Hack Your Program: The University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science

*Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions and are not representative of the student body, the University of South Carolina, or the School of Information and Library Science. I started in Fall 2010 as a full-time, out-of-state student. All criticism is meant to be constructive.

School of Library and Information Science

Davis College, the home of SLIS at the University of South Carolina

When I tell people I am from Seattle and go to school down here,the first thing they ask me is, “why?” My stock answer is that, “I really like Hootie and the Blow Fish,” which I follow up with a, “No really it’s not as crazy as it sounds.” In reality I came here for the opportunities. Even before Micah was talking about hacking library school it’s what I had planned on doing. Thankfully Micah started talking about it, so now I have the vocabulary to discuss my strategy for making it in library land. USC has an up and coming Library School. We have a good staff, decent course offerings, and lots of opportunities here in Columbia.

USC (as we call ourselves in the abbreviated form) or SoCar (as I refer to the school) offers a B.A., MLIS, several certificates of advanced study,  and Ph.D. in Information and Library Science. The MLIS program offers on classes on campus and online. The distinction between on campus and online cohorts is minimal with students in either able to take classes through either delivery method. However, many core classes are only taught online, so students in Columbia will have to take online classes, but not necessarily vice versa.

Concentrations and/or specializations:

There are three concentration areas at SoCar; School Library Media (our program is rigorous and ranked extremely well), Public Library (especially youth services, which benefits from the school library media program), and academic libraries. In addition we have a significant number of instructors who have digital and special library experience. Basically we do it all, but the more you get away from youngsters the thinner offerings become.


Financial aid:

Almost all the professors, especially those doing research in the field have two graduate assistants. Outside of the department there are numerous graduate positions in the university library system, and a few graduate assitantships with the local library district. Not to mention that there are multiple assistant positions in all parts of the university. There’s limited scholarship money, but if you have an assistantship, or $500+ in scholarships your tuition is set at instate levels which are extremely reasonable. Last year I was able to live off my assistantship in the library and aid without having to find other work, which let me focus on other professional development opportunities.



The MLIS is a 36 credit hour degree. Most classes are 3 credit hours, so most people graduate in 2 years. However a significant number of people who started with me are graduating early, choosing to leave in the fall instead of in the spring.  We have 4 required classes: 701–Introduction to Library and Information Studies, 705– Introduction to Research in Library and Information Science, 705– Information Organization and Retrieval. 706—Introduction to Information Technology, is a required class that you can test out of, but testing out is harder than taking the class, so most people take it.  That leaves 8 elective classes, which cover a wide variety, our course list is here.

So far I have taken all of the required classes with the exception of 705. 706 was a good refresher on the history of Technology, it built up and expanded my competency with html especially. 701 was a basic overview of library science and required us to go to the library to talk with a librarian. 707 was a detailed overview of information systems. It was, of all the required classes I have taken, by far the most detailed and useful course. That said 705 is a major course which covers research and draws concrete connections between librarianship and evidence based practice. However, I haven’t taken it yet so I can’t comment on its value.

Our elective classes cover a variety of topics from programming for Latino youth, to database management. We’ve several great digital libraries and collection classes, and are expanding these offerings to reflect changes in library job offerings and department staffing.  While our course offerings in some areas are less developed then I would like, you can always do an independent study or internship to bridge the gap.

Internship availability:

USC has an equally large amount of internships available in the area, including in South Carolinia’s top notch state library, Richland County Public Libraries, and the universities library system. Many of these internship possibilities are unpaid. However, USC students have been placed in internships in national museums and libraries in paid positions including CNN, the National Transportation Safety Library, and the Smithsonian. There are also significant volunteer opportunities in the area, especially with Cocky’s Reading Express, a nationally recognized program to spread the joy of reading to children, and more importantly raise the literacy rate in South Carolina.

Student Involvement:

We have a lot of participation in our ALA student chapter, which was student chapter of the year in 2008. In addition we have an awesome Archival Students Guild, and we’re in the process of setting up a student chapter of ASIS&T.

Our student chapter runs social events almost every week, one to two professional development events a month, and a quarterly symposium. In addition we provide conference funding for students to go to state and national conferences like SLA and ALA. Our student chapter’s biggest fund raising activity is our Mildly Attractive Men of Library Science Calendar, which is a blast to make, and sells phenomenally well.

Why people should think about USC:

The opportunities for professional development: I really don’t want to undersell this. There are a ton of things options for getting yourself ready for the job market. More than just working in a library you get a chance to practice librarianship while you’re in school.

Dr. Sam:

Dr. Sam Hastings, our director, is an amazing woman. She’s a former president of ASIS&T, and a phenomenally talented administrator. She loves her students and it’s that love, and the energy that Dr. Sam brings to our building that makes our department a great place to be.

The Faculty: The faculty at USC is great. We may not have depth in every aspect of library science but we definitely have breadth, with at least one instructor in almost every aspect of our field. There is considerable depth in areas like youth services, school library media, and information science.

Technology: The novelist William Gibson once said that, “the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” This is the way technology works at SoCar. We have a ton of tech; getting access to it can occasionally be tricky. However if you hunt around you can find what you need. For instance our graduate student lab is open with our building from about 8am until 8pm, and it has a lot of stuff on its computers, and if its freeware you can probably get it installed on a machine if you ask nicely.

South Carolina also has a great digital humanities program. This gives students with an interest in all things tech a chance to participate in projects which will shape our educational landscape in the future. It also lets students take what they have learned in course about technology, people, and information, and apply them to the real world. It’s an invaluable experience.

Finally we are receiving a 3d scanner. That doesn’t sound like a big deal in and of its self, but stop and think about it for a minute. A machine that can scan an object in three dimensions and create a digital representation. Ok, it doesn’t do much for me, but I’m a book guy. However, for people interested in digital imaging, and the associated fields of study like meta-data this should put us on your radar.


Online classes: Because we are a mostly online program you think this would be a strong point. However, many classes still use a blackboard, and Adobe access model for content delivery and interaction. While this isn’t on its face a problem, the paradigm minimalizes the potential of online education. Again this isn’t an across the board challenge. Some classes do happen in the real world. Other classes use adobe breeze to create a virtual class environment. Still other classes have several on-site and live sessions that create a mix of two paradigms. The result is a hodgepodge of quality. Fortunately this is offset by being in Columbia, and taking the initiative to drop in on instructors. Being here with the opportunity, and the professors is awesome, but if either one of those things weren’t a large factor in my education. I think my opinion of aspects of this program would be different.

How to hack SoCar’s school of library and information science

1)      Get involved in your classes. Getting involved and staying involved means you have to take initiative. It seems like something not worth saying. Trust me, it is.

2)      Get involved in the libraries. With all the opportunity here this will be easy. Working in a library will also help you come to a greater understanding of what you want to do when you graduate. It will help you choose classes, and shape your course of study.

3)      Swing for the fences. At the end of your time at SoCar you have to build a portfolio. There is the space here to do something big and create a strong foundation for your job hunt. Build something big. If it’s a good idea, you’ll have the support of the department. Grad school is for many a last opportunity to take advantage of the protection and resources the academy affords use it.  Trust me, I’m organizing our InfoCamp.

I give my program an extremely high grade. Most of my problems living and going to school down here come from the huge locational and cultural shift. The problems with distance classes are resolving themselves as our university and departments develop a greater understanding of technology and distance education.   South Carolina is a department with a lot of space and opportunity. If you seize on it the sky is the limit.

15 replies

  1. Great post, Zack! I’m impressed with the amount of financial aid and internship opportunities your school provides. That is a MAJOR selling point and something every prospective student should consider, especially those who incurred debt from their undergrad degree.


  2. Great post, Zack! As a recent graduate of USC’s program, I can attest to its strengths and weaknesses. I would have liked to have seen more course offerings for those wanting to go into academic libraries or adult services in public. It seems that all the focus is on school libraries and youth services. I also more of the professors had a better grasp of the technology when structuring their classes.

    Dr. Sam is ab fab!


  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. I also graduated from USC SLIS — about 3 years ago. Like you, I moved to Columbia for school. Sometimes I found it frustrating to be there and have to do so much online, but I understand why they do it that way. What I took from your post is that the program is pretty good, but it can be exceptional if you really put the effort into your classes, getting to know your professors, and taking advantage of GA positions and internships. I think I got the most out of the program because of LISSA — I was the treasurer the year we won the ALA award. We did tons of fundraisers that year and made it to IFLA in Quebec City, an unforgettable experience. I had to GA positions — one for a professor and one at the School of Medicine Library. I also did an unpaid internship at the Historic Charleston Foundation (in Charleston, SC, of course). I learned so much from these “extra” activities. So yes, the program can be very frustrating for different reasons… but I don’t believe any one program is perfect. The positives far outweigh the negatives. I would recommend that students go to Columbia if they are able, rather than staying online. Columbia’s a pretty great place, to boot!
    And yes, Dr. Sam is great, and I’m glad she’s the director!


  4. Great post, Zach. I’ve lurked at Hack Library School for a while, but obviously not attentively enough since I didn’t realize I had a fellow SLISer here! I’m located in Charleston, doing my MLIS distance ed, and will finish the degree in December.

    I just wanted to say, you’re very right about the hit-or-miss nature of online coursework. I did my first MA in history at Clemson, in a traditional (and very intellectually rigorous) setting, so I found online courses to be disconcerting at first. It’s easy to feel isolated as a distance ed student, and I often miss the kind of mentor relationship I had with a couple of my professors in my previous program. A lot of the experience depends on how professors structure their courses. I’ve done classes where I had almost no interaction with the professor or my classmates at all, and some where I feel like I’m actually back in the seminar room because the discussion is so good. I’ve found that the professors who have mandatory(ish) weekly sessions in Adobe Connect are the ones whose classes offer the best opportunity for collaboration. Prof. Feili Tu is very good at this, in my opinion. I’m taking her reference seminar right now, and so far it’s been a great experience

    To anyone else doing a distance ed/mostly online degree at USC (or any other school), I definitely stress the importance of taking the initiative yourself. Whether it’s to line up an internship, or get a local chapter of your student organization together, these aren’t things that are just going to fall into your lap.


  5. “Get involved in your classes. Getting involved and staying involved means you have to take initiative. It seems like something not worth saying. Trust me, it is.”

    This is so worth repeating, and it applies to students everywhere. Get involved and take the initiative. It’s your life, so learn how to drive it!


  6. I live in Charleston, SC. I wish there were more internship and job opportunities offered here by the MLIS program. There’s tons offered in the Columbia area but when you offer a distance learning program, you should be able to offer more internships outside of the city where the school is located. I envy people who live in the DC area as well! They have lots of great internships.

    I do agree that Dr. Tu is one of my favorite teachers. You can tell she doesn’t just phone in her work. She really takes part in the teaching.


  7. Just discovered this after a frantic internet search for more information regarding getting INTO the MLIS program at USC. I just took my GRE & my math score was so drastically different than my vocab. I have often wondered if I even have a disability in math. However my GPA (from USC) is high and I have strong references. If my GRE is a few points shy of what they say the minimum is will they even consider my application?


    • The admissions people at Davis College do a fantastic job finding qualified candidates. They’re one of the reasons why I decided to move across the country to Columbia, and chose USC over several of the other schools I got accepted to. If you have questions I know that they would be happy to answer them.

      My personal advice is not to worry too much, and make sure to get it in.

      Good luck!


    • SoCar ((o-line-y))Dec. 08 alum here. I must say GO TIGERS!!
      From your posts, it seems the program hasn’t changed much, not in terms of the focus you may or may not choose. I mean that in a great way too.
      I did graduate with Washed Out so you can alternate your hootie comments with Ernest Green.
      The tech element of the school was fantastic when I was there. At that time we had a fantastic alumni faculty member (Carraway I do hope she’s there still) teaching us as she was also the DBA at midlands tech.
      I learned complicated systems quickly and efficiently. She was so passionate about this element of information data science that I wanted to build a LAMP server early on a Saturday morning in cola.
      It’s been a ten years (07-08) but we would have excellent discussions occasionally about moral hacking or hacktivism, Tim Wu.
      I took every course she taught those two years and it has been a huge help professionally and personally. I learned SQL, HTML, CSS, metadata data extraction, visualization techniques, algorithms, meta tagging, building databases, and we completed a class project using MYSQL that was sort of an unofficial state of South Carolina catalog to all public library catalogs. She made us do all the work and I am so glad she did. This is really a small amount of the contributions she gave me technically. Librarians always find out who knows SQL and I was one of 3 so I would always get myself in a sitch, trying to explain sql in terms of relevant statistics to people who had not been to school since the 70’s.
      That’s the only drawback. Just don’t tell anyone you know SQL except when you’re interviewing. I also had a digital collections class that was cool and fun. If you go and you don’t land a job, DO AT LEAST ONE INTERSHIP. Especially if you know what area of information you want to work in as well as the areas you do NOT want to work in. That was my biggest mistake in grad school.

      The state as a whole generally gets bullied by the media a great deal more than should be. However, it sounds like they still rank almost as high in the best grad. Programs for information science. SC was #1 in the US for school media specialists so you’ll have to endure the loud obnoxious teachers going back to school and their irrelevant antidotes which is annoying if you’re in an online class, but there are simple solutions to that. Also if Dr. Bilinsky is still there and her cohort whose name has escaped me, take everything they teach. I was able to learn DIALOG and Lexis Nexis thanks to Billinsky.
      I’m sure if the professors I mentioned are no longer there there’s someone equally as qualified to teach the technology courses. Be sure you want to be a librarian too. Most states faced with an economic challenge will cut library funds first. Brilliant leaders we have up in that big White House right now.


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