Hack Your Program: What’s Not in a Ranking?

With the recent publication of U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of the “Best Library and Information Studies” programs, we at Hack Library School thought it might be a good time to revisit our Hack Your Program series.  While the U.S. News and World Report rankings are certainly prestigious, we found their methodology a little lacking in usefulness for those who are considering applying to LIS programs.  Incoming students, if we’re honest, aren’t all that interested in what programs think of each other.  They’d like to know what programs do well, and what they don’t do so well.  And that’s where we come in.

Our aim with this post is to start a conversation. Each of us is going to provide (in 140 characters or less, naturally) one thing that we feel our program does well, and one where we think it comes up a bit short. These are just our opinions, based on our experiences, so your mileage may vary.  Then we want to hear from you! If you’ve got questions, or want to add your experience, feel free to fire away in the comments.

Steve Ammidown – University of Maryland, College Park

What We Do Well: If you want to work with government records and/or archives, there’s probably no better place to be.

What We Don’t Do So Well: A lot of the specializations are in flux, and the uncertainty means some students have been confused when they plan their course schedules.

Chris Eaker – University of Tennessee, Knoxville

What We Do Well: If you’re interested in scientific data curation, then UTK SIS has some great courses to take and projects to get involved with.

What We Don’t Do So Well: As of right now, we are lacking in archives courses. There is only one archives course in our curriculum, though that may change with the addition of Carolyn Hank to the faculty.

Topher Lawton – Syracuse University iSchool

What We Do Well:  Syr’s training focuses forward into the technical side of info systems–if you want to lead w/ tech in libraries, you’ll fit right in.

What We Don’t Do So Well: The LIS program tries to dabble in all things; by generalizing, the curriculum doesn’t create mastery anywhere.

Joanna June – Florida State University iSchool (Masters of Information Technology)

What We Do Well: Strong Distance Learning program. Most classes offered online, geared to working students. Embrace, utilize tech for coursework and support.

What We Don’t Do So Well: MSIT is new offering. Substantial bent in courses toward traditional LIS applications/jobs. Course rotation still catching up to needs.

Nicole Helregel – University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign

What We Do Well: Variety of specializations (many tech-heavy). Huge university library with graduate assistant jobs. Fantastic synchronous online options.

What We Don’t Do So Well: Some specialization areas lack depth that some students seek (e.g. archives, tech services). Leadership in flux as we look for a new dean.

Chealsye Bowley – Florida State University iSchool

What We Do Well: Strength is school library media program (ranked #1)! Program focuses on practical. Great GA + international opportunities.

What We Don’t Do So Well: No archives course. Local students may take courses from other depts. Curriculum still catching up to new trends.

Brianna Marshall – Indiana University-Bloomington

What We Do Well: Many dual-degrees and specializations. A glut of local places to gain experience. Librarians excited to mentor. Lovely area, close to lots of conferences!

What We Don’t Do So Well: Little advising (must be self-driven). MLS classes are outdated, funding rare. Low student org. involvement. Becoming a dept. under SOIC (Good? Bad? Nobody knows.)

Julia Feerrar – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What We Do Well: Lots of specializations – esp. strong in archives and digital preservation. Mentorship, field experiences, and work on campus and nearby!

What We Don’t Do So Well: General coursework focuses more heavily on academic settings (a plus for some, like me). Limited summer offerings.

Paul Lai – Saint Catherine University

What We Do Well: Faculty and curriculum are deeply interwoven with libraries and other information centers in the area, offering many internship, volunteer, and networking opportunities.

What We Don’t Do So Well: A recent curriculum overhaul has made it a bit confusing to plan courses for a coherent curriculum.

Celia Dillon- Queens College

What We Do Well- Supportive, helpful professors with academic and professional experience. Lots of opportunities for internships/observation in NYC!

What We Don’t Do So Well- Not a lot of options for online coursework. Some overlap of classwork between different classes in the School Media Studies program.

Madeleine Mitchell – San Jose State University

What We Do Well – Incredible career center with a program emphasis on preparing students for a competitive job market.

What We Don’t Do So Well – Online only format can be a challenge, especially where discussions and networking are concerned. Better for super self-motivated types.

Categories: Hack Your Program

35 replies

  1. Brianna- you are so right on about advising in SLIS (soon to be some other acronym). It is really hands off BUT there are so many opportunities to get experience. Anyone who doesn’t take advantage is seriously missing out.


    • I agree about the awesome job opportunities! I am critical of SLIS in some areas but I have absolutely thrived here. The larger environment supports success and the people are great, but I believe SLIS is too slow to adapt to the needs of its students… meaning that if you expect SLIS to give you what you need to do well for yourself, you will leave unemployable and in debt. On the flip side, relatively low expectations gave me the time and space to completely hack my education and pile on jobs and conferences. I will leave my program really competitive.

      I should note that I am happy to talk to anyone who will be attending SLIS or is considering it. I’m sure any of the HLS writers would be willing to do so. Just email us at hacklibschool@gmail.com and we’ll get you connected to the right person!


  2. Better late than never.

    Drexel University iSchool

    What we do well: Strong distance/online learning. Archives concentration provided solid foundation with an emphasis on practicum experience. Good job board (national) for internships and professional jobs.

    What we don’t do so well: Core MLIS courses heavily favor library professionals and sometimes alienates students in other concentrations.


    • Thanks so much for adding your take on Drexel, Hoang! Unfortunately we don’t have writers representing all programs, so readers, PLEASE add your thoughts here in the comments. Even if a writer has represented your program, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it.


  3. Steve, I definitely agree with everything you’ve said about UMD.

    Two pros I would add are variety of specializations and concentrations, as well as enthusiasm of faculty. They really love what they teach and want you to succeed!

    A con would be the lack of MLS graduate assistantships (however, as a whole, there are a ton at Maryland)


    • I second your note about the faculty- they’ve been great. They’re engaged with the material and willing to take the time with students.

      The lack of LIS assistantships has been a bummer. And most of the opportunities for library experience in this area, while more than plentiful, tend to come in the form of unpaid internships. You’ve got to be willing to hustle to find the paying gigs.


      • Does UMD offer practicum courses? I agree that Maryland as a whole tends to have a lot of internship opportunities. If you are still a student, I would definitely take an internship to bulk up your resume. Experience will make you much more competitive. It is unfortunate that most are unpaid positions, but look at the experience as an investment in your professional career.


  4. iSchool @ University of Texas at Austin
    What we do well: we have a lot of amazing CS, IU, and UX people on the faculty here and you get to hear all kinds of perspectives on collaborative fields that lie on the cusp of traditional knowledge domains, like Digital Libraries, Digital Humanities, and Digital Archiving.

    What we do less well: folks can get cranky here about the lack of more traditional library and archival science offerings, like cataloging and collection management. Also, we used to have an amazing conservation program that has now been stripped to a minimum.


    • That is very unfortunate about the conservation program. I think providing a conservation courses as part of the core curriculum will be really beneficial for both archive and library students.


  5. I agree with Francesca about the UT iSchool.

    Another big pro is the number of grads in local business and institutions who help current students get internships and experience.

    I’d say our biggest downside is that the school is moving in a more interdisciplinary, tech-oriented direction, but many students come in still expecting a “traditional” library/archives program, which can create tensions.


  6. The methodology of US News & World Reports might not be that ‘useful’, but the end result is one that some employers do care about so being in denial about the value of rankings is not that wise either.

    What’s in ranking you ask?
    Being educated by two un-ranked universities (Wyoming & Alaska) and then running recruiting for highly ranked institutions (Tulane & UT), I speak from experience when I say a what’s in a ranking for sure is a whole hell of a lot of opportunities that don’t exist otherwise.

    Now if you’re a hustler like me you will make it just fine wherever you go to school so minimize your debt to do so.

    If you’re not a hustler, you really might want to consider the extras like career fairs, individual career counseling, and employer development that are more likely within (but not exclusive) to highly ranked institutions.


    • It’s pretty clear that the rankings are valued, I don’t think anyone’s denying that. But the reality is that they’re little more than a popularity contest as presently structured. And that doesn’t tell a prospective student diddly. That’s why we’re asking what’s NOT in the rankings.


    • This is very true. Your education is an investment and you only get back what you put in it. Having a reputable program on your resume when you graduate is beneficial, but if you are diligent and a “hustler” then you can make it work. However, i’d still argue that having a ranked program will open greater networking abilities and provide a stronger alumni infrastructure, particularly when just entering the profession. After you’ve been in the field for a few years, I think the program you graduated matters less. Still, we’ve all read/heard the power of networking…if you’re program churns out future leaders in the field, then being “part” of the program can only help.

      I know from experience going on interviews, all my interviewers at least heard of my program’s reputation (Drexel’s LIS).


  7. I was at UMD 2007-2010, and what I tell people who ask about it is it might be better for full-time students, but for the night school crowd, you’re not going to get the classes you want or feel you need. Starting around halfway through, I was just taking whatever was available; a couple of semesters, I literally signed up for every evening class offered, and dropped the ones that were still overfull when classes began.

    That being said, all the required core curriculum classes were excellent and useful, and as Steve said initially, if you want to work at NARA, go to UMD. Just…plan to be there during the day.


    • The class timing issue has changed a little, I think. Including the classes I registered for next fall, only 2 of my 9 classes have started before 5:30, and they were both at 2. On the other hand, the selection of courses is leaving a bit to be desired- most of the electives are only being offered in the spring.

      Some of that has come from the changing of the core courses, and should be better next year. But that’s leaving my cohort in a bit of a bind.


  8. Paul,
    You make a fair critique of St. Kates. In reality the curriculum is stronger than when you were forced to take any Dominican course into which you could squeeze yourself. I still don’t see how there is an opportunity for specialization in library disciplines.


    • Good point. I guess the program has never been strong with specializations. It’s probably the main criticism I hear from my peers, especially when courses we want to take keep getting canceled or not appearing on the schedule as planned. Something’s not matching up in terms of enrolled students’ needs, faculty availability for particular courses, and the curriculum design….


  9. Renee Hobbs UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND – Harrington School of Communication and Media

    What We Do Well: Student leadership is off the charts amazing! Opportunities to explore cross-disciplinary connections between LIS & education, literacy, rhetoric, digital humanities, and communication studies.

    What We Don’t Do Well: No graduate assistantships and limited funding available. Too many required courses.


  10. Stefanie Metko, UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND – Harrington School of Communication and Media

    What We Do Well: Tight-knit and supportive community of students who truly come together to collaborate and inspire each other; beautiful campus; good support from the local library community, who offer internships and attend/present at programming.

    What We Don’t Do Well: No orientation program and not much help in the area of advising, especially in regards to course sequencing and program of study. Very lo-tech at the moment, although with the curriculum renewal process well underway, I believe that will change in the near future!


  11. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
    What we do well: Most courses are geared toward online students. Its professors are prominent in the LIS field.
    What we don’t do so well: Other than required courses, courses in specializations are not offered every semester. You have to plan it right to take what you really want.


  12. University of Alabama
    What We Do Well: The distant education program is fantastic, with live classes, a 3-day orientation to bond with your classmates, and excellent personal help. The class size is small enough to feel like a valued part of any assignment/lecture. Faculty is personable and available.

    What We Don’t Do So Well: Classes dealing with tech are not really cutting edge.


  13. Wayne State University

    What We Do Well: A good variety of specializations and certificates including museum studies and urban libraries, many online offerings, advisors are accessible and the program creates courses and good if you are most interested in working in a traditional library setting.

    What we don’t do so well: Core classes are heavy on public library/academic-centric subjects, organizational management offerings are slim, good if you are most interested in working in a traditional library setting.


  14. Way late, but since it isn’t listed yet…

    University of South Carolina

    What We Do Well: Great programs for school media and youth librarianship, as well as specialized librarianship. Distance education has very strong support.

    What We Don’t Do So Well: Little support in terms of advising/guidance and a very slender preservation program.


  15. UNC SILS–

    -The Research Triangle is amazing. I would go back if I had a change.
    -This degree holds clout all over the country. (at least in libraries)
    -Strong on tech, especially if you do the IS emphasis. A lot of alums end up working for tech companies (think Google).
    -The faculty are wonderful. The advisor I was assigned ended up not being in my specialty area (I was undecided when I started), but he was such a great mentor I kept him anyway.
    -The adjunct and professional staff are some of the best teachers I have ever had. Especially Pam Sessions and Tommy Nixon for Reference.

    -Their career services liaison is a God send. Even though I graduated 5 years ago, she still looks over my resume when I make major changes to it, and provides advice.


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