Hack Your Program: The University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences

Ayers Hall

Disclaimer: This post contains opinions and statements that are mine and may not be representative of other students and faculty within this program.

The School of Information Sciences (SIS) at the University of Tennessee is ranked 17th in the U.S. News rankings of library science programs. The School has roots as far back as 1928 and has been accredited by the American Library Association since 1972. It is a housed within the College of Communication and Information (CCI). With twelve full time faculty members and over 200 students in the program, SIS offers a Master’s of Science in Information Science and, through CCI, a doctoral degree.


The degree requires 42 semester hours and successful completion of a capstone project (explained later). All students are required to take three core courses during the first semester upon entering the program (they are offered both online and on campus), and they include:

  1. The Information Environment
    This is the introductory course dealing with the history of the field, terminology, current trends, and introduction to the many information professions.
  1. Information Representation and Organization
    This course teaches basic cataloging skills, metadata, and classification systems.
  1. Information Access and Retrieval
    This course introduces reference services, database searching, and information services and tools.

At this point, students can proceed towards any number of specializations. SIS does not offer prescribed tracks in the traditional sense. The school library program is the closest to a track SIS has since the students not only need to learn how to be a librarian, but also get their state teaching certification. In addition to that program, students can take courses in academic libraries, archives, digital libraries, public libraries, information technologies, and more.

Financial Aid

SIS offers a number of assistantships in the form of teaching and research assistantships. Many of these include full or partial tuition waivers and a small stipend. There are also general graduate assistantships available elsewhere within the wider university. In addition to that, some departments hire students as part-time employees. Several of my classmates work part time at the main Hodges Library on campus. This gives them great experience and helps defray the cost of their education.

Hodges Library


Students are offered the opportunity to complete a practicum (or two) sometime during their schooling. The practicum offers the student the ability to work within the profession in a position that suites their goals. Practica have been completed in the university libraries, such as the main Hodges Library, the Pendergrass Veterinary Library, and the Preston Medical Library. Practica have also been completed at local public libraries, other university and college libraries, and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory library. Each practicum is worth three credits towards the degree.

Culminating Experience/Capstone Project

The University of Tennessee requires all graduate students, regardless of degree, to complete a capstone project to qualify for a degree. There are three options at SIS for this capstone:

  1. Comprehensive exams
  2. Thesis
  3. ePortfolio (be on the lookout for my future post about the eportfolio in which I explain all its benefits and attempt to persuade you to do one even if it’s not a requirement in your program.)


Other posts have mentioned the overemphasis on theory in some programs. My experience with SIS has been that the faculty balance the dichotomy between theory and practice very well. I believe one of the program’s strengths is the background of the faculty, many of whom worked for many years in a library environment.

Another major SIS strength is the ability for students to complete their degree entirely online. With the exception of coming to campus for orientation, distance students don’t have to come back to campus until graduation. Almost all courses are offered online. This opportunity greatly expands the reach of the program and makes obtaining a degree attainable for more people.

Additionally, the caliber of the faculty scholarship is an asset to the program. The per capita productivity of the program’s faculty is ranked No. 1 among library and information science researchers (Adkins and Budd, 2006). Many members of the faculty are recognized internationally as experts in their fields.


The relatively small faculty can be a disadvantage, since the number of courses offered is rather limited. Some classes come around only once every other year, which means students have to plan more carefully to get all the classes they want.

Moreover, even for those students who live in Knoxville, almost all classes after the initial three required courses are offered online only. SIS is very progressive in this area, having offered classes online since 1999. This means that even if you are an on-campus student, you won’t take many, if any, classes on-campus after your first semester. I felt that this was not clearly communicated to the students prior to orientation. While not a huge problem, students who prefer to be in a traditional classroom setting might be disappointed with this arrangement.


Smoky Mountains

Overall, I believe the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee to be a top-tier program that can and often does compete with the best. Its graduates are highly qualified and well prepared to enter the working world whether in a traditional library or in an emerging field. I encourage you to consider the University of Tennessee and the School of Information Sciences — a great education in a beautiful setting. It’s just an hour’s drive to hiking and mountain biking in the Great Smoky Mountains, or you can hop on a boat on the lazy Tennessee River. What more could you ask for?


Adkins, D., & Budd, J. (2006). Scholarly productivity of U.S. LIS faculty. Library & Information Science Research, 28, 3, Autumn 2006, Pages 374-389.

17 replies

  1. You mentioned the small faculty as a disadvantage- it seems they’ve turned towards faculty of other schools to fill gaps in the class offerings. I took classes (while at UT) from professors at Arizona and UNC and actually found those to be among the most practical and challenging classes- and I enjoyed the interaction with folks from different campus cultures. That, I think, is a major strength of a program that is largely online.

    You also talked about the lack of on-campus classes beyond the three core classes- I agree. I remember the disappointment (and near rebellion) that spread through my cohort after our first semester when we were told there would be no more on-campus classes. This is something that was not made clear at any time up until that point- hopefully they’re doing a better job preparing local students for that transition. And if not…well at least you guys are doing it here 🙂

    My biggest complaint (which isn’t even a real complaint) about the program is the amount of time spent talking about cats. It’s weird. One person would mention their cat in class, and suddenly the text chat would blow up with stories about everyone’s cats and how funny and adorable and smart and quirky they are. I hate that we fill the weird cat loving librarian stereotype.

    That said, it’s a good, solid program that is pretty tech-heavy- a focus that I think is very forward-looking. And the campus is beautiful 🙂


    • (and I make the cat comment with only half seriousness, and lots of love in my heart for my cat-loving former classmates and professors)


  2. The only correction to the initial write-up is that SIS has 13 full-time faculty members. BTW the name of my cat is Moxy 🙂 But please take a look at the most recent issue of our newletters (posted on our website) where you will mee our official mascot who happens to be a canine.


    • Dr. Cortez- I love it! I did notice the new mascot in the last newsletter I received- It’s good to know SIS is an equal-opportunity program for all species 🙂


      • Perhaps I should have been clearer. SIS holds 13 fulltime faculty lines (including the director, who is consider a faculty member). Of course with the departure of Dr. Black at the end of the fall term we are down one line which we will recruit for during this calendar year. So, with myself being counted we have Drs. Allard, Mehra, Bilal, Welch, Singh, Wang, Potnis, Douglass, Fleming-May, Tenopir, Zhu, and the just vacated line, makes 13


  3. As a currently enrolled student, I have to disagree with the statement that the course delivery after the initial semester was not communicated properly. I chose to be an on-campus student (living 100 miles away) because I knew that my only opportunity to be in the classroom would be for the first semester.


  4. I was a student there in 97-98 and even back then there were students who were off-campus and telecommuting into the on-campus SIS classes. (So I’m not surprised to hear that the program is mostly online now.)


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