September 11, 2010

First Impressions First Week of Library School

It has been just over a year since I first embarked upon the application process to enter graduate studies in a Masters of Library and Information Science program.  The application process was long and fraught with emotion for me. At first I was nervous about even contemplating returning to school after 10 years since acquiring my undergrad degree. Then there was all this anxiety about putting a credible application together, visiting professors I had not seen in over a decade to discuss being referees and keeping my intentions withheld from my coworkers.  After sending off my package I was depressed, second-guessing the content of my application and still trying to stay motivated at work. Then when I found out I was accepted I still had to keep this huge secret for a couple more months.  That was especially hard.

But let me tell you all the angst of the process was well worth it!!!  So if you are contemplating making a significant life change, I would recommend you go for it, if it is truly a lifetime goal or dream of yours.

I'm attending the MLIS program at the University of Alberta. The School of Library and Information Studies at UofA is very small, tucked away at the south end of Rutherford Library.  There are only three classrooms in actual fact!  The UofA campus feels intimate, although for some reason I thought it would be huge.  There are many green spaces and the grounds are very well taken care of. You can tell the governing body has a lot of pride in the institution. The SLIS community is very small and the Faculty make you feel important and welcome, stressing over and over again that they were here for us and the students their first priority.

There are about 50 to 55 graduate students enrolled in SLIS this year under various programs.  Some students are part-time but the majority are full-time. There are about the same amount of students as in 2009-10, but I guess the year before that they only accepted around 30 students to the program.  You must start the program in a fall term.  The majority of students are looking to enter into traditional librarian roles after graduating. I am one of the few planning on entering a non-traditional role and I am very surprised there are so few of us, as there are many emerging information professional opportunities. The age range of the group is from the mid 20s to mid 50s, with a very wide variety of backgrounds. Some people have multiple degrees, undergrads and Masters, and even Doctorate's!  The group seems to have been made deliberately diverse.  A good chunk of assignments in each class will involve group work. I find collaboration very rewarding so I'm looking forward to the team projects.

I'm living in the newly constructed Graduate Residence just a hop, skip and a jump from the SLIS school, all the main university buildings, the Kinsmen Center and shopping on Whyte Ave.  So I have been very fortunate as well in location and type of housing.  I have my own room. Its small, but cute and perfect for me.  To maintain balance and counteract stress, I have enrolled myself in yoga classes twice a week...and since I paid for them I am committed to going to every class.

The Reading Room in the Rutherford Library (as shown in the picture right) is an inspiring place to study, although its a bit chilly so its necessary you bring a hot drink and chunky scarf.

My final thoughts: After my first week in the MLIS program I'm excited for all the learning to come, the people to get to know and the city and campus to explore. I will be joining a few associations to get involved, which I think is essential for every student to do. I'm feeling content, grateful and very fortunate in getting another chance at a university education, even better being in a Masters program.  Having worked for 10 years I feel I have the experience, confidence and mindset to be successful in the program that I never felt was there while completing my undergrad degree. It will be a lot of hard work but I expect untold rewards.

If you have any questions about a Masters in Library and Information Studies feel free to ask away...


  1. Hey There!

    Congrats on being accepted! I, too, thought about enrolling in the MLIS program at Simmons here in Boston, but was put off by the fact that the Boston Public is actually closing branches. Maybe later. I also looked at doing a bookbinding program, but the $32,000 price tag is a little daunting. One word of caution - in my research I came across an article that said that one of the downsides of professional programs like the one you are in is that they don't tell you to get practical hands-on experience before you graduate. This means working in a library so you can get a good idea of how things work. The second point the article talked about was that mentoring is not encouraged. So find an experienced librarian and foster a relationship so you can learn from them. These two things should go a long way to helping you find a job once you graduate. Good luck!

  2. Hi Erin,

    Thanks! The landscape for Librarians in Canada right now is a bit different than it is in the U.S. I think. Actually I was shocked to see how low the salary range for American Librarians are as compared to Canadian Librarians and how few employment opportunities there are in the U.S. for Librarians. Maybe the situation has gotten better now though. The binding program seems way way too expensive!

    I would like to clarify a couple things you mentioned if I may, that seem to be differences in the educational programs between the U.S. and Canada, though these programs are all ALA accredited. After a few classes in the program at UofA I've been able to form an opinion that the Professors try to make the Assignments as hands on as possible (not based on theories or concepts but processes and experiencing how to solve problems, answer questions, etc). Another good thing about my program is that you have an advisor for the full two years of your program (or longer if you are part-time), not only are they Librarians but they are the Professors teaching your classes. We can change our advisor if we form a better relationship with someone else. Though some students do not have any experience working in libraries I think for the most part you need some sort of library volunteer or work experience to be accepted to this program. I heard somewhere that for the UofA there is 250-300 applications but only about 50 are accepted.

    I appreciate your suggestions...I hope I am am to form some helpful relationships! If you are still thinking of the MLIS program I encourage you to take a second look. Its hard work but fun too.

  3. Hi, I stumbled upon your blog doing a search for reviews of the MLIS program at U of A. How have you been finding the workload so far? I'm interested in applying but I have a young daughter I'm raising alone and I'm concerned about being able to do both. Thanks,

  4. Hi Sarah,

    I am taking a full course load, which is 4 classes. I have no other commitments and I do not work, I have savings and I hope to complete the program in the two-year timeframe. Each class is one 3 hour per week session. For each class, the guideline is for every hour of class plan 2 to 3 hours of work in addition to class time., so that is an additional 6 to 9 hours of work per class excluding the class time. This is about right.
    Some of the classes are easier than others. 503 is challenging and time-consuming but I am learning the most practical experience in this class. For my situation I do not find the coursework overwhelming.

    There are many, many students that take the program part-time, even just one-class per term. I would suggest with your commitments part-time would be the best solution. There may be a course you can take in the summer. There are 1 credit workshops sporadically too, that can be combined into the three credits needed to replace one 3-credit class.

    I love the program and it was the best decision I made to leave my employer of 7 years and enter SLIS school. From the rumours I have heard they only accept 1 in 4 or 5 applications. There are 55 students in my cohort.

    If you have any other questions please feel free to email me at the email address above. I am eager to answer any other questions you may have.