But what classes should I take?

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on February 2, 2011.

As I’m sure many readers can attest to, it can be difficult to figure out the “right” path to take in library school in terms of courses.  Since I was fairly undecided as to what type of library I wanted to work in I was hoping to take a little bit of everything during my time in graduate school.  At Simmons, as part of the general course towards a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, there are 5 required classes and then you can choose your other 7 electives.   You can see my final list of courses here.  As you may be able to tell, I was a little all over the board.  I think that’s because, often, this can be a bit of an organic process where you start seeing what you like and don’t like, based on classes, internships, other experiences, etc.

However, none of this probably helps, necessarily, to answer the question, ‘What Classes Should I Take?!’  And as you may have guessed, there is obviously not a clear answer to that.  I will, however, try to briefly describe my favorite classes and why they ended up on the short list.  I also cannot emphasize this enough.  I wish that I had spoken more with other students at the beginning of my program to find out more about certain professors and classes.  Your colleagues are your lifelines.  Use their expertise!!

Web Development & Information Architecture

This class taught me actual skills!  From HTML and CSS to web design and interface for libraries and information centers.  Linda Braun was the professor and she has years of experience with the subject matter and is currently working in the field, which I feel is so important.  Not only did we learn super practical applications (that look all nice on a resume) but as the class was taught virtually she also utilized different web applications like Skype and Twitter so that she was available whenever you had a question or were about to scream because your columns weren’t lining up on your site.  And at the end of the class we all had something we could add to our portfolios.

Organization & Management of Corporate Libraries

This class actually took place during winter break over 5 days from 9:30-5:30.  It was taught by the former Dean of my program, Jim Matarazzo.  Dean Matarazzo has years of experience in special and corporate libraries, including consulting work for companies and corporations.  As he had helped me with internship ideas when I first started the program I was eager to take this class from him, especially as I now find myself working in a corporate library.  Throughout the week we were lucky enough to visit actual corporate/special libraries or to conference call different librarians.  It was so wonderful to get to see the different types of places where information professionals are employed, from the EPA to economic consulting offices.  Even better, to be able to ask questions of these librarians and to see what there day-to-day work is like was so valuable.

So what have you liked/disliked about classes in your program?  If there is something you want to learn but your program doesn’t offer it, are you taking steps to learn about it elsewhere?

What about your professors?  Do they have experience in the field?  In libraries, museums, archives, etc?  Should they?

22 replies

  1. Nice post! I totally agree. Explore early–even before you start your program.

    This is directly relevant, and not just a plug – I wrote exactly what I thought a library student should take in my specific program (UNC-CH SILS) if interested in instructional design in libraries here.


  2. I am in the final semester at the Palmer school of Library and Information Science at Long Island University where I am getting a MLIS plus an advanced certificate in Archives and Records Management. Getting both the Masters degree and the advanced certificate involves taking many required classes and only leaves me 2 elective classes that I can choose. I would say that “Archives and Manuscripts” and “Appraisal of Archives of Manuscripts” are my two favorite classes because it was taught by Dr. Gregory Hunter. Dr. Hunter is a superb Professor, the Director of the Archives and Records Management Program at the Palmer School, and was the founding president of the Academy of Certificated Archivists among other things. He is knowledgeable in the field, has a lot of experience, makes the material interesting, and is funny. In addition to my interest in archives and academic librarianship, I also was eager to develop my technology skills and explore that aspect of librarianship. I wound up taking “Basic Web Design” as one of my electives because I felt I would learn HTML and CSS better in a class environment. Then I learned everything else relating to social media, web 2.0 tools, mobile technologies, virtual worlds, and ebooks all on my own.


  3. I’ve only just started my second semester of library school, but I have already planned for the most part which classes I’m going to take and when. Of course, I left some room for flexibility — but I like to plan ahead to ensure I’m not “wasting” any electives…


    • Like Rose, I am in my second semester. I have also mapped out my courses for the most part. I started my first semester not quite sure which area I wanted to specialize in. But I have become more interested in medical librarianship. So over winter break I start emailing medical librarians (some I found through blogs, some through personal contacts, and some just randomly from finding their name on their library’s website). I sent them all a set of questions about their experience in the field. Their responses really helped me figure out what I need to consider as I prepare for that career. Of course, I do plan to get some hands-on experience soon, hopefully through volunteer work or a practicum. But right now, I work full-time in a public library, and I know this is not for me.


      • Such a great idea to reach out to librarians in the field to ask about specific skills and classes that would be interesting and important to take. I would also imagine you created some good professional connections!


      • Nicole,

        They were all very happy to answer my questions, and of course excited to encourage someone to join their area of librarianship. And yes, they said I can contact them again whenever I have more questions. My original goal was just to find out more info, but it’s nice to have these professional connections in place as well.


  4. Thanks for the comments! @Brian- thanks for linking to your article, that’s great stuff to have here! @Alexandra – I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to only be able to choose 2 electives. Are you happy with your courses you took? Did the required ones vary based off of who taught them?


  5. XML is something that I hear a lot from current archivists as being really in use right now – and that not many of them have formal training in.

    I will say that most of my most boring classes have been the most useful. Evaluation, for example. I know about survey instruments and how to think about surveys, but it’s nice to get more practice. Libraries and archives increasingly have something to prove to the public and to our budget-keepers.


  6. The most interesting classes I’ve taken through Florida State’s program have been The Museum Object and (currently enrolled) Intro to Information Architecture. My studies have always walked the line between Museum/Archives and Digital Media and these two courses really opened my eyes to new and interesting directions for LIS students. I distinctly made the decision to avoid a particular “track” like General Librarianship or Young Adult, because I felt like I wanted to have the option to choose.

    @Rose – What’s the top 3 courses you’re looking forward to, and what school are you at?

    It seems that the skills-based, tech focused courses happen to be the most useful for a lot of people. Is this indicative of Librarianship becoming a Technology Profession? Watch for a future post on this topic!


    • I choose to get my archive certificate so I would have the option to work as an archivist or in a museum. But I also feel it is important to keep an open mind.

      I might get the opportunity to work in a public library, academic library, or somewhere else and I might also love it. I’ve met librarians who went to my school for the MLIS and archive certificate and wound up as a technology librarian at a public library and another one who is now the head of children’s services at another public library.

      The one who is the head of children’s services is actually the daughter of the man I get my glasses from and he told me the whole story. She liked working in archives well enough until she got the opportunity to work in a children’s room. She was almost done with graduate school by the time she discovered this but it all worked out in the end. The only thing I know I can’t do right now is work in the school media area because I don’t have my teaching certificate.


  7. The most important class I took at library school was Urban Public Librarianship in my first semester–it immediately dispelled my delusions of what public librarians do and made me realize it was totally the wrong field for me…eek!

    For this reason I encourage everyone to take a class or get an internship in the field they think they are interested in while it’s still early in their library school career. Those two years go by so fast, and you don’t want to waste time preparing for something you won’t want to do in the end. More importantly, you could be spending that time doing something you love. My roommate went to library school to become an archivist and in the end discovered that her true love was Information Architecture/Usability!

    Classes I actually really enjoyed were Art Librarianship (taught by the chief librarian at the Met!), Government Documents, and Online Database Searching.


    • Isn’t it funny that sometimes we almost get more out of the classes we don’t necessarily like? I thought maybe I’d want to do cataloging so I took a more advanced cataloging class and found it wasn’t for me. Nice to find that out BEFORE I started trying to find work in the area.

      I also took a Public Libraries class but I’m finding the fact that your’s was specific to “urban” ones to be so interesting!


      • It was an “urban” libraries class because New York is home to three of the biggest public systems in the U.S.–New York Public, Queens Borough, and Brooklyn. They are entirely separate systems but each one is massive (70-92 branches in each one) so they face different challenges than your average public library. It was actually a very good class with a fantastic teacher; it just made me realize that public librarianship was not my cup of tea.


  8. Our required classes do vary based upon who teaches them because our professors are from different backgrounds/specialties and places. Long Island University (http://bit.ly/gQuIMq) has several campuses so they try and change the location of the classes each term to the different campuses so that NYC students won’t always have to travel to Long Island and Long Island students won’t always have to travel to NYC for example. In a similar fashion they try and rotate the professors that teach some of the required classes such as Introduction to LIS, Internship class, etc. The overall required classes have a bigger pool of professors that are qualified to teach them than the required archive classes. We are a relatively small program but everyone is helpful and if a student gets a professor teaching their Intro to LIS class that has an archive specialty but they are interested in school media, the professor can tell you who to talk to.

    The other thing I really liked about my program was they have an EXCELLENT orientation for the new MLIS students where they outline very clearly the different concentrations and the professors who have a background and specialty in that area. They actually give you this big folder with a list on paper and make the professors and department heads that are present stand up. During the orientation the school director also makes it very clear that the school media & archive concentrations have a lot of required courses so those interested need to start considering and planning as soon as possible. There are not a lot of chances to slip through the cracks here.
    Although it was difficult that I only got to choose 2 electives, I never looked back. It’s the specialty I knew I wanted to go into from the beginning based upon research and some volunteer work I was doing even before classes started. I went to my local public library and they happened to put me in the Local History Room. From there I went to intern at a Historical Society and now I’m a Graduate Assistant in a Digital Initiatives and Art Slide Library on my campus.

    I am happy with the courses I took and am taking. The Palmer school is making an effort but doesn’t have a lot of options for tech classes. They have the basic web design class, advanced web design, and 1 emerging technologies class that switches between campuses and is not offered every term. For this reason I took a Web 3.0 and Emerging Technologies class at SJSU through WISE as my other elective. The professors do mention how important tech and social media is in classes but I think they are trying to get the students to explore it on their own time. The low number of classes could be due to lack of interest that has been shown in the past and low enrollment.


      • I loved it! I actually knew the professors it was taught by 2) from the library work I had done in Second Life. The professors are what initially caught my eye. The experience of taking a completely online class from another school was well worth it. I’m not sure I could take all my classes online but it was a great class & I’m glad I took it. I particularly liked how we were expected to post and reply on the discussion board.


  9. Great post! I’d like to take a class like Web Development & Information Architecture. I hope to next semester. I actually enjoyed the Management class I took as well. I honestly didn’t think I would, but it ended up being quite helpful.

    Since my passion lies in youth services, i’ve loved both my information Needs of Children and Information Needs of Young Adult classes. I also really liked my Digital Media class, mostly because it taught me about Prezi and I officially adore Prezi.


  10. I had similar problems deciding what classes to take at The University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science.

    When I started library school, I was sure I wanted to be a reference librarian in an academic library. As I took different classes, I was no longer so sure.
    I LOVED cataloging. I had not expected this. (As a side note, I think that some sort of information organization course should be required of everyone in any LIS school.

    I was amazed at some of the assumptions made about catalogs, metadata and the like by my fellow students who had neglected to take such a course.) I tinkered around, trying not to pigeon-hole myself. I think that, at least for me, this was the absolute best strategy.
    What surprised me most after graduation was how useful some classes were, when at the time I had thought them not. Computing Foundations and Digital Libraries annoyed me to no end at the time. These were the courses that I needed most, and immediately. My one regret was not taking the web design class that was offered.

    I think the most important thing to remember is that your education does not stop when you graduate. Give yourself a good foundation, make connections, and keep learning. Fill in any blanks that surface in the future, using tools and habits you acquired during your studies.


    • These are some great tips–I’m really glad you remind people not to stop learning just because their formal education is finished. In a field that’s as fast-paced as ours, that’s vital! I wish I had taken the cataloging class you mentioned–everyone at SLIS seems to love it, and it seems like a huge help for understanding the relationship between pieces of information, as well as the ways in which we define that information. Good stuff!


  11. I love seeing the different options offered at library schools!
    The only difficulty I’ve had in choosing classes has come from being on the quarter system, which means only three classes, for ten very intense weeks. Because of this schedule classes don’t get offered all that frequently, especially for a specialization, so when they come up, you have to take them or miss out. It’s just hard to limit yourself to three when there’s so many interesting ones!
    The most beneficial class I’ve taken is hands down grant writing. Which is sort of strange, because a grant writing class can be taken at a lot of extension programs, or online, and isn’t a libraries-only topic. I had an amazing teacher who is known in California for her grant experience, and she really focused on library grants. The result was over $8,000 for a library program at a juvenile hall near here. Informative, inspiring, and it’ll rock on my resume– definitely a great class.


  12. I also took the Web Development and IA class at Simmons and thought it was very useful. Yay for Linda Braun!

    I took an XML class at Simmons as well which was also very useful. It focused on indexing and cataloging uses relating to XML. We also had a portfolio-ready final project in which we had to use XML to enhance some information we were working with.


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