Hack Your Program: University of Iowa (Update)

Disclaimer: This post, co-written by Annie Tunnicliff and Chloe Waryan, is an update to Julia Skinner’s fantastic 2011 post about the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science (SLIS). Please know that our opinions are not intended to be representative of the opinions of all students, faculty or staff.

Quick Overview-

The University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) is located in Iowa City, Iowa, where there are no cornfields in sight. Here, there are no specializations or tracks, although there are complementary certificates. You can get a plain ol’ MLIS if you want and in fact, we think most people choose this route. The master’s degree is completed after 36 credits, and a poster presentation to simulate and prepare students for a conference setting. If you take 9 semester hours (3 classes) per semester, the master’s degree can be completed in 2 years. You can take some courses online but not all, unless you are in the Teacher Librarian program (more on that later).


SLIS is located on the third floor of the University library.


You need 36 credits to complete an MLIS degree at the University of Iowa. The courses are divided up into three tiers. You are required to take 12 credits (4 classes) in each tier. Tier I are foundational classes, Tier II are more specialized in subjects, and Tier III requires more independently-based coursework. You can read more about the structure of the requirements here, and see the course descriptions here. This chart tells you which classes are held during which semesters.


The Teacher Librarian Program is for people who want to be librarians in K-12 schools. The program is 36 credits, which adds up to 11 classes and 1 practicum. The program is 3 years including summers, and students take 2 classes per semester via Zoom (which is similar to Skype). The whole program is remote except for the poster presentation and some summer coursework. Typically, there are about 10-15 teacher librarians (TL’s) in each cohort. This program is popular, with a near 100% completion rate in the last five years! TL’s can also do a dual program with the College of Education to gain their teaching license at the same time. TL’s can receive a $1,000/semester stipend if they are teachers currently holding an Iowa teaching license.

The Book Studies/LIS certificate (also called BLIS), a joint MLIS and Books Studies certificate, is ideal for students interested in Special Collections librarianship. The program takes three years to complete and includes at least 15 credits at the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book (UICB). At the UICB, aspiring librarians with a penchant for hands on work can take courses in bookbinding, papermaking, letterpress printing, and book conservation with professionals in the field.

Along with BLIS, the MFA/MLIS program in the Center for the Book and the School for Library Science definitely sets University of Iowa apart. Students can earn a Masters in Fine Arts in Book Studies along with their MLIS in 4 years by completing these requirements. It is new as of this year (2017) and is designed for people with an arts background who also are interested in Library Science.

The Public Digital Humanities certificate is a good fit for someone going back to school to learn digital skills, or someone interested in the emerging digital aspects of libraries. The certificate requires students to take four classes (Archives & Media, Digital Humanities Theory, GIS/Database class of your choosing, and a related elective of your choosing) and complete a capstone project (which can also be your poster or a practicum). The classes required for the certificate count as LIS credits, but if you declare this certificate, the requirements have really limit which electives you can take. Interested in DH but don’t want to do the certificate? As a SLIS student, you will also have access to the amazing Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio.

An Informatics certificate can be earned along with an MLIS. Emphasizing the information science aspect of the MLIS, informatics merges information technologies with disciplines in the humanities, arts, and sciences. The certificate takes 18 semester hours to complete. Some of the classes overlap with required SLIS courses but not all.

Financial Aid and Job Placement-

SLIS offers as much financial assistance as it can. The tuition, compared to other programs, is fair. To our knowledge, you need to live in Iowa for one year before being considered a resident. If you are living in Iowa primarily for educational purposes (read: full time student), you are not considered a resident, no matter how long you go to school here. If you are living in Iowa and happen to be going to school (read: part time student status), you are considered an Iowa resident after one year. Because we don’t have a LIS bachelor’s program, and because of the English MA/PhD and Iowa Writer’s Workshop, there aren’t many TA or RA positions available outside of the LIS department. Most students do not have assistantships their first year. However, SLIS students have been known to get assistantships in Special Collections, the Iowa Women’s Archives, and in outside academic departments.


Iowa City’s public library, located at the corner of the downtown’s pedestrian mall.

Part-time library jobs are plentiful. Many students find employment at Iowa City’s public library or one of the many small to medium sized public libraries nearby. The University of Iowa library system has eight campus libraries including special libraries for medicine, law, music, and art. At the Main Library, students can learn about cataloging, preservation, or digitization on the job. Assistantships are posted here and you are able to find a lot of part time positions at libraries or other facilities.


LISSO, SLIS’s student organization, plans events so that students can get better acquainted with features of University of Iowa, SLIS, neighboring libraries, and each other. The organization consists of a president, secretary, treasurer, and social chair, and other students are encouraged to attend the meetings and events.

We have a great mentoring program at SLIS. After filling out a survey of your interests, our great liaison librarian matches you up with a mentor for the semester. You can plan your mentorship however you want. Some people just shadow their mentor, and others do projects or even co-teach a class. Students usually spend about 20 hours with their mentor over the semester.

The podcast and blog, BSides, allows for students to have conversations about and with libraries and library professionals. This is a good organization for people who want to get their hand in publishing and editing library content.

Librarians for Social Justice, a community organization, is a good way to get involved giving back to the community. They meet usually plan two events a year, one per semester, which raises money for a library or social justice related charity.

The Graduate Student Senate has two representatives from SLIS. The time commitment is a few hours per month and it’s a great way to connect with the university at large.

Living in Iowa City-

We cannot praise Iowa City enough. Iowa’s first state capitol, the town has lots of history to explore as well as a pretty dynamic present. It is walkable, bike-able, and bus-able, with plenty of easy to find housing and flexible part-time jobs. Though 

Ped Mall

Scene from a block party in downtown Iowa City.

it is a college town (and certainly a party school), we can both vouch that living near undergrads is not terrible. There are some great public libraries, in the city and in neighboring towns too. And did you know Iowa City is the only UNESCO City of Literature in America and home to the famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop? It’s no surprise that this town is full of amazing art, music, and literature in its vibrant downtown scene. The campus is bisected by the Iowa River, and beautiful state parks and lakes are a short drive away.


-Course requirements do allow for employment outside of class and there are so many opportunities in town. Most if not all of the students have part time jobs, and the coursework—while still rigorous— doesn’t make it impossible to have a life outside of class.

-Size. SLIS is literally one hallway and you build a sense of community just by being there and running into your SLIS-mates. Also, a small faculty/student ratio means you can build meaningful, friendly relationships with your professors.

-The Center for the Book. Anybody interested in book studies, come HERE!

-For as high as tuition is across the country, the cost is fair.

-The adjunct professors are actual professionals who are in the field currently.

-Iowa City is a great place to live.


-Even though we have a great Special Collections facility (with a notable social media presence) and the award-winning Iowa Women’s Archives in the main library, there are almost no specific LIS courses for special collections or archives. If you’re interested in this field, you will have to get a related job on campus, or take classes from the UICB or museum studies department.

-There is very little financial aid, which is not an uncommon problem in other departments and LIS programs. For what it’s worth, SLIS is aware of the problems with rising tuition and does the best they can. The professors are also very understanding about this.

-We do not have a lot of diversity in our demographics, within students or staff. Again, this unfortunately is not uncommon for some departments, LIS programs, or some cities/states. The University of Iowa Graduate College offers the ACT Scholarship specifically for the purpose of promoting multiculturalism and inclusion, and there are scholarships from ALA that may help finance your library school experience if you are from an underrepresented group within the LIS field. 

-Though SLIS offers some online classes, the master’s degree cannot be completed solely online.

We would be happy to answer any questions in the comments below! Happy hacking!

Featured image, “Old Capitol @ Night” by Phil Roeder licensed under CC by 2.0
All other images provided by Annie Tunnicliff.

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