Hack Your Program: McGill University School of Information Studies

Disclaimer: This post is a product of my experiences as an McGill SIS student.  Please know that my opinions are not intended to be representative of the opinions of any other student, faculty/staff member, or librarian. All criticism is meant to be constructive.

Overview

McGill University is in the center of the lively and bilingual city of Montreal, Quebec. The School of Information Studies (SIS) is ALA accredited, and was granted continued accreditation in 2017. In 2007 the school was renamed the School of Information Studies (SIS) and in 2014 the degree changed from a Masters of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) to Master of Information Studies (MISt). The department has its own building, called the SIS mansion, where professors have offices and there are rooms you can book for meetings. The program is non-thesis, course-based, with 48 credits to complete in order to graduate. There is an option to complete a non-thesis based research project worth 18 credits.

Curriculum

There are five required courses at SIS. The first four are during the first semester and aim to be a general introduction to the field. The last is during the last semester before graduating in which you create a portfolio of your work. Each course is worth 3 credits. All the courses are in person – there is no option for online courses. In my experience, a large majority of the students are full-time. Full-time students complete the program in two years, part-time complete it in four years.

Required courses

First semester:

601: Foundations of Information Studies

607: Organization of Information

617: Information System Design

619: Information Behavior and Resources

Last semester:

602: Integrating Research and Practice

Electives

There are courses supporting the four “Areas of Interest” at SIS.

  • Library Studies
  • Knowledge Management
  • Archival Studies
  • Information and Communication Technology

There are suggested courses for each area of interest, however the program is designed more to allow the student to build their own course of study.

Suggested courses for each area:

Library Studies

608: Classification and Cataloging

615: Reference and Information Studies

Knowledge Management

661: Knowledge Management

693: Information Architecture

Archival Studies

645: Archival Principals and Practice

641: Archival Description and Access

Information and Communication Technology

616: Information Retrieval

657: Database Design and Development

Practicum

There is a practicum available for students to apply to for their fourth semester of school. It is not mandatory, and in fact not guaranteed that the student will be accepted. There are offerings in public libraries, academic libraries, archives, and special libraries.

Tuition/financial aid

For international students (like myself) the cost is comparable to and even cheaper than other MLIS programs in the United States. Tuition is 19,454 CAD per year (approx. 15,078 USD); this price includes the mandatory international student health insurance. For out-of-province Canadian residents it’s 9,440 CAD, and Quebec residents it is 4,264 CAD. (Break down of costs here.)

There are some awards and scholarships available, for which the student is considered upon acceptance. You can find a full list of awards offered. However, in my understanding, they are not all offered every year and the amounts depend on the funding available.

Work Opportunities

There is a work study opportunity, however the applicant must be receiving the full amount of government financial aid to qualify. It is not associated with SIS, but is through McGill. You can take a look at the postings, some of which are in libraries around campus. I have found that there are not enough library-related jobs available at McGill, especially for first-year students who cannot participate in the work study program.

There are jobs available around Montreal in libraries. For example, the other English speaking University, Concordia, offers student librarians jobs for second year students. I work at a reference desk at a public library, and there are other opportunities at public libraries around the city. It is important to note, however, that if you work in a public library you must speak French and English.

Extracurriculars

The School of Information Studies major student association is MISSA, and all the other groups fall under MISSA’s umbrella. There are positions available on the MISSA board, such as president, vice-president, treasurer, social director, communications officer, and more. MISSA puts on several events throughout the year, such as networking opportunities and end of term socials.

The are also several student chapters that put on a variety of events throughout the year: American Library Association, Quebec Library Association, Canadian Association of Professional and Academic Librarians, Association of Canadian Archivists, Librarians without Borders, Multilingual Children’s Library, Special Library Association, and the list goes on!

If you want to get involved outside of the classroom at SIS, there are innumerable opportunities available.

Living in Montreal

It is crucial to note one of the most exciting aspects (in my opinion) of attending SIS, which is living in Montreal! Montreal is a vibrant, diverse city where there you can stumble upon a festival almost every weekend. The food is incredible (poutine!), the cost of living is quite low compared to other major cities in Canada, and the seasons are beautiful.

Strengths

  • The number of student associations makes it easy to get involved with the field and network with professional.
  • Montreal is unlike any other city I’ve been to and is a notable part of attending McGill.

Weaknesses

  • The lack of jobs available through SIS is certainly a drawback, and the necessity to speak French for jobs around the city has hindered some students I’ve spoken with.
  • There is a lack of variety when it comes to the courses. They are somewhat broad, and, in my opinion, need to be updated. For example, there are not any courses on digital humanities or diversity and social justice in the field, two topics which are crucial to the current state of the field.

Conclusion

If you want to focus solely on the course content and hope to learn all you need to know in order to be a librarian from courses in the program, SIS probably isn’t for you. However, if you want a holistic experience: introductory courses supplemented by student organizations and supportive peers, while living in an exciting city, SIS has much it can offer. You may have to do a bit more work to patchwork a program that works exactly for your career objectives, but that is likely true of most programs.

I hope this has given a bit of an overview to the program, and if you have any specific questions, the office is super helpful, or feel free to contact me for a student’s opinion!


Featured image: By Paul Lowry – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6087012


Carrie Hanson is a MISt Candidate at McGill University’s School of Information Studies in Montreal. She currently works as a student librarian in a public library and is involved in numerous student associations. Connect with her on Twitter @icarriebooks

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