Hack Your Program: The University of Washington (2020 Update)

Program Overview

The University of Washington iSchool currently offers several degrees:

The MLIS program requires 63 quarter credits to complete for both the Online and Residential modes. The degree requirements are also the same for both modes. The program is made up of three elements: core courses, electives, and a final project. MLIS students can take MSIM courses, but there are complaints it is difficult to get into them as MLIS students. 

Curriculum

As of 2020, all MLIS students are required to take:

  • LIS 520: Information Resources, Services and Collections
  • LIS 530: Organization of Information and Resources
  • LIS 570: Research, Assessment and Design (or another advanced research methods course)
  • LIS 580: Management of Information Organizations
  • Either LIS 510: Information Behavior or LIS 547: Design Methods for Librarianship;
  • The three LIS capstone courses (course numbers are currently being reworked); 
  • One Information Technology Core Course (9 options)
  • One Social/Ethical Core Course (about 7 options). 

In total, there are 10 core courses including the capstone courses taken in the final year. LIS 510, 520, 530, 570, and 580 are taken in the first year for Residential students and first two years for Online students. Students can choose when to complete their Information Technology and Social/Ethical core courses. The rest of the 63 credits are electives.

Individual courses are typically 3-4 credits but can vary from 1-5 credits. Some elective courses, including Directed Fieldwork (see below), are credit/no credit. Students in the Residential mode can take online courses and vice versa; however, students in the Online mode have priority registration for online courses and same with Residential students for residential courses. Popular online courses may fill up before Residential students have the opportunity to register for online courses. Residential students usually end up taking on online course due to timing and scheduling. Taking online courses as a Residential student can also be helpful as many students work more than part-time and appreciate the flexibility in their schedules. However, some Residential students do not think there are enough residential courses offered each quarter. Elective courses tend to alternate yearly between online and residential delivery. No matter which mode you are in, your diploma will read: “Master of Library and Information Science.”

There are no concentrations but suggested pathways with course recommendations. There is also information on the iSchool website on degree planning. An internship or practicum is not required but highly recommended. The final degree project is a capstone project completed in the final year of the program over fall, winter, and spring quarters. Capstone involves identifying an information problem in a real-world setting and developing the means to address it. Projects can be research-oriented or design-oriented, and solutions are typically interactive and could be implemented and used. Sometimes organizations will pitch an idea to students, but oftentimes students will approach an organization, or sponsor, with their own idea. Past capstone projects for all iSchool programs can be viewed online.

Residential Mode

Residential students are required to take their core classes in-person in a traditional classroom setting at UW. All other classes can be taken online or residential. Only students in the Residential mode can pursue informal concurrent master’s degrees. Popular options include the Master of Public Administration or Master of Arts in Museology.

Online Mode

The Online mode is designed as a three-year part-time program. Students normally take about 6-8 credits per quarter, although there is the option to finish the degree faster and take additional credits each quarter. As an online student, you can complete your coursework entirely online or, if you live in the Seattle area, take residential courses as well. The only time you are required to be on campus is the 3-day on-campus orientation before the first quarter in late September.

Law Librarianship

The Law Librarianship program is a one-year long, 4 quarter residential program of 43 credits. Students must have a JD to enroll.

Financial Aid

Estimated cost of the MLIS program is currently $53,235 regardless of program mode or residency, while the Law MLIS is estimated at $36,335. Tuition per credit is projected to increase by less than 3% every year. Federal financial aid is available with completion of the FAFSA. The UW and iSchool both offer funding for graduate students. Applicants are automatically considered for iSchool merit-based scholarships, some of which can be renewed for a second year. Graduate, teacher, and reader assistants are sought for many classes, offering an additional opportunity for funding. However, some merit-based scholarships cannot be combined with iSchool Graduate Assistant, Teaching Assistant, or Residential Assistant positions.

Criticisms

Hybrid Courses

The iSchool offers one hybrid course per quarter, with those in Seattle meeting on campus and online students joining synchronously and virtually. Online students must consider their time zones for these hybrid options, as the lecture tends to be in the late afternoon/early evening for Seattle.

Cost

With the cost of the degree valued at over $50,000 in a field that is generally underpaid, students need to be committed to their coursework and have financial aid ironed out before starting the program. Even the orientation before starting the first quarter requires some students to seek out grants or other funding opportunities to offset the cost of travel to and lodging in Seattle. An additional unnecessary cost for non-local online students is the required U-PASS fee to access public transit. Over the course of three years, this fee that most online students will only use during orientation amounts to $756. Despite students working to get this fee waived for online students, it is still required.

The cost of living in Seattle is also important to consider. While housing may be less expensive around the UW campus, a studio will still likely be over $1000/month in rent. Before the first quarter begins, some MLIS students start looking for potential roommates to split housing costs. While some residential students live outside of Seattle, the commute can be long and some MLIS students chose the Online mode to avoid the ever-present traffic. There is on-campus housing available for graduate students, but it is not competitively priced.

Strengths and Opportunities

Study Abroad

The iSchool conducts several study abroad programs over the summer quarter, each with their own focus. While we can only speak from experience for one of the programs, students from all programs report enjoying getting to learn abroad with our classmates and professors, seeing new places and getting different perspectives on topics like children’s literature, innovation in the cultural heritage sector, and semantic AI. 

Directed Fieldwork

Directed Fieldwork (DFW) is extremely helpful and educational, but keep in mind that if it is not funded, it is free labor as you will have to register for at least one credit. Students can take either paid or unpaid DFWs but funds will need to come from the employer. The iSchool communicates with various information professionals in and out of Seattle who are willing to work with students on various projects. Students can learn something totally new, or apply skills they have learned in class. Not only do students get hands-on learning in DFW, their experience can go on their resume. It is also a good way to get a feel for different kinds of librarianship if you are unsure where you would prefer to work. Online students located outside of Seattle also have opportunities to do directed fieldwork, definitely online and sometimes locally in person. No matter where you live, it is possible to do a DFW abroad as well. 

Social Justice Orientation

As has been discussed here, libraries cannot be neutral, and the iSchool incorporates issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion throughout the program well. This occurs throughout the program, starting with an introduction to cultural competency at orientation and continuing in most classes to varying degrees. Courses often consider how their subject matter promotes social justice or has perpetuated injustice and oppression. All students are also required to choose at least one social justice course from a selection of courses. DFW work must also address how it contributes to social justice. For Hanna, this was one of the biggest influences on why she choose the UW iSchool – social justice is not just a one-off lesson students can opt into, but rather all students are navigating how their work interacts with social justice.

Three-year Online Program

The duration of the online program may seem unfortunate at first, but for those who already have full schedules with work and other commitments, it is an ideal timeline. Students have found it to be manageable taking 6-8 credits each quarter while working full-time and maintaining family responsibilities and community involvement. Online students can complete the program earlier, but there is no pressure to do so.

Tech and Data Focused

For students more interested in public librarianship or other more public-facing roles, the tech-focus of the program is not ideal. There are still a number of courses for public librarians, especially for students interested in children’s or young adult librarianship, but that is not the focus of the program. For some students this is an advantage to the degree as they do plan to work more in and with tech and data. Such a focus also makes sense considering there are more opportunities for employment, and it perhaps says more about the field and profession than the iSchool.

Seattle

For students who live in or decide to move to Seattle, the city offers many perks – a variety of great restaurants at all price points, international and specialty grocery stores, beautiful views of the water, museums, access to numerous parks and trails, good public transit (including ferries!), and a plethora of quirky cafes and shops. There are ample opportunities for happy hours and karaoke nights to get to know your classmates. Even though free time may be sparse, the city’s offerings provide extra motivation to get homework done in a timely manner. Seattle is home to many tech companies as well, something that could be an allure for students more interested in tech.


Kelli Yakabu is a third-year, online MLIS student at the University of Washington focusing on archives. You can follow her on Twitter @kelliyakabu.

Hanna Roseen is a second-year residential student at the University of Washington iSchool interested in public librarianship, high school librarianship, and archives. She is coping with the pandemic by focusing on classes, going for walks, and hanging out with her 8 other housemates.

Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington iSchool and an Adult Services Specialist at the Natrona County Library.

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