Are online LIS students doomed?

Hello fellow hackers! I’m excited to join the Hack Library School team. For my first post, I thought I’d tackle the subject of online MLIS programs, even though this has been discussed on Hack Library School in the past.

You see, recently on Hiring Librarians some hiring managers have criticized online LIS education, stating that they are wary of hiring graduates who have obtained a MLIS degree online. This even prompted a survey on biases against online library school. Library Journal noticed this and followed up with a discussion of the widespread trend of online programs, concluding that, while becoming more common, they still have a way to go before being accepted by the entire library community. Oh no! Does this mean online LIS students won’t be hired after they graduate? Are we doomed? I don’t think so. It’s clear there are still major misconceptions and confusion about how LIS programs work. Of course, each school is different, but online MLIS degrees are every bit as valid as degrees earned in person.


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Why opt for online programs in the first place? There are a variety of reasons. Perhaps you work full-time. Or there isn’t a library school nearby and you can’t relocate due to family obligations. I completely get the appeal of traditional programs. In a perfect world, I would have applied to programs that had a dual MLIS/MA in art history, which would have involved moving to another state. But, I’m not able to relocate right now and I didn’t want to delay my degree. There is only one library science program in my state and it’s entirely online. I could have considered other online programs, but I didn’t because of cost – I get tuition assistance as a university employee, but only if I attend an in-state school. Online classes are not for everyone and that’s perfectly okay. However, for others, like myself, they are a necessity.

Hiring managers who are wary of hiring online MLIS graduates seem to think that students are not getting experience. Now, if you think you can complete your MLIS online without ever stepping foot into a library and miraculously get a job when it’s over, you are doing it wrong! I actually think in many cases, students in online programs are getting more experience than those enrolled full-time on campus. Most of my fellow online MLIS students work full-time in a library as paraprofessionals or they have jobs related to the LIS field. That means they are getting about 25 more hours of experience per week than a full-time library student who, let’s say, only has time to work 15 hours a week in a library. Online MLIS programs can even give students an edge, because they are preparing us for embedded online librarian duties or newly created positions like Online and Distance Learning Librarian, since we know how online courses function and which instructional methods work best for distance students. If you think higher education isn’t going to move online to some degree, you are mistaken. That being said, I fully recognize that there are many programs that would not work well online. I was actually a full-time graduate student in Classical Archaeology before deciding LIS and art librarianship were my true passions. I know on campus academic programs provide an entirely different and demanding experience. Online LIS programs, however, make sense because the MLIS is a professional degree that has specific requirements and expectations, i.e. one where experience triumphs over coursework.

It’s certainly more difficult to have personal interactions and develop connections with professors and fellow students as an online student. I highly recommend making the effort whenever possible. My school is about four hours away and I will probably only be on campus twice during the program: for the required face-to-face orientation and graduation. Yet, despite being in the program for less than a year, I feel like I’ve made connections with my fellow classmates. How? I attended our state library conference where I mingled with faculty and finally got to meet some familiar names in person. I’ve attended networking events and plan to attend future meet-ups with students who live within a two-hour radius of my home. I found out from my advisor that a fellow student works at the same university as me (in the building next door, as it turned out) so I sent her an email and invited her out for coffee. In fact, I probably communicate more with my online classmates inside the “classroom” than I did in my previous graduate program due to discussion posts which require everyone to participate and contribute. Also, I’ve had a few group projects in my classes, which have required working around our busy schedules to complete a task or presentation. We are still gaining new skills and getting the experience of working with a team. In addition, I’ve found a warm and welcoming online community of students and professionals all over the country. Each day I feel like I’m part of the LIS world, even if I’m at home wearing my pajamas. It may require more effort to get involved, but online students can still have a rewarding and enriching graduate education and experience. Just like any other program out there, each student gets what he or she puts into it. Future library rock stars are going to rock no matter how they get their degree.

So, listen up, hiring managers and next time we apply, please take these points into consideration before assuming that an online LIS degree makes us a lesser candidate for the job.

Categories: Big Picture, Distance Learning

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18 replies

  1. Hi Courtney, I completely agree with you. As someone that completed an MLIS online while working full-time as a paraprofessional in a library I certainly was miles ahead of my on-campus classmates. In fact, I had three job offers in my last part-time semester.Now, I had one professor that thought online students were “lazy” and didn’t do as much work as our on-campus peers, but I think my resume proves otherwise. Like you I took advantage of student rates at conferences and lectures. Keep up your enthusiasm! Many times at work I draw on experience from those online group projects!


  2. Great post!!! Thank you so much for sharing your LIS experience. As an online student, I felt that it was more convenient to be online and/or traveling. I agree with your suggestions of meeting people for coffee or create a virtual meet-up for LIS students. I also joined ALA and ALCTS. I have met so many people that are active on the National level. Graduate school is challenging, but if you develop a peer group it makes life somewhat easier. I also tell people to get a job at the library before starting school. And even when you are in school, find a mentor.


  3. I read the Hiring Librarian’s post. I don’t see how they can some can say students that attend partially or completely online programs don’t get any socialization or interaction with classmates. Disscussion boards have been required in all but one of my classes. I’ve also had group projects in all of my core classes, and in some electives. I get plenty of interaction and have sought out classmates I get along with on the DBs on Facebook. I’ve only met a few in person, but online networking can be just as effective. Now I may not have been able to find a paraprofesional job in my area, but I think I’ve learned a lot with my Fieldwork this semester. I’ve done a lot with collection development and helping with youth programs that I think I can successfully do an entry level job, and I’ve only set foot in a classroom six times (with one more to go)! So future hiring managers, get ready for The Jedi Librarian because I’m ready to tackle that job come January!


  4. You are spot on Courtney. I’m almost done with grad school and was working as a paraprofessional in a library before I started online, and it is obvious when classmates have no library experience. Whenever I am asked about library school by someone who is considering getting an MLIS, this first thing I say is don’t start school unless you are already working in a library, especially if you are considering online only. I was recently on the hiring committee for a half time paraprofessional position – over 100 applications, half of the interviewees had an MLIS or were currently in school. The job market is tough, don’t make it any harder on yourself with no experience.


  5. Strongly agreed, Courtney. I would add, too, that not all online programs are created equal. Some programs require weekly synchronous class meetings on BlackBoard Collaborate or Adobe Connect; others, you may never actually hear your professors’ voices. To all new students thinking about the MLIS online, look very carefully at the level of support offered to distance learning students by each institution. Is the online program a recent addendum to on-campus classes or is it really core to the school’s mission? Does the school rely on a traditional model of librarianship in its class offerings, or is it more up-and-coming?

    Also, I would say that the majority of LIS students at this point are completely or partly distance learning students. It doesn’t mean we can’t network; it just means we have to go out of our way to land internships and go to conferences, making what we achieve even more impressive because we showed real initiative.

    Most hiring managers don’t care where you got your degree, or even about your GPA. As Andrea says, library work experience is vital. You must show employers what you achieved as a library worker and how you will add value as a librarian.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think this is a really prescient post, and I think you’re absolutely right when you say that online MLIS students aren’t doomed. I also think it’s true when you say that some online students have the opportunity to get lots of work experience by working full-time library jobs–but I have to take a bit of issue when you write “a full-time [traditional] library student… let’s say, only has time to work 15 hours a week in a library.” That’s just not true. I was a full-time library student in a traditional program and I worked 20 hours per week and volunteered another 10-15 for the whole two years I was in library school. And I wasn’t the only one–the library experience jobs on campus were all 20 hour jobs, and many people volunteered on top of that in various capacities. Yes, it was sometimes hard and awkward to make all of my commitments, but I don’t think being a full-time student (i.e., 3 courses per semester/9 credit hours per semester) meant that I couldn’t also get (almost) full-time library experience as well. It just meant choosing classes and work shifts that melded together. Of course, your mileage may vary at other institutions, but I don’t think you can just dismiss campus programs as significantly impeding the amount of library work experience a full-time student can get.


    • Hey Lydia. Thanks for sharing your experience! I didn’t mean to imply that on campus students only get 15 hours of experience – it was just an example, because when I was in graduate school for Classics students on assistantships usually worked 13-16 hours a week because the focus was on coursework and research. But that’s just another example of an academic graduate degree versus a professional degree like the MLIS. It think it’s really important to get as much experience as you can, regardless of whether you attend online or in person. It’s interesting how we all have such varied experiences in library school!

      By the way, I love your blog name. 🙂


  7. I completely agree. I attended online and worked my butt off. In all things, you get out of an experience what you put into it. Thankfully, those that hired me saw my efforts and I was rewarded. I think others will have similar experiences


  8. I love your take on online LIS. I’m enrolled now at Kent State (online) and working part-time in two public libraries. It’s tough, but knowing there are others out there in similar situations helps.


  9. This is really informative. I actually still need my degree before I can jump into getting my MLIS. I never really considered the option of doing the MLIS online because of that exact reason: I didn’t think I’d get the right amount of experience. However, I never thought about the fact of whether or not I’d be working in a library during which I could actually gain an exponential amount of experience versus sitting in class.


  10. I agree with the point about experience! I was recently hired at one of the best university libraries in the country (just did a little poking around the web to ascertain this), and I love it! I have such an awesome job and am getting such rich experience that I definitely don’t want to leave! I do still want an MLIS degree, but there isn’t a single MLIS program in the state, so I was excited to be accepted into Alabama’s distance-learning program. Again, my library is awesome–they subsidize part of employees’ online MLIS degrees! , but when I posted online about it, I couldn’t fathom why people weren’t more excited for me, since the situation is obviously ideal. I guess online degrees still have a certain stigma attached. Reading this helped me ascertain that I am indeed making the right choice!


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