Hack Your Program: University of Sheffield iSchool

Michael Pawlus graduated from the University of Sheffield in December 2010. He currently resides in Korea due to extenuating circumstances but is actively seeking opportunities to join a library this fall. His interests include information literacy, electronic learning objects and web developments that increase the reach and impact of library services.  More of his writing can be found at goodnewslibrarian.info and he is also on Twitter @michaelpawlus.

Standard Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions and are not representative of the student body, the University of Sheffield, or the iSchool. I attended the one-year graduate course from Fall 2009 to Fall 2010.  All criticism is meant to be constructive.

Program Overview

The University of Sheffield is the UK’s first iSchool.

It boasts an impressive research output record that has placed it at the top of the UK-government sponsored Research Assessment Exercise since it was first conducted in 1986.  A recent survey showed that 40% of the most cited information studies academics were working at Sheffield.

The department offers the following taught degree programs:

Electronic and Digital Library Management
Health Informatics
Information Management
Information Systems
Information Literacy
Information Systems Management
Multilingual Information Management

The first five of which are CILIP-accredited.  CILIP is the professional body representing librarians in the UK.  CILIP and ALA have a reciprocity agreement stating that the two organizations recognize each other’s accreditation process.  In theory, this means that degrees earned in the UK are treated equally in the US as degrees earned at ALA schools.  However, this is not always the case.  I will get in to that later.

In addition to the degrees listed above, the program also offers undergraduate degrees, master’s level research degrees as well as PhD and MPhil degrees.

Financial Info

American students studying at the iSchool are eligible for an automatic £2500 scholarship to help with tuition.  Since the degree program in the UK is only one-year long for full-time students, the scholarship does help level out the cost of studying in the UK when compared with studying at a comparable program in the US. British students are eligible for a scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Since the program is only one-year in length, the course work is fairly prescribed. The following courses are mandatory:

Management for Library and Information Services (two semesters)
Information retrieval: Search Engines and Digital Libraries
Libraries, Information and Society I
Research Methods and Dissertation Preparation
Information Resources and Information Literacy

Outside of these core classes, students can choose a specialty for the Libraries, Information and Society II module in either Academic Libraries, Public Libraries, or Children’s Services.

The remainder of the degree program consists of two electives from a wide-ranging set of options including:

E-Business and E-Commerce
Designing Usable Websites
E-Government Informatics
Educational Informatics
Information Literacy Research
Content Management Systems
Digital Multimedia Libraries
Human Computer Interaction and User Interface Design
Archives and Records Management

Internship Availability

I believe graduate level information studies differ in the UK from the US in that most students already have experience working in libraries before they begin the program.  This fact paired with the fact that the program is only a year long means that there not many internship options though the libraries on campus do hire a number of students.  I was fortunate to get an internship with a private corporate library but there are not many such opportunities available.

Student Involvement

I have mixed feelings about the involvement of the students while I was there.  Almost all students were in a student organization like LIPSS (Library and Information Professionals Social Society) or the CILIP Career Development Group for Yorkshire and Humberside.  A few were also CILIP Yorkshire and Humberside Student Representatives. However, optional lectures were often sparsely attended including sessions with Jo Bryson.


Despite being such an acclaimed department, the actual home of the iSchool is quite small and under resourced containing only one classroom, two computer labs and a handful of breakout rooms for group work.  However, the 24-hour main library, called the Information Commons, contains a number of different study spaces from silent study rooms to silent study computer labs, a flexispace with rearrangable furniture, as well as group study rooms equipped with whiteboards, computers, and large wall-mounted displays.  The IC, as it was colloquially referred to, also contained a classroom with whiteboards and mounted cameras for capturing and sharing student work.  The university also has two additional libraries and a medical library.  There is also an inquiry-based learning space that contains too many resources to list but which can be viewed here.


Faculty:  As stated before, the university has a faculty overflowing with well-published experts.  The instructors include the first president of CILIP, the creator of one of the common definitions of information literacy and a leading researcher in chemoinformatics to name a few.

Teaching by Committee:  While every module has one coordinator, the classes are taught by committee so from class to class the most appropriate member of the teaching staff would teach an area in which they are an expert.

Guest Speakers:  Due to the reputation of the program, modules often feature a number of expert guest speakers. Of particular note, the university hosted the only non-US lecture from then-ALA President Camila Alire.

Areas for Improvement

Special Problems for Foreign Students:  I mentioned above that the ALA and CILIP have a reciprocity agreement. However, I found that state universities back in America must follow their job postings to the letter which means that if a posting does not specifically include the language “ALA-accredited degree or foreign equivalent” then that institution will not be able to hire you. On the other hand, the UK offers a post-study work visa which at first glance would lead one to believe that remaining to work in the UK is an option. However, there is a separate law that states that workers in the EU must be given preference before hiring non-EU workers so staying in the UK will also be difficult. In short, studying in the UK as an American will negatively affect your chances to find work in either country.

The Problem with Studying at a University Known for its Research:  The problem with studying at a school that is so well known for its research is that it can feel like the teaching component comes second to furthering the research output of the school. This was not always the case but there were enough incidents where it was clear that the same set of slides were being recycled that were created several years ago. Sometimes the instructor would even note during class that there is a better example than the one presented on the slide and that they needed to update the material.

Any questions, comments, insight into this program is welcome! We recognize that each student has a different experience in their LIS program and therefore would love to hear your comments!

9 replies

  1. Sweet review.

    My program has pretty close ties with Sheffield’s program. We have 1 professor, Dr. Kendra Albright who taught there for a few years before moving back to the states. Since she’s been here we have admitted 3 Ph.D Students from that program. This summer I had the opportunity to take E-Government from Allister Allen. It was a fantastic class and I would recommend taking it at the University of Sheffield. Seriously guys, it was worth it.

    Thanks for the great write up. I hope that organizations do more work to have CLIP and ALA certifications work interchangeably.


  2. Thanks for your comment and the compliment. I’m glad that you enjoyed your class with Allister Allen. He is definitely a very no-nonsense teacher and E-Government was really well-attended the year that I studied there.

    I am very actively (read: frantically) searching for library jobs right now and it does seem that more listings are including the language I mentioned above including one listing at a location that previously had not included that all important phrase after ALA-degree.

    I know that people like myself are probably a pretty small minority but it is such an easy fix I do wish that ALA could just occasionally mention to libraries the need to add that tiny little detail.

    Anyways, I had no idea that Sheffield had such close ties to USC or that they would actually allow an American to teach there.


  3. Thanks for the review! I’m quite interested in the course at Sheffield.

    This is just a heads up for anyone else who is interested in library/information science type courses in the UK: the LIS New Professionals Network (a forum for folks who are new the library world, mainly UK people at the moment) has a bunch of anonymous reviews of Masters courses (City, MMU, UCL, Sheffield & Northumbria, I think) posted. You do have to have to sign in/create an account to access them though.


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