MLIS beyond borders

“reads by the sea” By Joseph Robertson – CC – via Flickr

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sarah McClung.

When most people hear the term “study abroad,” they think of a semester or even a year overseas their junior year of college. Outside of spending your whole masters program at an international university, most people don’t think of study abroad in graduate school, let alone study abroad for an MLS or MIS. Imagine the surprise then when I tell others that my very first information sciences class was in Prague. Yes, the capital of the Czech Republic.

I found out about the opportunity to study abroad in a rather round about fashion. Once I decided that I wanted to pursue a MIS, I began scouring the websites of universities I was interested in attending. One of these universities was UNC Chapel Hill. A link to their summer seminars in England and the Czech Republic caught my eye and I felt my heart flutter as I realized that study abroad opportunities existed for library science masters students. While I did not wind up attending UNC Chapel Hill, I made a mental note to remember these programs and the fact that the credits can transfer.

Shortly after I received my acceptance letter to University of Tennessee- Knoxville, I checked out the Chapel Hill program pages again, decided on Prague, and signed myself up for the summer before I started my program at Tennessee (for those of you who are no longer in school, you’ll be happy to hear that you can still participate in these programs and not have to pay for credit hours). I spent two glorious weeks befriending fellow library students from around the United States, meeting students and professors from the library science program at Charles University in Prague, and learning from all sorts of librarians in and around Prague. I am still in contact with a number of the library folks I met on this trip and often reminisce about my bang of a start to library school.

There are a number of similar programs offered by other institutions, including:

Many of the credits earned on these programs can be transferred to your own school if you are not a student at the host school. If having your credits count is important to you, it is highly advisable to look into the program’s and your school’s policies regarding transfer credits before signing up for these programs.

The keys for getting in on a study abroad library science program are to check often for programs and strike while the iron is hot. Some programs are not offered every year or are only offered once. If you’re interested, it might be best to take advantage while you can instead of waiting and risk being disappointed.

If international study is not possible or feasible for you, but you’re still interested in traveling and having a non-standard library school or continuing education experience, you might want to explore options that are closer to home. Tennessee offered an on-site federal libraries course in Washington, DC last summer that I quickly signed myself up for. My class and I spent a week visiting two federal libraries a day, befriending one another (a rarity for a mostly distance education program), networking with federal librarians of all stripes, and learning about the vast array of services federal libraries offer and careers an MLS holder can pursue.

Another domestic opportunity I’m aware of is the Rare Book School founded by the University of Virginia. These short, intensive courses cover subjects relating to old and rare manuscripts. I’m certain that there are many, many more unconventional library science educational opportunities available across America and my advice is the same for these as it is for international programs: search often and sign up when you can. Most of the time, these opportunities will only be offered once or for a limited time.

As the saying goes, 80% of life is showing up. Show up for an international or interesting on-site library study experience and allow yourself to find some new library nerd friends, make amazing networking connections, and fall in love with libraries all over again.

Sarah McClung graduated from the University of Tennessee- Knoxville’s distance education MIS program in May 2012. She is currently a library assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical library and is in the midst of a job search. She can be found on Twitter @sarahbellum8.

26 replies

  1. I just came back from a study abroad program in St. Petersburg Russia. The opportunites were AMAZING! We visited a library science school there, about a dozen libraries (public, academic, presidential, childrens, and museum) and dozens of palaces and museums. It was the trip of a lifetime! It was offered through the University of Maryland and I received three credits towards my MLS for it. Also, the University of Mississippi offered a monthlong MLS program in London this summer. So many opportunities out there if you care to look!


    • Erin, I didn’t see your comment before I posted mine, but I love that we both used “trip of a lifetime” to describe our study abroad trips! It really is an unforgettable experience, and better than a regular trip overseas because of the all-access pass, sometimes behind the scenes, to various libraries and museums.


      • Yes, I completely agree about the “all-access pass” that trips like this afford you. There were many times when we were able to visit areas or handle materials that regular visitors were not allowed to see or touch.


        • It is really awesome. I viewed 4 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folios (touched 2!), got to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral Library (closed to the public), etc. That, to me, highlights why the study abroad trips are really worth it. I wish every library student could have one of these amazing experiences!


    • Erin!! What an awesome coincidence that you’re the first comment on this post! Don’t forget to add that we got pretty unbelievable access to some of the world’s most incredible collections, like our private tour of the Hermitage library 🙂

      Also, for everyone else! I’m a student at University of Maryland, and I know we’re currently in the application process for a trip to Bangalore and Mysore, India, for Winter term. The trip focuses on information centers more than strictly libraries, but the students that went last year absolutely loved it!


    • Erin, when I was reading this post I was totally thinking of you and your experience. I love how global our profession is and all the great opportunities that are out there for students.


      • If I could afford it, I would love to go on one more adventure abroad before I have to start paying on my loans. If that doesn’t work out I am definitely open to trying to find a library job abroad. There’s more out there than I ever thought!


  2. Excellent and thorough post, Sarah! I attended the USM British Studies program (London, Edinburgh, mini break in Paris) for four weeks in July 2009, and it was the best thing I ever did. That is not hyperbole. It really was the trip of a lifetime, and I got 6 hours of graduate course credit to do it. I also made lasting friends from the trip, all of whom are now librarians scattered across the U.S. We’ve been planning trip reunions, and one study abroad friend has been making crafts for my wedding (from NY to AL)!

    The only downside – it was crazy expensive then, and it’s even more expensive now, so save or borrow money accordingly. I used student loans to fund my trip. I will say this – the trip was worth every penny. I would do it all over again. I have known someone who has attended every year, so it appears to be a pretty consistent program. If anyone has any questions about my experience, feel free to ask! If you want to see all of the amazing libraries/museums/archives we visited, check out my trip blog,

    tl;dr: Study abroad! Do it (if you can)!


    • I agree with you on all points! Study abroad is a truly amazing experience. A reunion trip to Prague has definitely been mentioned numerous times by friends I met on the trip.

      I also had to pay the majority of my trip with student loans, but I agree- worth every penny!


  3. Reblogged this on Metaholic Musings and commented:
    I love the travel-oriented approach to school selection. Also worth noting that online programs like SJSU SLIS allow students to live basically anywhere … as long as they have a good Internet connection. In addition, there are programs abroad at schools such as the Royal School of Library and Information Science that offer English-language programs at a very low cost. These types of programs are ideal for anyone who wants to work in an international setting.


  4. I plan on doing UNC’s London trip next year. When I head about it, I knew it was my chance to finally do a study abroad course. I was unable to do it last year since I did not hear about it in time or this year due to money issues but I’m determined to go next year since it will be my last oppurtunity before I graduate. I can’t wait! I’ve already met a librarian from Oxford online and she’s promised to give me her own tour.


  5. Reblogged this on The Ramblings of a (Future) Jedi Librarian and commented:
    Read this post from Hack Library School on study abroad courses for LIS students and thought it says it perfectly. I plan on taking UNC’s London Seminar next summer and can’t wait. I’m already planning on the places I want to see in my free time, on top of all the awesome libraries and museums I will get to tour as part of the seminar. London (and Josi) here I come!


  6. USC offered a Paris/Rome trip this year, and I was devastated that I couldn’t go, but between scheduling and juggling financial aid I just couldn’t make it work. I’m waiting to see what’s offered this year, but I’d be all over it if a trip were offered to Germany or even Great Britain–I’ve been there before but it was long ago, and my priorities were much different. We’ll have to see how it goes.

    Ps. well written, bud 🙂


    • Jess,

      Is this University of Southern California or South Carolina or something else? Want to do some research. Have a link to the program?


  7. Thanks for the excellent information. It’s too late for me to do a course for credit; I graduated from the University of Arizona SIRLS program in May, 2012. But I am excited about doing continuing education abroad. I’m on the hunt for a program that would take me back to South Africa.


  8. Faculty at my program have offered a summer class on international libraries that piggybacks on the IFLA conference, but it hasn’t had enough students enrolled the last few years to make it happen. Study abroad opportunities are a great way to explore libraries in different national contexts and also to make connections with librarians in other countries. If only money were easier to come by for travel and time abroad! 😀


  9. I also participated in UNC-Chapel Hill SILS’s Prague seminar (in collaboration with Charles University) in 2008 and “all access” is a fantastic description. The archival resources were of course amazing, but the behind-the-scenes access to every conceivable kind of library was jaw-dropping. The cultural experience (Czechs’ relationships with libraries as “government institutions” in a post-Communist state, archives of samizdat publications; historical development of libraries in Bohemia/Moravia from the medieval period…I could go on and on) was incredibly valuable.

    Was it cheap? Not particularly. Airfare aside, however, the credits actually were cheaper than taking a class at my own institution. I’m so thrilled I took advantage of the opportunity.


  10. I went to London this summer via UNC and can highly recommend it! I’d never been off the continent before and this trip to England was a perfect launching pad for future travels. We saw great things and were given plenty of free time for independent explorations around the city. I plan on the Prague trip next year (although I’m definitely looking into the Florence one, now). As for cost, given that I pay out of state tuition rates, I only paid “extra” for airfare.


  11. I was so encouraged to find this post, Sarah! I recently started school for my MLS and was hoping to study abroad. I never had a chance as an undergraduate but was wondering how realistic it was in a graduate program. I’d love to travel but I want to make sure whatever skills I learn overseas will actually be useful to my library career. Did you find what you learned in Prague helpful as a librarian? There is no question that study abroad is a great life experience, but did you feel it was an educational experience?


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