Hack Your Program: Clarion University of Pennsylvania

Today we welcome a guest post by Amanda M. Leftwich and Alena McNamara. Amanda and Alena are recent graduates from Clarion. Amanda’s areas of specialization include collection development, circulation, outreach, mentorship, and equity in librarianship for marginalized groups within librarianship. Alena’s areas of specialization include reference, instruction, collection development, science librarianship, and special collections.

Disclaimer: These are our personal impressions of the MSLS program at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, based on our own experiences, respectively, and are not meant to be representative of the opinions of all students, the college, or the university. Dates of authors’ attendance: 2013-2017.

Quick Overview

Clarion University of Pennsylvania is located in Clarion, Pennsylvania, in the northwestern corner of the state. But, you never have to see it if you don’t want to–their Master of Science in Library Science and Master of Science in Library Science in School Library Media programs are 100% online! Clarion was one of the first Library Science programs to go online, and while sometimes their tech or content reflects this, they’ve kept pretty well up-to-date. There are two concentration tracks: Reference and User Services and Local and Archival Studies. The Master’s degree is completed after completion of core curriculum, electives, and either a capstone research project or an internship.


You’ll need 36 credit hours, or 12 3-credit classes. Completion requires either internship experience or a capstone research project, usually completed during the last semester of your coursework. You’ll need to pay attention to the course cycle to ensure you’ll get the class you want, when you want it, but courses usually really are offered at the times the course cycle indicates!

Required core curriculum:

LS500: Informational Sources and Services

LS504: Introduction to the Information Professions

LS505: Organization of Information

LS534: Administration & Management of Libraries

LS573: Integrated Technologies in Libraries

Capstone course (LS570 or LS600)

Unless you do a specialization or concentration, the other 6 courses can be distributed as you wish, although LS600 (Research in Librarianship) does have a prerequisite of LS550 (Advanced Research Methodologies in Library Science).

Core/required classes can be swapped out with advisor approval. Some faculty members are categorically against swapping out required classes, but switching advisors is fortunately also easy.

Many classes are one full semester long (14 weeks). Clarion also has a short winter term (usually 1-3 Library Science courses offered) and three month-long summer terms (divided into three parts: Summer I, II, and III, of which Library Science courses take place in II and III and are only 4-5 weeks long). Recently, Clarion has been experimenting with half-semester courses during the academic year and summer sessions (7 weeks), and has been steadily expanding the number of courses offered in this format.

Program Options

M.S.L.S. (Online)

M.S.L.S. School Library Media (Online)

M.S.L.S./Juris Doctor cooperative program with the Widener School of Law

M.S.L.S./M.A. in Applied History cooperative program with Shippensburg University


M.S.L.S Reference and User Services

If you want to specialize in reference and user services, this is the program for you. All coursework taken will help students provide excellent instruction and information services for patrons in various libraries. Students have the options of studying general reference, adult services, government information, business services resources, or other subject specialties.

Sample coursework electives:

LS529: Instructional Strategies for Librarians and Information Professionals

LS556: Resources in the Sciences, Technology and Medicine

LS557: Resources in the Social Sciences

LS558: Resources in the Humanities

LS562: Government Information and Librarianship

LS591: Business Reference Sources and Services

M.S.L.S Local History and Archives

This specialization is for students looking to enter the archival and special libraries field. All coursework taken will assist students with running archives, museum libraries, genealogical centers, public history institutions, and academic libraries. However, it is not a “full” archives program and is likely best for people who will work in jobs with some archives or local history component.

Sample coursework electives:

LS552: Advanced Cataloging and Classification

LS535: Archival Management for Small Repositories

LS536: Local Special Collection Representation

LS545: Reference Services for Local History and Genealogy Collections

LS575: Digital Libraries

LS588: Preservation and Conservation of Library and Archival Materials

Job Placement and Financial Aid

Students receive frequent emails forwarded on by the department regarding new employment options (usually 4-5 times a week). These tend to be openings in the Clarion and/or Pennsylvania area, and only occasionally are further afield. Remote students who aren’t interested in moving to the area may find them less useful.

Clarion is one of the cheaper ALA-accredited Master’s programs! They don’t have a lot of financial aid to offer students. Very infrequently a remote student work job opportunity comes up. However, Clarion is fully aware that students are working as well as in school. As one example, all coursework completed in a six-year period can be counted toward the degree.

Tuition Management System (TMS) is open for students paying for classes out of pocket. It allows students to adjust payments for classes in five month installments, instead of a lump sum. You’ll need to step-up the account with TMS on your own with the budgeted account and re-enroll each semester with the activation fee (with each enrollment) until you graduate. TMS charges for any late payments to the system. Your tuition payment will then be forwarded to Clarion and your “due amount” will be adjusted with each payment received.


Clarion students have the option to join the university’s ALA student chapter. Neither author participated, although distance students can join meetings remotely.

Virtual Experience

The Clarion program is conducted asynchronously. Most classes use course sites through the Desire2Learn platform and heavily use the discussion board feature. Assignments are uploaded through the D2L platform as well. Any synchronous components are optional and take place via Blackboard. Common features of Clarion classes are article readings, online tutorials or other online readings, webinars, and videos recorded by professors (often Powerpoint presentations with voice recording).

There are no cohorts in the online program. You often work alone, with your only communication occurring during required discussion posts throughout the course. Organization and time-management are key skills for a Clarion student. A lack of group project work is both a plus and a minus: if you want to brush up your cooperative project skills, this isn’t the program for you, but on the upside there’s no chasing down group members over Skype while you’re all working full-time jobs or dealing with people who think someone else should do all the work.


  • Asynchronous online program makes this ideal for people working while putting themselves through school
  • A practically-minded program where lessons are grounded in the day-to-day work required for libraries
  • Technology used for courses is easy to learn and use
  • Faculty is drawn internationally, providing interesting perspectives
  • Core curriculum ensures that students are well-rounded
  • Many faculty use openly available online resources for course materials, meaning that you can retain easy access to them after graduation and learn about the network of professional organizations that provide useful resources for working librarians (e.g., NEDCC, ALA LLAMA)
  • Cheaper membership in ALA and local library associations through the program.
  • Students receive frequent emails regarding new employment options from the college
  • Virtual orientation is available (and required) for all online students at Clarion. The orientation helps incoming students learn how to use Clarion’s systems and resources for successful completion of their programs
  • IT issues are handled quickly and without hassle
  • Straightforward to change advisors if necessary


  • Not much in the way of specializations
  • Not much coursework focusing on diversity (e.g., race and ethnicity, LGBTQIA+, and/or disability) in libraries and archives
  • Depending on the faculty member, can be tricky to get hold of professors or speak to them in a non-class-based capacity
  • Swapping out core classes requires advisor permission and not all faculty are willing to authorize this
  • Discussion board format frequently used in classes is not always the best mode for digging into complex issues
  • Coursework is somewhat outdated in terms of research and scope; students will need to research for newer articles, papers, and discussions on your own
  • Coursework is highly variable: some classes are a breeze, while others have intense workloads, making it difficult to set expectations for how many classes per semester is reasonable and plan out a program
  • Paperwork for Capstone internship is cumbersome and tedious; feedback about acceptance or denial of the paperwork isn’t frequently communicated with students
  • Can be isolating in terms because of the lack of a graduate cohort experience; students often work alone without much interaction with your professor or fellow classmates
  • Like most library school programs, not much financial aid is available
  • TMS payments aren’t managed by solely by Clarion; this can cause confusion when payments aren’t processed correctly

Thank you for reading! We would be happy to answer all questions in the comments below.

Featured image “Clarion, Pennsylvania” by Ken Lund licensed under (CC BY-SA 2.0)


2 replies

  1. I found this incredibly useful, thank you. I am weighing the pros and cons of getting my MSLS at aged 50 and working full time, full life. I know you attended several years ago but what do you remember about how much time you needed per week to devote to course work? Is it intensive reading? Intensive writing? Thanks for any additional info you can provide.


    • Hi Hayley! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I don’t believe the original authors are monitoring their work anymore, but I’ll try to answer your questions. There is quite a bit of reading, but it’s not close reading like you would need to do for a literature class- as long as you understand the general idea you’ll be fine. There’s a fair amount of writing as well, but much less than I had to do for my undergraduate in History. Learning is primarily project-based. For example, in my grant writing class I wrote and presented a mock grant proposal, and in my cataloging class I put together a portfolio of materials I had cataloged from scratch. I take ten credits a semester and make good grades doing about ten hours of homework a week, or even less. What works for me is that I treat it like a job, in that there are set times during the week where I sit down and focus on getting through my homework, exactly as if I had a boss looking over my shoulder. I’m 41, and I have a friend who’s 67 and just starting to get her MSLS, and we’re both having a great time back in school. Even if I never use the degree, I don’t think I’ll be sorry I got it. I hope this helps, and good luck!


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