Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Camille Thomas and Grace Kaletski.
Camille and Grace are currently graduate assistants at FSU Libraries. Both are in their final semesters and transitioning into the professional market. Camille’s areas of specialization include scholarly communication, digital scholarship, user experience and metadata. Grace’s areas of specialization include collection development, information literacy, research assistance, and outreach.
Disclaimer: These are our personal impressions of the MLIS program at the Florida State University School of Information, based on our own experiences, respectively, and are not meant to be representative of the opinions of all students, the college, or the university. Additionally, this article is meant to open the floor for discussion of our program, not to exclude other effective hacking methods. Dates of authors’ attendance: 2013-2015.
FSU’s iSchool offers three degree programs and is accredited by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The three programs are:
- Masters of Information Technology
- MLIS in General Librarianship
- MLIS in School Library Media
All programs are online and classes are generally synchronous, meaning they meet in a chat lecture room at a specific time. The iSchool also offers Specialist and Doctorate degrees. Our hacks will focus on the General Librarianship MLIS degree.
Florida State has several libraries and campuses. One thing that makes it unique are its campuses and internships in England, Italy and Panama. There is also the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. The main campus is in Tallahassee, Florida, our state’s capitol. It is also home to Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, Tallahassee Community College and Leon County Public Library. The main campus at FSU has separate medical, science, and engineering libraries– it also has a library dedicated to the communications and information collections.
Specializations, Concentrations, and Dual Degree Programs
Our School Media program is ranked #1 in the country and has separate requirements that include education courses, a required internship and state certification.There are also options to complete a Master of Arts in Library and Information Studies as well as a dual degree MLIS/ Juris Doctor with the School of Law.
Our program does not have cohorts or “tracks”, however, in the upcoming year the iSchool is piloting IDEA, a technology cohort including internships and some funding. There are suggested groupings based on the type of organization in which students plan to work.There are four graduate certificates: Information Architecture, Leadership and Management, Reference Services, and Youth Services.
Generally, students must take four of the required core courses and complete 36 credits over a maximum of 7 years. The MSIT program has two core requirements that are different from the library degree program.
- We generally consider the lack of “tracks” to be a strength, as suggested course groupings mean you can specialize in technology and still take a course on graphic novels. This gives you a lot of flexibility and allows you to become a specialist or generalist.
- Professors are approachable and real-time classes are more structured so it’s not completely foreign from in-person education. Many students find them more engaging than the occasional asynchronous classes. With the one face-to-face Masters course each semester, unfortunately you can’t go to class in pajamas. However, you absorb more in the small class size and are able to meet with group members in person.
- FSU’s iSchool has a very responsive, supportive advising team and administration. They care tremendously about students and are prompt and friendly about answering questions. Advising has a Facebook and everyone is encouraged to ask questions, crowd source for syllabi, and add interesting posts pertaining to libraries.
- The MLIS track for general librarianship (unlike the school media track) does not require an internship, which means that you are largely on your own in taking advantage of opportunities to gain experience. However, there is an iSchool internship coordinator available to help you find an internship online or in your area, if you take the initiative to contact him.
- The MLIS program seems to often be slow to incorporate new trends into the curriculum.
- It can be challenging to enroll in a course outside of the College of Communication and Information, especially if you are awarded departmental funding. Even if you receive approval to take a course on the funding, it probably won’t count towards your degree. Grace encountered this problem when attempting to take an Instructional Design class in the College of Education. Knowledge of instructional design is a highly desired skill for instruction librarians, but no such course is offered by the iSchool.
- There is no archival or data courses within the program. There are occasional special topics courses and a graduate assistantship in Technology and Digital Scholarship as well as Special Collections, but there is no certification or permanent courses yet.
Student and Professional Involvement
- ALA student chapter
- iSchool Committees
- CCI Student Leadership Council (must be nominated)
- Florida Library Association (and other state associations)
We are both involved in our student chapter of the American Library Association and have gained a lot through this experience. We are the exiting president (Camille) and treasurer (Grace), so we have graduated our involvement from membership to leadership positions.
Camille has also been a part of campus organizations outside of library school. Being a member and officer of the Black Graduate Student Association at FSU and nationally, has been extra support in a field, like many others, which has little diversity. It has also been helpful for an aspiring academic librarian to learn about research concerns, new developments and student experiences in a range of disciplines among peers.
Joining a professional or student organization should be more than adding a line to your resume. What’s more, employers are not as interested in your membership as much as your involvement. With any community, you get out of it what you contribute. Just like in classes, the easiest and most effective way to contribute is to ask questions, make comments or just be present.
FSU’s iSchool offers scholarships and graduate assistantships.These offerings may change year by year, or sometimes even by semester, but have long been in place. The new cohort also offers one semester of tuition waiver. State employees of Florida have tuition waived for six credit hours.There is also a Common Market which offers lower tuition for students in neighboring states due to library programs being rare. For example, there are only two programs in Florida.
The Bottom Line
If you are an out-of-state student and you receive funding, especially through a graduate assistantship, it is absolutely worth it to attend the iSchool. Grace is an out-of-state student and her tuition is waived while she’s getting valuable experience in the field she wants to work in, and has no regrets. However, she is not sure she would have made the same choice if she was paying the steep out-of-state tuition rates out of her own pocket.
If you are an in-state student, like Camille, you should consider the iSchool. She has been a distance student and an on-campus student. There are definitely benefits to both and it’s possible to be involved as a distance student. Students can read blogs, join social media groups, join committees or occasionally visit campus. If there is something you think that needs to be better for distance students, you should talk to advising. However, the abundance of colleges, state institutions and library community in Tallahassee made it easier to gain experience and feel supported.
Finally, the program has evolved from emphasizing more information science, changing from a SLIS program to an iSchool in the last couple years. Often there are more opportunities to be active in a program that is developing than one that is static.
- Google Drive is your new best friend. It’s free, makes group projects easier, and is great for individual work too if you work on a lot of different devices.
- Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and reach out to other students, professors, and librarians- the program has been in flux, so it hasn’t done a great job of fostering community and it can be easy to feel isolated. Fortunately everyone on the library track is generally receptive and welcoming to newcomers.
- Do an environmental scan. It helped to research job outlooks within libraries and related areas, talking to local working librarians and reading librarians’ blogs. This gave me an idea of what classes to take, what sort of job I might want to have. Some states and cities have different industries, so it’s helpful to scan because their libraries may reflect those industries.
- Shoot the breeze. Like Grace says, don’t be shy. Also you don’t have to be formal. Building relationships can be crucial even if it’s just a chat over coffee or via Skype. Exploring interests can create professional bonds which may have results beyond recommendation letters.
- Balance. Many students are (rightly) concerned about their time management, but I see people pass on opportunities to get their foot in the door all the time because of the “I don’t have time” mantra. On the other hand, often the same few people tend to take on all the leadership responsibilities. I definitely fell prey to the snowball effect of saying yes to too many things. I was happier and more productive when I paired it down to opportunities I was most passionate about.
- Think bigger. It’s easy to forget to look around when your nose is to the grindstone. I had a comprehensive experience in library school because I planned to seek out opportunities outside my institution from the beginning.This is where building relationships come in handy. Moreover, I treated applying to scholarships, travel awards and internships like they were assignments (even skipping a class to complete them on occasion, which is not advisable). Receiving awards also shows employers you may have success in future grant and proposal writing. It doesn’t hurt to ask about an opening or projects rather than wait for one, especially if you are at the point where you are looking for volunteer or internship experience. I received a paid internship that was originally two openings by selling myself as able to perform both duties.