What’s in a program?

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 7, 2016.

Recently a panel of Catholic University of America faculty and department affiliates interviewed me as a part of a scholarship application process. They were very intrigued about my affiliation with Hack Library School, and asked me numerous questions about how I joined up, why, and what we are all talking about.

When it came time for my half of the Q&A, I decided to ask them what they thought my next HLS post should be about. They had several great ideas, but the one they all agreed on is “What do you look for in a library science program? And how do we make our program more appealing to prospective students?”

Now I’m taking it upon myself to answer, based largely on my decision to attend CUA. So whether you have advice to give on the subject (please comment!) or are looking into library science programs yourself but don’t know how to choose, read on!

Accreditation and Ranking. An ALA accredited program is a must for nearly all jobs requiring an MLS/MLIS. Not every school that has library & information science courses are actually accredited, so make sure to check the official list before selecting a school.

Of course, in some cases relevant coursework or experience are accepted on a year-for-year basis if you don’t have an MLS/MLIS. It all depends on the field you are going into, so do your homework!

Besides accreditation, a school’s ranking is one of the first factors most people look to when they are choosing a school. Our good friend US News & World Report is always at the ready to quantify the quality of programs across the US and Canada.

Of course, ranking isn’t the only factor to consider — our own hackers have an opinion on the topic. For me personally, my own school is in 27th place. I don’t feel as if I’m missing out on anything because it’s not in the top ten, because there are so many other things I’m getting out of it. Don’t discount a school based on ranking alone. There are many other factors to consider when choosing a program that the folks at US N&WR may not consider.

Flexibility. Is it an online-only or campus-only program? Is it a blend of the two? How often are the classes you want to take offered (i.e. is the Storytelling course you would love to take offered twice a year, or every other summer?). If it is a face-to-face course, what time do those courses usually meet? Will you be able to hold down a part or full-time job to support yourself while you’re in school?

These are but a few questions that you should ask yourself when looking at programs. More and more people are attracted to online programs because you aren’t tied to a class schedule or even a physical location, and they tend to be cheaper than their campus-only counterparts. Having done an online-only program in the past, I knew that all that solitude was going to be a little too lonely for me, so CUA’s blended program really appealed to me. Think about what you need your school to do for you before you choose.

Extracurriculars. What kinds of opportunities are there for you to get involved in outside of class? Most programs should have student counterparts for all the major LIS organizations such as ALA, ASIS&T, SLA and more. Are there opportunities to socialize and volunteer with student organizations? To write for their newsletters?

Even if you are in a distance program, there should still be plenty of ways for you to get involved while not on campus. This is important for making connections with other professionals in your field and for building your resume. Don’t disregard extracurriculars!

Scholarships and work-study. Let’s face it, higher education isn’t cheap. While it’s quite easy to tell yourself, “But I can get student loans! No worries!” seeing the numbers add up over each passing semester can make you second guess your decision to go back to school. Does your school of choice offer their own scholarship opportunities? Often, these can be easier to get than ALA or state library association scholarships, because the applicant pool is much smaller.

Work study or student assistantship programs are a great option, because you can get that practical experience that you need while defraying the cost of school. If this is something that is important to you, make sure to do your research.

Continuing education and job opportunities. And last but not least, the reason why we all seek higher education in the first place…to get jobs in the field! Does the school have an internship program, to help you get practical experience? Do they offer certification in school library media or archival preservation? Again, do your homework and know what you need to get out of your program. Some special fields require certification beyond the LIS education, and it might be best to go somewhere that you can get everything you need.

Still baffled? No worries! Here are a few other great resources to help you make your decision.

Library Science Degree.org – A blog by an MLIS graduate, this site gives a great rundown of what LIS is and isn’t, and many of the fields of study you can choose.

Our very own hackers have given detailed descriptions of programs at schools all over the U.S. to help you choose the best school.

Do you have any questions or advice about picking an LIS program? Please comment!

Image from CollegeDegrees360 on Flickr used under Creative Commons License 2.0.

5 replies

  1. Hi Lauren!

    This is post has perfect timing! I was just talking about this on Twitter yesterday.

    I wish I had known about Hack Library School when I was looking for programs. I really wish there was a way for people to know about this site before they become students or apply to programs.

    I have a lot of thoughts on this, here are a few:

    1. I completely agree with what you say about extracurriculars! Online programs should be REQUIRED to fully support online students. For example, the Univ of Illinois allows online students to attend meetings virtually, and I believe you can even be on the board of their student chapter as an online student.

    2. Make sure your school has an ALA Student Chapter! I made the mistake of not contacting ALA directly. When I was first researching Kent in 2015 they had an ALA Student Chapter page on Facebook and were listed in the Student Chapters List but they pretty much ended it that same year and we still do not have any student chapters. (That I know of.)

    3. Look at their course catalog, and course rotations.This is something that I did because my interests are in rare books and special collections and really wanted a program with those course options. It is very important to know if the classes you want to take will be offered every semester or just fall.

    4. Look up the professors, google their syllabus. Read their mission and value statement and make sure what they’re teaching is inclusive and incorporates different voices and issues,

    5. Ask around, see in what ways that program fosters a sense of community. Is there an orientation, are there clubs, how do they reach their online students, do they use social media? While having friends in library school sounds like its a childish concern, it is what makes ALL the difference. If you have people to talk about courses with you and share experiences you have a better chance at staying involved, engaged and even better chances at finding a job. Library Land is small, and while I am still a year away from graduation I have come to learn that because it is small, it helps to know people. I’m not talking about sucking up or anything either, i’m saying make a name for yourself. Let people know what your values are and get to know you.

    I have more thoughts but I will stop there as this is way longer than I thought.
    Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad that it was helpful! You make a good point about how to make HLS more visible to potential library students. I wish I had known about this site a long time ago! Thank you for your experience and insight.

      Liked by 1 person

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