Uncharted Territory: Taking classes outside of your MLIS program’s core curriculum

Sometimes, one of the best decisions you can make in your academic career is to go off the beaten track, and challenge expectations, even your own.

After coming off one of the most intense three weeks of my life (a 3-week graduate-level course was no joke), I now have the opportunity to reflect on my experience taking a class outside of the core curriculum of my MLIS program. I took a very intense version of a broad overview of different research methods and paradigms, called Modes of Inquiry. 

As an aspiring academic librarian, I know that critically reading research and scholarship will be an important part of my future career. Also, many academic librarian roles are tenure track which requires some level of original scholarship. My program at the iSchool did not require a research methods course, and as I was unsure one would be offered before graduation, I decided to sign up for one in the International and Higher Education Department within the university. 

The process was relatively painless. I sought permission from the professor to enroll, received a copy of the syllabus, and with that petitioned the iSchool for its inclusion in my degree program. Note: Make sure you do not skip this step, I have heard horror stories of classes not “counting” when a student was ready to graduate. 

I am already seeing the benefit of this course in my current role as a Reference Specialist. As if on cue, I had a researcher contact me with qualms about the credibility of an article that had passed peer review. This researcher had serious problems with the methods, and I understood quickly that they had a problem with the entire research paradigm used in the study. Being able to see the application of my coursework is a huge benefit of having a position in reference while still enrolled in library school. I know I will only build upon this foundational knowledge, both in my current role and in future positions. 

Taking courses outside of your MLIS program is not something that would only benefit those seeking academic roles. In fact, a friend who would like to be a children’s librarian chose to take courses on both children’s and young adult literature. Another who knows she would like to seek a future leadership role, in the public library sphere, took a course on non-profit management. While my friends and I are still in the thick of things, it can be hard to say that, yes, these “outside” courses will definitely pay off. However, the same could be said for any of the core coursework if we’re honest. 

ALA has some basic standards, but courses vary widely from school to school, and even professor to professor, in each program. Keeping an open mind about what classes count (with the blessing of your program) can only make you a stronger library professional.

Being a librarian, of any stripe, is interdisciplinary by its very nature. The more we as students are able to embrace that in our education and experience, the stronger the profession will be as a whole. 

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