in addition to an archives hire, a public/youth librarian hire is on the agenda for next year, and a great group of library lecturers and adjuncts do a phenomenal job in addition to leading the library field professionally.  It also must be said that our archives faculty and curriculum is very respected, and one of the top in the country; our professors in all IS specializations are often recognized nationally and even internationally for their work and contributions to the field.

Prerequisites: The program requires students to take an upper-level computer programming course and a statistics course by the end of their first quarter (most complete the prereqs in the summer prior to beginning the program).  Students have expressed annoyance for taking these classes (often paying for them at a community college) and then never needing the skills from these courses in the program.


The Students: We are a relatively small program, with around 90 students in my class, and 61 students in the class of 2012.  This allows for a great sense of community, and gives us insight into other IS fields, because we can discuss different ideas with our classmates in the Commons or at social functions (of which there are several).  For such a small program, we also have an incredible amount of very active student organizations, including the ALA Student Chapter, the SLA Student Chapter (which has repeatedly been given the Student Chapter of the Year award), the Student Governing Board, the Activist Librarians and Educators, ASIS&T, Society of American Archivists (SAA) Student Chapter, ARTiFACTS (art librarians), Association of Moving Image Archivists Student Chapter, Horn Press (dedicated to book arts and hand-press printing– they use the Horn Press to make cards they sell around the holidays!),  Library OUTReach (students who run the largest LGBTQ student library on any university campus), Young Adult and Children’s Services (YACS), and the Nidorf Collective (which provides books and library services to incarcerated juveniles).  These orgs always have something going on, often in partnership with one another, from hosting IS VIPs, putting on career panels, or organizing meet-ups between students and alumni at a local bar (full disclosure: I am an officer in three of these organizations).

We also have an incredibly diverse student body, in every sense of the word: age, gender, ethnicity, identity.  This year we are proud to have hosted more Spectrum Scholars than any other IS program; our curriculum is critically oriented and reflects the diversity of the department.

Internships: Being in the Los Angeles area, we have a wealth of information institutions, and a fabulous internship program that connects us to these institutions.  An internship is not required, but I don’t think I know anyone that hasn’t done at least one.  You can take the internship up to three times for credit, and if you want to remain at an institution and work on a special project, that is an option.  We also have the amazing FILL Internship (From Interns to Library Leaders), a partnership between UCLA, SJSU, and the Southern California Library Coalition (SCLC), which pays students a $2,000 stipend for a public library internship.  Basically, whatever you want to do, there’s an internship for it, and if there’s not, our internship coordinator will help you work something out.

Info Bit: Los Angeles is home to Los Angeles Public Library (as well as the County of Los Angeles Public Library— this causes no end of confusion), the largest public library system west of the Mississippi.

We also have education outside of the classroom in the form of Friday Forums (workshops available at a discounted fee for students) and weekly Colloquium on a variety of topics, often with big names in the IS field.

Thoughts or questions on the UCLA program?  Something I missed?  Add your two cents!

11 replies

  1. Great post Brit! Your school is really interesting. I actually had considered applying there but I saw that they wanted all these computer science skills as pre-req’s and I chickened out. Did I hallucinate that? I could be wrong.

    Some questions:
    So there is no GA program at your school? If not, then that’s too bad. It’s a good way for students to save some money and get experience.

    You were advised not to write your thesis because of a lack of faculty expertise? Sorry, but that doesn’t sound fair to YOU the student who is trying to make the most out of your degree. What if you had an advisor from outside of the faculty who could advise you and help you with your thesis? That sounds so frustrating!

    Do you guys have any interaction with SJSU students, maybe at internships and library events? I’d love to hear the differences between UCLA and SJSU. I guess I’m partial to the on-campus experience but I have noticed that many online schools offer really cool classes that my school doesn’t.


    • Thanks, Annie! Trust me: if I could pass the programming prereqs, anybody can. They even offer an Intensive Technology Workshop (ITW) in the Lab (our library) in the weeks before school, which is guided and counts for the pre req. Like I said in my post, though, most students feel these pre reqs are sort of a hoop to jump through, with no real relevance to the courses.
      I was really disappointed that we don’t have a GA program in the IS Dept. I do know students who have done GAs for other schools, though, like Social Science. It’s arranged by the university, and not our program, though.
      The thesis thing was kind of poopy. It def sucks that there aren’t any current youth services faculty (though our emerita prof, Dr. Virginia Walter, rocks the house and was really helpful when I was going through the process), but there also seems to be a general reluctance to sit on thesis panels regardless of specialization. I know a few thesis students who feel like they’re mostly going it alone. Our profs are doing crazy amazing research, so maybe they have too much on their plates, in addition to teaching? I think that might be a higher ed issue in general…
      We don’t interact with SJSU as much as I’d like. When the Measure L stuff was going hot and heavy, I reached out to them and CSUN (which has a satellite program with UT), but didn’t get much of a response. In fact, I just met my first SJSU SLISer at a conference a few weeks ago!


  2. Thanks for your post, Britt, and congratulations on your defense. Your experience with nerves on thesis defense reminded me of mine, when I earned a master of science in agricultural economics (most syllables paid by school option). Having that on-campus graduate experience let me relax about finding an online MLIS program (SJSU’s, in fact). Also, I am lucky enough to be working full-time right now and New Mexico does not offer a single library graduate school. I cannot imagine the luxury of distance students who can afford the time off and tickets to travel for graduate programs that require occasional visits. Thanks for the insights!


    • Oops! Jargony. Ladder-track faculty is what we call tenure-track faculty. So Assistant Professors, Associate Professors, and Professors (including the Professors Emerita). These professors have been hired into tenure track postions, have their PhD (though not necessarily in Info Science), and teach core courses in addition to teaching electives, serving as advisors, and conducting their own research/projects.


  3. Hi from another UCLA MLIS student!

    I agree on the prerequisites. I wasted a quarter in undergrad trying to pass a difficult programming class, only to attend the Technology Intensive (the accepted replacement prereq) and find that programming was not discussed at all. Going by the Tech Week program, it seems like the school wants us to know how computers work…but doesn’t necessarily care if we know programming. It would be much more beneficial if they had told me to take a class in Photoshop, Dreamweaver, or even a history class discussing computing technology. Those would have covered similar topics to Tech Week, and have been useful to my experience in the program.


  4. I’m beginning at this program now, and unfortunately the Intensive Technology Workshop has been discontinued.

    Glendale Community College, where I’m fulfilling the statistics prereq, only allows one course per student this summer, so if I want to finish the prereqs before the fall I’ll have to pay hundreds of dollars for an online course. I’m very excited to begin the MLIS, but this is a real drain.


    • Hey Christina,

      I’m am starting the program in the fall and need to meet the programming class prereq, I’ve been stressing about how I’m going to do it. I would love to know what your plan is. I’m think I’ll just have to take CS 31 at UCLA during the fall…ugh.


  5. I’m supposed to start in the Fall too. I have a BFA and found that UCLA’s MLIS Statistic and Programming pre-reqs all have pre-reqs themselves. I couldn’t find any Statistics course in NYC not requiring some college level calculus or algebra.
    I did manage to register for a Programming class in NYC this summer but had to drop out because my pre-req for that class was not sufficient Now I have to fulfill both Statistics and Programming in the Fall. It’s turning me off to going to UCLA all together.


  6. Thanks for this awesome post! I just applied to the MLIS program at UCLA and this was a big help to me in gaining some perspective into what I might be able to expect if I got into the program.

    Liked by 1 person

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