January 26, 2011

Thoughts on Masters of Library & Information Studies (So Far)

So, now that I have completed one term (4 courses) and am on to my second, I have some comments about my particular library and information studies program (MLIS at University of Alberta) I would like to share.  First of all, since this question is asked perpetually by those interested in LIS programs: the state of job availability is much more positive in Canada than in the United States, from the commentary I have heard.  In the various list serves I am on...there always seems to be new opportunities becoming available...though more often for senior positions or related to technical services. But generally, I would say there are a range of opportunities available across seniority, institutions and experience levels. Metatdata Librarians are particularly in demand. In Canada, I believe the LIS profession is healthy.

In my first term I took 4 required courses. This course-based Masters is 16 courses plus a capping exercise (as opposed to thesis-based), with an IT requirement of 2 courses within the 16.  The School states you can finish the program in 2 academic years, which I plan to do. Many, many students take the program part-time...one student has been taking courses for 7 years in fact. The problem with this in my school, is that there are few Spring and Summer session courses offered.  Although, you can take external courses, one practicum, or a directed study (in conjunction with seminar courses if needed).  Here are some comments about last term's courses.
  • LIS 501 Foundations of Library and Information Studies - Introduction to LIS. Different types of librarians and their roles. Looked at Mission Statements, Goals and Objectives of Institutions.  Some assignments were directed at developing soft skills. I found the Career Development Planning assignment helpful. We were fortunate enough to be taught by visiting scholar Dr. Brooke Sheldon, which made the course quite a fun experience.
  • LIS 502 Organization of Knowledge and Information - All about the theories behind how we organize, analyze, transmit and retrieve knowledge.  Disliked the assignments, which were reflective papers and a final exam, but enjoyed the content and exercises.
  • LIS 503 Information Services - This course is basically Reference Services 101. The most practical course last term, the most demanding, but the most rewarding and some "fun" assignments (i.e. presentation of a reference source, evaluation of a reference interview).
  • LIS 504 Leadership and Management Principles for Library and Information Services - If you did not have any management or supervisory experience, the course would be more challenging because a lot of discussion was required by the professor in the lectures and in an online discussion forum.
This term I am taking another required course (LIS 505) and three electives.
  • LIS 505 Introduction to Research - A step by step progression to creating a research proposal. Oh you bet I am intimidated!  Students often go on to extend the proposal as their thesis.
  • LIS 532 Cataloguing and Classification - Yes, this is all about MARC encoding, ISBD and AACR2R cataloging rules. Library of Congress Subject Headings. Library of Congress Classification and Dewey Decimal Classification.  But this class is applicable if you are interested in metadata, which is becoming increasingly important with the semantic web.
  • LIS 533 Database Design for Information Management (IT) - More about theory, the process of database development and good database design, than creating a database.
  • LIS 538 Digital Libraries (IT) - What is a digital library? What are good Digital Collections?  These questions are more complicated than you may think. We do get to create a small digital library at the end. Super excited about this!
All my courses this term develop practical skills...and this is my whole mandate - Information Technology (practical and technical skills).  Most of the assignments in the courses allow you to target the program to wherever your interests are. This is the best way to get the most out of the program.

Last term I decided not to work and I received good grades (though these are really not so important unless you are applying for scholarships).  This term will be the same though I plan on working next academic year.  Working and participating in a full-time MLIS program is a fine balance. Including class time and time required for all readings, sourcing and assignments, I would say I devote 30+ hours per week and probably closer to 40+ hours per week the last 6 to 8 weeks of the term, to the program. I would also say I am the average student...not one who is completely dedicated...I want a life too!

Many scholarships are given out by the school automatically and other scholarships require applications with research proposals....yes research proposals!  Needless to say, I probably will not be receiving any scholarships in the program. Why? I do not have a second Masters, second undergrad degree or a Doctorate, and these are the usual candidates for scholarship money.

The majority of students in the program are looking at entering traditional library roles after graduating (roles in academic, special and public libraries). Other roles include archives and schools...and even more non-traditional and alternative are jobs in the information profession and the corporate world...which is this gray fuzzy area seemingly impossible to gain any insight on - this is my focus and I did find one good printed resource called What's the Alternative? by Rachel Singer Gordon.

The most rewarding aspect about being in library school is putting behind me the sense of feeling like "the piece that won't fit into the puzzle" of the professional world.  I have made many friends, we all have different backgrounds but we have the same desire to acquire an MLIS, although we all have different interests and want to accomplish different things. Being exposed to others, with various creative ideas and collaborating on different assignments (yes, group work is heavy in some courses) has exposed me to a variety of perspectives. I have grown so much as a person from this experience.

The profession is a small one, so its important to be visible, network, join committees and generally participate.  Really, not as scary as you may think!!!  Everyone is very supportive. I decided to go to library school...because everything in me was telling me it was something I just HAD to do. Don't go to library school on a whim. Make sure it becomes a thought that never goes away. I recommend having a strong interest on a subject related to the profession. Its not necessary to be in the profession or have worked in the profession, but you must have an open mind, the ability to adapt to change and a willingness to learn, learn, learn.

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First Impressions First Week of Library School
Ever Felt There Was Something You Just Had To Do?


  1. Glad you are enjoying your classes. I teach a reference class and hope my students feel the same as you do about the course. What other assignments did you have for the class? I"m always looking for new ideas.

  2. Hi Kathy, in 503 we had a Literature Search assignment ... more of using advanced search methods and then writing about how the search went. Presentation of a reference source required evaluation of an online resource using specific criteria. We also had 5 source assignments (searching for answers to very hard patron questions). The reference interview was actually an unobtrusive evaluation of reference services.

    The source assignments were hard...and took many hours! They were each only worth 6% of our total mark, though I thought they should have been worth more.

    A challenging but very good class!

  3. Hi,

    I'm trying to decide between U of A's and UWO's MLIS programs right now, and I just came across your blog. Have you heard anything about how the two programs compare (e.g. whether graduates of one are more employable than the other)?

    Thanks for blogging! Your posts are helpful.


  4. Kara - I was going to recommend to you the Livejournal website and libraryschool entries but I think you have already found it because I follow those posts.

    I would apply to both programs regardless...UWO has a higher acceptance rate than UofA...plus you can take the program year round. UofA only offers September acceptance and a full course load in the fall and winter terms, there are some courses in spring/summer.

    I don't think either program makes you more employable...I've seen some good career offerings across a range of experience for Alberta. No idea about UWO and Ontario. Good Luck!