What to Do When You’re Starting an MLIS Degree Without Previous Library Experience

    As I reach the end of my first semester in graduate school, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my experiences so far in my program. Being in an online master’s degree program, it’s nice to have a flexible schedule; but also to have time to catch up to my peers. When I started my program at San Jose State University, I didn’t have any experience in the LIS field. I was essentially jumping into a new field with both feet first . . . and an expensive price tag to pay. So, I knew there was a lot I had to do to get on the same level as my peers.

     Luckily, my program’s curriculum has made it easy for me to bridge the gap between the experience I have and the experience I don’t. After pursuing sociology as an undergraduate student, many wondered why I didn’t pursue social work, counseling, or sociology at the graduate level after graduating last year. I’ll admit I did consider those fields early on, but it wasn’t until I found my current program that everything started to click. So, while I’m still fairly new to the field, I do feel like this is where I was meant to be, my inexperience aside.

     This aside, SJSU’s MLIS program wasn’t the only program I considered. Since the number of universities that offer MLIS programs is large, there were many choices to consider. However, no program is exactly like the other regarding its foci, cost, and structure. Some are entirely online and some aren’t. Some have many different specializations to choose from and some don’t. In choosing a program, it was important for me to base my decision on many different factors since I was coming into the field without any previous experience to guide me.

     So, to help others who may be considering pursuing a MLIS program from a position similar to mine, here are some tips that helped me jump into the field:

  1. In the beginning, search engines were extremely helpful in helping me see which schools offered what programs and for how much since all MLIS programs are different. Some schools have MLIS programs while others have MLS, MA, or MS programs in the field. It is important to consider the programs’ designation because, from observation, that may dictate how schools approach their programs.
  2. During my research, I also found that MLIS programs need to be accredited by the American Library Association; which is the field’s most recognizable accreditation body. The ALA publishes a searchable database that allows people to survey programs that are accredited or are in the process of accreditation. Having accreditation demonstrates the programs’ quality; so the database is helpful in determining if a program meets the standards it needs to so its students are prepared for their careers.
  3. Another helpful tip is that not every program publishes their cost on their website, so it sometimes takes a little extra searching to find it. I’ve found that, when a program’s website doesn’t directly link to a page detailing their tuition and fees, it (or something similar) can be found by searching the program’s name followed by “cost” or “tuition and fees.” Many schools will clearly state what their tuition and fees are either as part of their bursar’s or registrar’s page, if not some other page. This isn’t true for every school, though. So, I’d recommend emailing an administrator associated with your prospective program if you can’t locate certain information on the program. If they can’t answer your question, they may know who can so you can get the information you need.
  4. Thus, once you locate your prospective program’s cost, it’s important to review the program’s units and curriculum. This shows how the tuition and fees are divided up in your program. For example, at SJSU, each unit costs $474 and the program is 43 units, which equals $20,382 excluding textbooks; which I’ve heard is among the most affordable programs. Also, the curriculum will determine if a program suits you. Not all programs have a wide range of specializations or the specialization(s) you may want. So, while a program may work well for you in some areas, it may not work well in others; so I’d suggest keeping an open mind here.
  5. Another factor that should be considered is the program’s application requirements. From my experience, every program has different criteria each applicant needs to meet to be considered. Thus, depending on the criteria the program applies to prospective applicants, you may want to consider when you want to apply so you can meet each requirement on time. Some programs allow you to apply for different terms throughout the year while others only accept Fall applicants. So, it’s important to consider this reality, too, while determining which programs suit you best.
  6. Meanwhile, during this part of the process, you need to take stock of all your current skills, achievements, and previous experiences if you haven’t already. Even if they’re not related to the LIS field, they can still apply to the LIS field because most, if not all, fields overlap in some ways. It all just depends on how you market yourself and how you view everything you’ve accomplished and everything you are within the context of the LIS field and outside of it. So, be sure to make a list and be discerning about discussing or applying your current skill set and experiences while applying for programs. Don’t let yourself be discouraged – your skills and experiences still have value even if they’re not field-related.
  7. Then, once you’ve applied and are accepted to the program(s) you applied to (congratulations, by the way!), it’s important to consider your other obligations while designing your first semester’s schedule. Don’t feel like you have to take all your core classes at once. You can distribute them across multiple terms if that’s what works best for you. Graduate school isn’t like undergraduate at all – it’s a lot more in-depth and time consuming. Being someone who’s finishing 10 units next month, it’s been a huge learning experience for me. So, I encourage people to realistically consider their non-academic obligations while deciding their class schedules to avoid overwhelming themselves.
  8. Finally, I also encourage people to establish connections in and out of class. In your program, you’ll likely have group projects at least once during the semester. So, those instances, on top of program-related social media groups, are good means through which you can locate information from current students and alumni alike in your program. Regardless if you’re in an online or on-campus program, your fellow students, faculty, and administrators are invaluable resources. So, I’d suggest making those connections early in your program so you can get the most out of them. While it may not seem like it now, graduation will be here before you know it. So, you should maximize your time in your program while you can. I can attest that, even in my first semester, it’s made all the difference so far as I try to find my path. Good luck on your MLIS journey!

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

8 replies

  1. If you wouldn’t mind, could you expand on how you felt about the workload of your first semester? Upon reflection, did 10 units seem like too many or, given your life, was it a manageable amount of school? I am going to be an MLIS student at the SJSU iSchool in the fall and would love to hear a little more about your experience with the program.


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