Hack Your Program: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Update)

Disclaimer: All opinions are mine unless otherwise noted. This article does not represent the official stance of the University of Illinois, the Graduate College, the School of Library and Information Sciences, or any of its faculty and staff.

Disclaimer for future readers: This article was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the potential for rapid societal change is high. It’s not possible to tell from here how valid any of this information will be in five years, or even less. YMMV, as the kids say.

The original Hack Your Program article for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) was published in September 2011. There have been a few changes since then and it’s high time for an update.

The Program

UIUC’s library school, formerly GSLIS, is now called the iSchool, or the School of Information Sciences. They’ve expanded their degree options since 2011- current offerings include:

  • Master’s in Library and Information Science, Information Management, or Bioinformatics
  • Joint master’s degrees in LIS and History, African Studies, or Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies
  • School Librarian Licensure
  • Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS)
  • PhD in Information Science
  • The new bachelor’s of Information Science, debuting in Fall 2020

The MS/LIS program is the largest, with about 500 students total and an even split between online and on campus students. This is the program I’ll be outlining. If you would like to know more about the others, click here for the UIUC iSchool homepage.

The MS/LIS takes 40 credits, most often spread out over a year and a half or two years. It can be done in twelve months, but it’s trickier now than it used to be as students are restricted to a maximum of 14 credits their first semester. Classes are typically two or four credits, with twelve credits a semester considered full time. There remain only two required courses, freshly renumbered for the Fall 2020 semester as IS 505 (Information Organization and Access) and IS 510 (Libraries Information and Society). There are no longer concentrations, but there are suggested pathways if you like a little more structure. A thesis is optional, though not especially recommended for students only interested in the regular MS/LIS—an independent study would be a better choice in that case. A practicum or internship is not required, but highly encouraged. Both the online and on campus versions of the MS/LIS are well regarded by alumni and employers.

The Money

UIUC is not a cheap option if you’re coming from out of state—tuition and fees for 2020-2021 come to $14,785 per semester, with in-state at $9,654. The bad news is that there are almost no scholarships. The good news is that there are oodles of graduate assistantships available—not enough for everyone, but enough that you’ll have a fighting chance of landing one. All assistantships come with a waiver that covers in-state tuition and some fees, and the stipend is much higher than it was in 2011, thanks to the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). Graduate hourly positions, usually with a respectable wage, are also plentiful.

The Opportunities

  • Student organizations in the iSchool. As far as I can tell, these are pretty standard for a library school, so I’ll skip over this. Click here if you’d like to know more.
  • Student organizations and activities in the greater university community. The university is enormous—over 16,000 graduate students, 50,000 students altogether—with all the opportunities to expand your interests that comes with that. Joining a club or a committee is as easy as just showing up, there are multiple active arts communities, and dozens of talks a week on every subject there is. There are plenty of chances to make interesting friends and pad out the resume.
  • Research Park. UIUC is a tier-one research university with several highly ranked programs, and it’s attracted satellite offices of major corporations interested in taking advantage of all the youthful brain power. If you’re into the more data-driven side of library science, Research Park offers highly paid internships and part time jobs suitable for students.
  • Off campus organizations and activities. Both the Champaign Public Library and the Urbana Free Library have volunteer opportunities geared towards students at the iSchool. There are small museums to get involved with, and the Independent Media Center (Books to Prisoners and the Zine Library are two of the projects most of interest to library students). Students at the iSchool have gotten work as substitute teachers in the local schools. The towns aren’t as vibrant as the university, in my opinion, but there’s still enough to do to be worth checking out.
  • Big cities. Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis are each two to three hours away. Too far for a daily commute, but close enough for field trips.

Overall, it’s an excellent program, but there are a few potential downsides. The iSchool is heavy on the “information science” part. It’s not quite at the expense of traditional librarianship, but it does cast a shadow. There’s no preservation track to speak of. The towns are ugly and the campus isn’t much better, though it should be noted that this is not a universal opinion and many people think Urbana in particular is a nice place to visit. The iSchool lacks diversity, though from what I can tell it’s been getting steadily better.

What really sold me about this school over the others when I was shopping around was that alumni of this program (almost) all talked about how great it was and how I should totally go to UIUC. Librarians who had gone to other schools had no opinion one way or the other—library school was just something you did to get the job. And now I’m telling you: you should totally go to UIUC.

Feature photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Emily is a second semester, on campus student. She thinks Urbana-Champaign is a great place to live for two years but that it really needs a kombucha store, a large body of water, and a pine forest to be viable in the long term.

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