Hack Your Program: Syracuse University School of Information Studies

The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University is “the original information school,” having been the first library school to rename itself in the 1970’s. Home to an undergraduate information management & technology major, as well as six graduate degree programs, including library and information science, the iSchool is a close-knit, research-heavy school at one of the biggest sports schools in the nation (Go ‘Cuse!). The library and information science program at SU (ranked 4th in the nation in U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Best Graduate Schools Rankings) is offered on-campus or on-line, and requires about two years or 18 months, respectively, to complete at a full-time schedule. Unlike other programs with on-campus and online options, SU provides its on-campus classes on a semester schedule and its online classes on a quarterly schedule. Central New York is home to a very library-friendly community, and SU fits into that with a broad alumni base there and beyond.

Disclaimer: The comments in this article are the personal opinions of the author, Georgia Westbrook, and are not intended to be representative of the opinions of all or any other students, faculty or staff. As a student in the on-campus program, I focus on that in this review; Syracuse does offer an online MSLIS degree, which you may learn about here.

Curriculum

Required Courses

There are six required courses for LIS students at SU:

  • IST 511 – Introduction to the Library and Information Profession
  • IST 605 – Reference and Information Literacy Services
  • IST 613 – Library Planning, Marketing, and Assessment
  • IST 614 – Management Principles for Information Professionals
  • IST 616 – Information Resources: Organization and Access
  • IST 618 – Information Policy

The NYS Department of Education has a specific course of study of aspiring School Media Specialists, which is includes these courses minus 614 and with the addition of IST 661 – Managing a School Library. The electives for LIS-SM are also carefully curated to allow for certification requirements to be met by graduation.

While some of these required courses are specific to the LIS program, many overlap with the requirements for the Information Management degree. As a result, many courses are taught in multiple sections per semester, some with IM professors and some with LIS professors. LIS professors usually tailor the projects and discussions to the library world, so it’s often preferable to take those sections. Many of these required courses are project-heavy, so most students try to spread them out over the course of their time in the program.

The typical course load is nine credits per semester (3 classes), a schedule which allows students to complete the program in two academic years. However, it is not uncommon for students to take two courses per semester, which is still considered full-time, and in my cohort, several students have taken four classes per semester.

 

Electives

Electives at SU run the gamut and students in the LIS program may take any course in the iSchool. Additionally, students may take up to six credits at schools outside of the iSchool (including Arts & Sciences, Journalism, Visual & Performing Arts, among several others) or in other accredited library science programs to transfer in.

Some students use electives to earn a Certificate of Advanced Study in one of the iSchool’s programs, which include the popular data science certificate. Others cobble together ad hoc specialties. While SU lists some potential concentrations on its website, it’s more common for students to make their own focus through following their instincts or asking faculty for advice.

Students also have the opportunity to pursue a dual-degree; the most popular combination is LIS and Museum Studies, though combining a JD and MSLIS is also possible (I don’t know, nor have I heard of, anyone who is doing that though).

In some semesters, SU offers a lot of great elective options and in others, the selection is more slim, so it’s best to pick up electives you find interesting as they come, rather than trying to clear out required courses. This semester, many of the elective options were offered as online, asynchronous courses, which has garnered mixed reactions from students, including me. It might be frustrating if you are an on-campus student hoping to complete the program in person, but you might also really like the flexibility. I advise you to try at least one course this way to figure out your own preference.

 

Internship and Seminar

All students in the LIS program are required to complete an internship, project, or thesis (most choose the internship option), although the requirement may be waived for those with substantial work experience; in that case, students will complete an additional elective or fulfill those credits in an alternate way.

Students are also required to attend one of the Helen Benning Regnier iSchool Graduate Seminars, which are day-long, focused seminars and activities for iSchool students. These are usually offered at least once during the academic year and once during the summer, and the topics are announced ahead of time. The seminars replace “an immersion credit,” which online students may still opt to do if they cannot get to Syracuse, but students will need to pay to attend (the current price is $150). I attended a seminar on privacy, which turned out to be less relevant to librarianship than I thought it would be – there was only one librarian who spoke during the many panels, and it was in the very last session.

The Syracuse area offers a lot of opportunities for internships in academic and public libraries, though students are also encouraged to seek out positions in other places. Students may take the internship for credit and get paid for their work, but many of the local opportunities are unpaid. Most students complete their internship in the summer between the first and second years of the program, because you need to have completed a minimum of 18 credits before you can register for a credit-bearing internship.

 

Tuition and Financial Aid

Because Syracuse is a private institution, tuition is not cheap. However, many students receive some kind of scholarship from the iSchool in addition to federal financial aid. There are many scholarships LIS students are eligible for, some of which require an additional application and some of which do not. Additional opportunities for scholarships and funding are sent to the student listserv throughout the year. A resource SU offers that I have found helpful is their financial aid counselors; every student is assigned a member of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs staff who can help answer questions about this tedious part of student life.

 

Work Opportunities

SU is a huge university with multiple libraries on campus, and at the beginning of the school year, there are often many open opportunities to work in them. I work in the Learning Commons in the main library on campus, and there are usually about a dozen graduate assistants on the payroll at any given time. Other common job sites include SU Special Collections and Archives, the library at a nearby hospital, and public libraries in the area. iSchool students also have the opportunity to apply for Faculty Assistant positions, which can range from assisting faculty with research to data entry.

Not everybody in the program has a job in the “library world,” but it certainly encouraged and the listserv frequently features opportunities. Still, even without a job, students gain plenty of hands-on experience from the fieldwork built in to most classes.

As a related sidenote: in response to student feedback, the SU Libraries will be offering an Information Literacy Scholars program beginning next year, which pairs a tuition break with paid employment in the libraries, one opportunity you may want to consider.

 

Extracurriculars

LISSA, the Library and Information Science Student Association, is the major LIS club on campus and serves as the student chapter for the American Library Association and the Special Libraries Association. They host professional events and social ones, and their weekly meetings are live-streamed for distance students.

Other popular options for extracurriculars include writing for InfoSpace, the iSchool blog; and participating in iSGO, the iSchool Graduate Organization. However, LIS students are welcome to join any of the student organizations at SU, so the opportunities to meet others at SU outside of the LIS bubble are there.

 

Life in Syracuse

Syracuse has a reputation for being cold and snowy — and in the winter, it certainly can be. In other seasons, however, Syracuse can be beautiful. There are plenty of state parks and other natural areas nearby and “the hill” which SU sits upon is walkable, with options for eating and shopping on Marshall Street near the University and in the Westcott neighborhood a few blocks away, although most grocery stores and other attractions require a car or savvy knowledge of the bus schedules. The library community in Syracuse is supportive of the program, since many of the library workers in the area graduated from it, and they are usually happy to help with projects, fieldwork, and finding jobs off-campus. The cost of living in Syracuse is extremely low, but part of the trade-off there is that it’s between two and five hours (driving) from any major city, including Buffalo, Toronto, New York, and Philadelphia. There are daily buses servicing many of these cities, an Amtrak station and international airport in Syracuse. Many of the public buses in Syracuse run through the University, but I’d recommend trying to have a car (or to make friends with someone who has a car), because it multiplies your fieldwork and local job options significantly.

 

Strengths

Syracuse boasts a very high placement rate for its LIS and School Media program graduates, and the alumni network is strong and involved, especially in the Syracuse area, but also in pockets around the country. The class of 2017 had a 95% graduate placement rate (based on a 92% response rate).

Students in SU’s LIS program come from all stages of life: career changers, just out of undergrad, and every place in between. The program is very accommodating to different commitments outside of the classroom, and, in my experience, the faculty and program manager are extremely supportive of students.

Because it is situated in the iSchool, the LIS program at Syracuse can be tech-heavy — or not. The variety of electives is significant, and if you aren’t sure what kind of librarian you want to be when you grow up, SU is a flexible place to figure it out.

 

Weaknesses

The LIS program at SU often has to compete with the Information Management program and the others in the iSchool to be taken seriously. While the Career Services office works to include LIS students in its programming and offerings, in particular, many LIS students feel disconnected from iSchool students in those other programs.

Since the online and in-person LIS courses are offered on different schedules, it’s hard to mix courses. Most students who receive scholarships from the iSchool or federal financial aid need to maintain at least 50% of their coursework in their “home schedule” or they may lose that aid. While it is possible to switch, for example, from being an on-campus student to being an online student, there is a petition required.

Even with financial aid and/or a scholarship, Syracuse is an expensive option for the LIS degree. If you’re from a place without many opportunities to get library experience (like me), it may be worth it for you to move to the area; since there is an abundance libraries in the area, that more expensive bill could mean a worthwhile trade-off for work experience. Otherwise, like many Hackers have said, consider the cost carefully.

 

Conclusion

Syracuse’s MSLIS program is considered to be one of the best in the country for its faculty, its supportive community, and the job placement after graduation. All of these aspects have been part of my experience here (well, fingers crossed for myself on the last one), but it does come at a literal cost. If you see a library science graduate program as the ticket to getting experience in the field, SU might be a great fit for you. But if you have a solid library job at home, carefully consider the tuition cost for ‘Cuse. Overall, I am happy with my decision to attend Syracuse — it has given me opportunities to perform research, make connections, and try different flavors of librarianship, and I’m excited to think about what lies ahead.

There is so much more I could say about this program! I’m happy to answer any questions I can, and the iSchool staff are also very responsive and happy to talk with prospective students.

Any fellow ‘Cuse students or grads out there? Did I miss anything?

 

By Guest Author Georgia Westbrook

Georgia is an MLIS student at Syracuse University. She’s interested in oral histories, news librarianship, and open access.

Categories: Hack Your Program

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