As this crazy Spring 2020 semester begins winding down for many students, course registration has started falling upon us. One component that I enjoy about the University of Maryland’s MLIS program is the variety of courses that are offered and how receptive the iSchool is to student interests. About once per semester, the iSchool sends out a survey asking students to select from a list of courses that they would be interested in having available to take. This survey is then used to design course offerings for the upcoming semester. While students no longer need to declare a degree specialization for their MLIS (outside of the School Librarianship track), the program provides a guided set of electives to look out for if students have an interest in a specific specialization, such as Archives and Digital Curation or Diversity and Inclusion.
Coming into my MLIS program, I had a general idea of courses I wanted to take; but otherwise, I was open to taking anything to find my niche in the LIS career field. Now that I am at the halfway point of my MLIS, I’ve seen a drastic switch in my interests, mostly thanks to UMD’s MLIS course offerings. If you asked me this time last year which area I wanted to focus on, I would have been set on archives. Although I still have an interest in archival careers, I decided to branch out with my course schedule over the past semester by taking a course on information policy and a seminar in academic libraries. Because of this course schedule, I found my interests shifting away from archives and more towards government and law libraries, copyright, student engagement, and information management.
As much as I would love to stick around and take all of the MLIS courses out there, I plan on graduating with my degree this time next year. And, as Kerri explained in her article this past January, you won’t be able to learn everything in your classes. I feel my time in my program dwindling and want to morph my degree with a set of courses that will introduce me to career opportunities, especially in a post-COVID-19 pandemic job market.
I imagine that many current MLIS students are in a similar position: they want to make themselves as marketable as possible, but are lacking the time to work their course schedule around the classes being offered. In addition, students who will be starting their MLIS in the near future may be trying to weigh their options and decide on a program based on available courses.
So, for students who want to take every class possible, but doesn’t have space in their schedule, what are other ways to get that classroom experience?
Be willing to explore courses outside of your curriculum
In my academic library seminar, one topic we discussed was coursework to take outside of the iSchool. Since UMD does not offer a recommended elective list for students looking to pursue a career in academic libraries, students plan their own course schedule to fit the bill. Of course, there are classes offered that certainly relate to academic libraries – Collections Development, User Instruction, and Metadata Tools are just a few options – but taking a class about higher education, a class in an interdisciplinary field (ex: American Studies), or a research methods class could couple well with your MLIS. To get an idea on how to accomplish this feat, take a look at an HLS alum who took a course outside of her program last year.
Libraries are ever-changing; this will be especially true in the aftermath of COVID-19. On top of changes in the field, many institutions are discussing the possibility of moving Fall courses online. With these changes, current course offerings may change as we inch closer to the Fall. Relating back to exploring outside of your curriculum, be open and flexible to what is available, as class availability may change in the next couple of months. Even though we may not be able to create the perfect class schedule every semester, I believe we get something out of every class we take (even those we may not particularly enjoy by the end). And, who knows? Maybe that class you weren’t too excited to enroll in at first turns out to be one of your favorites.
Work on skills outside of the traditional academic calendar
To be very honest, coming into my MLIS, I had minimal knowledge on technology. The extent of my knowledge was relying on the classic “turn off, turn back on” method for anything and everything. Therefore, one goal that I had coming into grad school was developing those technology skills, such as how to use metadata and developing basic coding abilities. While one of my classes touched on these topics, I found myself struggling to build my coding skills while focusing on my other classes. In an effort to firmly grasp this concept before graduating, I am planning to practice coding on my own this summer using Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning that UMD provides access to all students (if anyone else knows of other resources, feel free to comment below!). On top of that, I enrolled in a social media analytics class for the summer that I am hoping will allow me to bolster my tech skills and introduce me to a new area of the LIS field.
I believe that your degree should be malleable to fit your goals. After all, many of us are getting a degree in library and information science (or another with a similar title) to further our career. Each student comes into their program with unique interests and goals; being able to customize course schedules is a huge benefit for all.
Sarah is finishing out her second semester of her MLIS at the University of Maryland, College Park. When she is not in class, you can find her binge-reading books and consuming lots of coffee.