Back to the Beginning

The School of Information Studies at McGill University

Hello everyone! I’m excited to write my first post as one of the newest contributing members of Hack Library School. My name is Laura Sanders and on September 1st I began my MLIS at McGill University’s School of Information Studies in Montreal, Canada. During my first week I learned firsthand what “information overload” really means, but now things are settling into a routine. I must say that everyone here, from faculty to staff to fellow students, really go out of their way to help incoming students feel comfortable and supported.

The program kicked off with a two day orientation on August 30th and 31st with coffee and danishes. On Day One we were introduced to the School of Information Studies’ professors, who gave us an overview of the courses they teach and their current research. Afterward, we learned how we can get involved with various organizations, such as the McGill Student Chapter of the CLA (Canadian Library Association), Librarians Without Borders, and the Association of Canadian Archivists to name just a few. On Day Two, we were shown how to use the McGill Libraries’ catalogues and given a general overview of IT at McGill. We then met in small groups with our advisors. The orientation finished off with a barbecue where we had the chance to chat with our new professors and classmates. In addition to the SIS orientation, McGill also hosted the “Discover McGill Graduate Orientation and Open House”, open to incoming graduate students in all programs. There I found out about campus clubs and activities, inexpensive leisure courses offered in French, Spanish, yoga, and dancing, and various career planning resources. By the end of these orientations, I felt pretty well prepared to jump into student life here.

Students enrolled in the MLIS at the School of Information Studies are required to enrol in one of three specializations: Archival Studies, Knowledge Management, and Librarianship. Of these, I chose to go into Librarianship because I am hoping to become a secondary school librarian. Although you can only choose one specialization, you may take courses in others as your electives. There are also several options for independent study.

All MLIS students, regardless of specialization, are required to take the following core courses:

GLIS 601: Information and Society An exploration of information seeking habits and behaviours, especially how they are changing in the digital age.

GLIS 611: Research Principles and Analysis This course covers effective research methods in the library context.

GLIS 617: Information System Design An exploration of how information seeking systems are constructed. A major project of the semester is to construct a basic computer database with a partner.

GLIS 620: Information Agency Management How best to manage and oversee a library’s personnel and resources.

Your advisor must approve your course selections before registration. Personally, I found it easier simply to register for all my required courses this year and save my electives for next year, as I will have better knowledge of the field by then. My advisor made it clear that I am always welcome to come and talk to him should I be uncertain about what I’d like to do.

Many students work part time through the year. However, because Montreal is a bilingual city, it can be tough to find work if you don’t speak French. That said, McGill has a Work Study program where you can find a job at one of the campus’ many libraries, and French is not required for these positions. Work Study is also a good option for international students, who may not be able to work off campus because of visa restrictions. (On that note, I should add that McGill’s program has a large number of American students. Although international tuition fees are higher than those paid by Quebec or Canadian students, they are still much lower than the tuition fees of many American library schools.)

Finally, there are many opportunities for networking. I have already been paired with a second year student who will act as my mentor, and will also be assigned to a professional librarian working in my area of interest. Serving on the executives of one or more student organizations will also put me into contact with many potential employers. I am already enjoying the collaborative nature of the profession and have been really impressed by how willing everyone is to offer help and encouragement.

If you’d like to learn more about how various library schools structure their curricula, check out our series Hack Your Program, where library students across North America and beyond share their thoughts about their programs.

As to library school orientations, my experience over the past two weeks has made me curious about what different schools do to help their students get adjusted. What did your school do? Leave a comment to share your own experiences and thoughts, or tweet me at @laurainthelib!

Categories: Hellos & Goodbyes

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11 replies

  1. Cool post! Thanks for plugging “Hack Your Program” series – very helpful to get the student’s perspective of a program. I couldn’t help but notice that not all programs are talked about. Are there plans to have all ALA accredited programs written about? I was curious about Illinois’ and UNC’s programs, but didn’t see any posts about them. 😦


    • We’re working on getting the programs we don’t already have evaluated. If you go to school and we don’t have your program hacked yet, send us an email! We’d love to here what life is like in your neck of the woods!


  2. I’m very impressed to learn that SIS has added a mentorship program between first-year and second-year students. This must be a new addition because I graduated from McGill’s SIS program in 2010 and we did not have official student mentors (the CLA student chapter organized professional mentors but that was optional).
    This is a great idea because when I was in first year I had SO many questions that only a more experienced student could answer! Luckily I quickly made a lot of friends who were in second year and who could help me out. Likewise when I was in second year I answered tons of questions from the first-year students because I was the president of the ABQLA student chapter and the graduate student assistant for the Management course. Everyone has questions along the way but for certain people it isn’t always easy to find someone to ask. It can be so reassuring to have a second-year student who has already been through it all to discuss things with so I am very happy to learn that now everyone is paired up with someone.
    Thanks Laura for posting this! I hope that you have a fantastic time at SIS!


  3. Let the international student beware! I am an American who was planning on attending the SIS at McGill this fall, but despite my financial need, I was not awarded a work study permit for reasons that remain unclear even after asking the school for clarification. As a result I had to withdraw from the university entirely. This was compounded by some faulty information given by the international student office that came to light only far too late after a long drive to the border and which forced me to turn back.
    Unfortunately, one can only know in July whether one has qualified for work study, which is certainly cutting it a bit close for those who are depending on being able to work on campus. Also unfortunate is the esoteric system that determines who deserves a work study award. My hope is that no other students face such a bleak and unexpected end to their graduate educations.


    • Shafted, I am so sorry to hear that happened to you! I agree, the way that Work Study eligibility is determined is hugely frustrating, for both domestic and international students alike. If you have not applied for the maximum financial aid for which you are eligible, then you will not be approved. This really reduces options for those such as myself who are not eligible to apply at all. (Fortunately, I was able to find work off campus, but if I were not Canadian I would have been barred from working entirely.)
      I hope that you are able to pursue your graduate studies in the future! Best of luck.


  4. Great post, Laura. As a 2008 grad I have to say that you guys just don’t get the full experience anymore now that you’re not stuffed in the weird 1970s McLennan basement.

    So long as Professor McNally still talks about those poor folks stuck on the #24 bus, though, I suppose you’re okay.

    Enjoy your studies!


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