Hack Your Program: University of Wisconsin, Madison

Continuing our Hack Your Program series, where current/recent students give the insider perspective on their LIS program, here’s a post from Tomissa Porath.
Tomissa Porath is a second-year library and information studies student at the University of Wisconsin — Madison.  Interested in academic libraries, she hopes to work at a major research university somewhere out of the Midwest.  When not in class, she is crafting with her fellow SLISers, finding the best beer in Madison, and traveling the world.
Disclaimer:  This is my own personal perspective on UW’s SLIS program.  These are not the opinions of the students as a whole, faculty, or staff members.  All criticisms are meant to be constructive.

SLIS has been an integral part of UW’s campus for over a hundred years, and students at UW’s SLIS are proud of this fact.  The two-year program is designed for the student body to get as much experience in and out of the classroom as possible, and to prepare future librarians for most of the challenges that lie within their future.

The program does have a family atmosphere to it; the “Minnesota Nice” from our neighbors to the west applies here as well.  Everyone helps their fellow students out and worry when classes are missed or assignments aren’t turned in.  You get to know a variety of students within your time at SLIS, and it is a great networking campus for sure.

Financial Aid

It is very difficult to find an assistantship at UW, therefore many SLIS students take out loans for graduate school.  Many take federal and private loans to cover the cost.

SLIS does offer scholarships, mostly to students who are in their first year.  The scholarships are based on their coursework and involvement within the program, and many of the students receive those scholarships for projects, papers, and extra curricular activities accomplished during their first year of study.  That funding they have received, however, does not begin until their second year.

One of the best ways to get tuition remission is to look outside SLIS and work for academic departments or TA intro courses.  Many students I know teach math classes, science classes, or another intro course.  It’s easy to find these jobs on the UW Job website.

Many students make money by working on campus libraries and within Madison.  SLIS has many night classes, and it is not unheard of for students to work full time during the day and take classes during the evening hours or online.


Forty-two credits are required for graduation, including four required classes:

  • 450 – Information Agencies and Their Environment
  • 451 – Foundations of Reference
  • 551 – Organization of information
  • The fourth class is the required practicum, which can be done off-campus at multiple different locations or on-campus through the office of Library & Information Literacy Instruction.

Classes are mostly three credits each, aside from some special classes offered in the summer or for community involvement.  Up to nine credits for your degree may be taken in other departments.

Student Involvement

Students at SLIS are involved in many different organizations, both within library studies related groups and groups on the UW campus as a whole.  The SLIS organizations are student run, lead, and developed.  The Jail Library Group has been in existence for decades, and the student who started it is now the librarian at the SLIS Library, Michele Besant.

If you are interested in something, but do not have that need met, groups can be started to fit your interests.  Recently a Tribal Libraries and Museum group started, as well as REFORMA, a group catering to the Hispanic communities in Madison.

Most students are involved in at least one student group, if not more.

The Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) is very active, and students attend the different conferences throughout the year.  However, students are encouraged to be on the planning committees for the events as well, and many SLIS students assist in the planning and development.  Students are also active on campus committees, and most of the groups welcome student input and involvement.


Photo by: Jeff Miller

Madison is a fantastic city to live in, but the school makes it even better.  It’s a smaller program, so it is easy to become close with the faculty, fellow students, and the campus community.  SLIS is well respected on campus, and professors know you are working hard for your degree.

The orientation programming for both distance and on-campus students are both fantastic and work for you to understand both the program and get to know the other students.  The distance boot camp is a long week, but it does properly get students prepared for taking online courses if they are doing the distance program.

I love Michele Besant and Kristin Eschenfelder.  Those faculty members have been influential in my future as a librarian.  Alan Rubel is a fantastic professor of ethics and is a caring teacher and utilizes student feedback.

The professors here are very well respected in the LIS community, and students are able to make it far in their careers by networking with the faculty and staff.  The letters of recommendation from faculty members and libraries on campus are amazing for future jobs.

Every year or so, they take a trip abroad to see libraries in different countries.  This past summer a group went to see libraries in Germany.  This next year, trips to India and Scotland are in the works.

There are forty-two libraries on campus, meaning there are many opportunities for jobs and getting to know librarians on the campus.  The public library has two branches within walking distance from campus, which makes it easy for students to work there or to check out items.


Madison is a tough city to find a job in right now, for anyone.  This means if you move here with a significant other, it may be terribly difficult for them to find a job.  It’s a weakness of the city, but not the program.  It is even more difficult to find a library job here as well.

There are some faculty members who are not focused on teaching, but are looking to do research.  Because some of the professors are tenured , they sometimes believe it is more important to work on their career instead of jump starting students’ careers.

The coursework is not too challenging in lower level courses, and there are a lot of group projects.  It is up to you whether or not you to work hard and make the most out of what you learn.

It may be tough to get involved if you do not so right away.  Other academic programs make sure you attend events, but for SLIS you are on your own.  To ensure you are involved within the program, get involved right away.

Hacking SLIS

Acceptances for SLIS arrive mid-February, exactly.  Check your e-mail inboxes February 15.  A letter will be in the mail after.

Most students work multiple jobs, typically three or four and work almost forty hours per week.  Part of it may be to the cost of living, part of it is the natural tendency for SLIS students to try and do it all.

Like other schools, classes are referred to by their class number.  It’s far easier to remember than the long-winded class titles.

Make time for the dining in Madison, there is the most restaurants per capita in Madison than any other city in the country.

Group projects are key — make sure to have time in your schedule to meet up with your fellow students.

Read madisonatoz.com to find good food in the Madison area.  Better yet, it’s written by a librarian.

Take Digital Tools, Trends, and Debates as well as Research Methods.  They are the two classes alumni come back and express how beneficial they are.

The practicum experience at UW is amazing.  The Library and Information Literacy Instruction practicum is one of the best you can take, especially for those in the academic track.

The archives program just got started up again after a year hiatus due to faculty and a re-working of the program.  While this is not necessarily a negative, it is something to be aware of.  The Wisconsin Historical Society, which is on the campus, is a fantastic place to get a job, internship, or to do your practicum.

8 replies

  1. My significant other/partner/boyfriend actually found a job at Target here in Madison within two days of looking. He’s gotten at least 3 call-backs too. And I found a job within a week .. though it’s only 10 hours and work study. But compared to where we came from (California), employment opportunities are amazing!

    – Dana Gerber


  2. Ah, lovely Madison. Three cheers for your SLIS crafting/Madison beer tasting shoutout!

    It’s likely that UW-Madison SLIS generally gets acceptance letters out by mid-February, but I didn’t find out until April 5th that I’d gotten in–I’m pretty sure the office was late due to the collective bargaining protests happening in the state last spring, so it was somewhat understandable. But I seriously felt like I had waited forever to find out…and they STILL wanted a yes/no answer by April 15th, which seemed quite unreasonable.

    Everyone I dealt with in the SLIS office was always very nice and of course the SLIS students are rockstars, so it was a hard choice between UW and IU. I remember being especially impressed when I spoke to someone in the UW office about needing some extra time to make up my mind and she replied, “Oh, you’re thinking about IU? It’s a great library school; you’ll be fine with whatever choice you make.” When I visited Bloomington again, I found that the same sentiments about UW were mirrored by IU faculty.

    Library school solidarity 🙂


  3. I am a second year SLIS student from Missouri. It was hard for my husband to find a job when we moved here, but it really only took a couple of months. He now is working for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and is also able to network just as I am. Madison has amazing networking opportunities for all. We are gaining so much by living in Madison that we can take back home with us and share with others! Our lives as students are busy but that is really a plus. Working two jobs while being in classes full time is a good thing when you think of all the experience you are getting in libraries. I know it will be hard to duplicate the positive energy and forward movement that I am lucky enough to be recieving at this point in my life as a Library student at UW-Madison because Madison is a very special place.


  4. Nice post, Tomissa! One small correction to note regarding scholarships. The “scholarships” you refer to are actually continuing student awards. SLIS does give out scholarships to incoming students, around 60K in scholarship funds are awarded to incoming students each year. These awards are given out based on financial need, and usually range from $1,000 to $6,000. Applicants who: (1) submit completed applications by Dec 15, and (2) who indicate on their online applications that they would like be considered for a SLIS scholarship, and (3) upload a brief statement of financial need with their application are included in the pool reviewed for potential scholarship awards. —Tanya Cobb (SLIS Student & Alumni Services Coordinator)


  5. Thanks for your post. I recently submitted my application to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so now I am playing the waiting game.


  6. I was recently admitted to SLIS and didn’t receive my acceptance letter until March 8th. Before that, I was told decisions were made in early March so I am not sure if they changed the timeline!

    While many students may work 3+ jobs, I don’t think people should be too worried. Compared to many areas of the US, the cost of living is not extremely high. You can find a small apartment (probably an efficiency) for around $600/month. You can spend even less with a roommate, with 2 bedrooms available for around $800/month (including wonderful university housing options). Groceries are not absurd and the farmer’s markets are wonderful! Plus, public transportation on campus is great and the city is one of the most bike-friendly in the nation.

    While assistantships are ideal, I echo that the next best solution is looking for an external tuition remission position, as you mention. That could cover most if not all of your expenses (perhaps coupled with some small loans). Then, volunteer or intern somewhere library related. Or find a part-time position on campus in one of the libraries. I know I wouldn’t get the most out of the degree if I was working 4 jobs and full-time.


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