Library School: A Look Back, Or Why You Should Do A Lot of Research on the MLS Program You Are Interested In

I started my MLS program at Emporia State University in January of 2013. I had just moved to a new State, started a new job, and ended a ten (10) year relationship. It was a time of extraordinary change for me and I was tentatively excited for what was to come.

One of the reasons I was originally interested in the program was due in part to the fact that they had electives that aligned with my interest in health science/medical librarianship. Even though it was part of Emporia’s nursing program, the courses were as close to medical librarianship as one could get (at least in the Midwest). It wasn’t until after I had been accepted to the program that I found out you had to physically be on the Emporia campus to take the courses. I had been lead to believe that the courses could be integrated into the hybrid face-to-face/online format the program had instituted, which was one of the main reasons I chose Emporia over The University of Missouri-Columbia. This left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was excited to start my program and as I progressed through the curriculum, I focused most of my research on aspects of librarianship that affected medical libraries.

The MLS program at Emporia follows a pretty standard format. The first two semesters are devoted to “Core Courses” and as you move further into the program, you are allowed more freedom when it comes to taking electives. In the first semester you are required to take Foundations of Library and Information Science and Information Seeking Behavior and User-centered Services and you have the option of taking Technology Skills for Graduate Students. I opted out of the technology skills class, and found the Foundations course to be very dry. Some of the history majors in my cohort said that they enjoyed the course, but overall I did not feel that the course was very challenging or interesting. While I understood the reasoning behind the course, studying the ALA Code of Ethics and learning about the history of libraries was not really my “cup of tea.”

Group Projects

It was also in this course that I had my first graduate school group experience and let me just say this…it was very unsatisfactory. My group mates did very little work and did not understand how to collaborate online. Further, one seemed to have a very difficult time coming to terms with the workload of a graduate program, and the other went on vacation halfway through the project without letting anyone know. In fact, we showed up at class to present and she wasn’t there. When we told our professor she said, “Oh, she didn’t tell you?” No…she didn’t tell us, but thanks. Needless to say, the experience was painful and I prayed I would never have assigned groups again.

In case you don’t want to read about my full experience…

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TL;DR

1. When considering a MLS program, make sure you really do some thorough research into the programs you are interested in. Email faculty, talk to recent graduates and don’t take the program directors word as law (i.e., make sure a course that they say is online is actually online and does not require you to be at a particular campus).

2. Do some general research into what type of librarianship you may be interested in and use the ALA’s Directory of ALA-Accredited Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies to help inform your decision.

3. Once you have been accepted to your program, don’t be afraid to speak up when you find the experience less than satisfactory! During my program, I emailed the director of our program to let her know that I was disappointed by the decision to dismiss one of our professors, and I also made full use of the professor/course evaluations at the end of each semester. Make sure that you help shape the future of MLS/MLIS programs by voicing your informed opinion!

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The second (2) course, Information Seeking Behavior and User-centered Services was team-taught by two very different professors. One had a very laissez-faire attitude about the course and interlaced a lot of personal experiences into her lectures. I really enjoyed when she taught and looked forward to class when she was the main presenter. The second professor was incredibly dry and I found it difficult to pay attention when she was lecturing. However, when the course was split into two groups, I was in the group with the second professor and was pretty bummed out for the rest of the course. Overall, the course was actually interesting and I still utilize a lot of what I learned in the course when helping students/faculty.

Semester two (2) was also dedicated to core classes: Organization of Information and Research in Library and Information Science. This was by far my least favorite semester in the program. While the Organization of Information course had interesting content, the professor was the same dry professor from my previous semester and lectures were painful. Thankfully I had an amazing group for the group project and we ended up creating a Prezi about organizing shoes. This was also the first semester we were really introduced to literature reviews, and even though I had done a few in my undergraduate work, they were never as in-depth as the first two reviews we were assigned in grad school. I chose to continue my research into health science librarianship by focusing my literature review on Medical Information Retrieval SystemsEven though the review was drawn out over multiple weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed the research experience and was proud of the finished product.

Organize Something Presentation

At the same time we were completing the review for Organization of Information, we were also assigned a literature review in Research in Library and Information Science, except this was a group review. My group was amazing, and I had the best partners in crime a library student could ask for, and we worked really well together. Even though collaborative literature reviews are horrible, we were able to pull together a great review by the end of the assignment. Originally, I was excited to take a research methods course and was hoping that we would allowed to really dive into data-driven library research. Unfortunately, our professor was less than satisfactory and we ended up learning very little about utilizing data in libraries. I supplemented the course with Research Methods: The Key Concepts and Knowledge into Action: Research and Evaluation in Library and Information Science, even though I had taken plenty of research courses during my undergraduate education. Overall the second semester was rough, but I did complete several usable work products that added depth to my portfolio.

By the third (3) semester Emporia allows you to start taking some electives.I opted to “start getting technical” and took Introduction to Metadata and Advanced Metadata Applications. Both courses were beautifully taught and I learned so many things that I have been able to apply to my jobs. The courses were both very intense and you had very little “goof off” time. I was able to work with the same individuals I had been paired with for the collaborative literature review and we aced the final project by creating BGMAP (Board Game Metadata Application Profile). If you plan on taking a metadata course, I highly suggest purchasing the book for the class and bookmarking the schemas the class is covering. I also took Collection Development and Management, with a great professor who was originally from Florida State University. During the course she allowed us to participate in a poster presentation (a sort of mini-conference) and incredibly I was assigned medical libraries as the topic of my research!

BGMAP Landing Page Markup

The fourth (4) semester is similar to the third (3) in that you can take an elective paired with a core or two electives. You still have to complete Leadership and Administration of Information Organizations, but there is some leeway on the order in which you take the rest of your courses. I decided to take the Leadership course (to get it out of the way) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though I have never desired to be in a management position (Guru track anyone?), our professor was incredibly engaging and provided us with a lot of context for why managerial roles are so vital in organizations. Unfortunately it was this particular professors last course before he was stupidly (yes I said it) dismissed from Emporia State University. This particular management course had us create a strategic plan for a library, which is apparently something LIS graduates are normally not well-versed in doing. The second course I was enrolled in during this semester was Introduction to Informatics, which–while interesting–also provided an absolutely terrible group project experience.

My last two semesters were by far my favorite in the program. I was enrolled in a total of five (5) courses over the entire two semesters. The second to last semester I took Information Technology, which I will sum up by using a tweet from a group mate…

Kat Tweet

I paired Information Technology with Information Retrieval and Customization, both of which were taught by the same professor. I found this particular professor to be horribly disorganized, and I could not for the life of me tell if she was actually technically proficient or not. Since most of the work was completed online, I didn’t have enough interactions with her to see if she was really comfortable with technology. After taking three of her classes, my ultimate vote is no.

My very last semester in the program I enrolled in Teaching in the Information Professions (wonderful course that should be required of all librarians, especially those interested in academic librarianship) and Project Management in Information Organizations, as well as my Capstone. While I would suggest taking a project management course, make sure that your professor actually understands how to teach project management and that it isn’t just a hobby of theirs.

Every semester I could I tried to take Database Design, but every semester it was dropped due to low enrollment. This was a major drawback of the program! There was not enough variation among electives to satisfy those of us not on a track. I wanted to take the following (but many were never offered during my cohort):

  • LI844: Database Design
  • LI866: Intro to Copyright and Licensing
  • LI809: Introduction to Archives
  • LI827: Preservation Strategies
  • LI835: Information Services for Academic Libraries
  • LI840: Structure and Organization of Information Technology
  • LI848: Web Design and Development
  • LI890: Advanced Research Strategies

This lead to me really only getting to choose 5 (4.5 really) electives throughout my entire program. I would have loved to “test out” of Information Technology (which was required) and taken a course where I would have actually challenged myself instead.

Overall I would give the SLIM program a C+ (B- on it’s best day). They are way behind when it comes to integrating technology into their curriculum, and are still offering concentrations in Children’s and Young Adult Librarianship. In order to stay relevant in today’s tumultuous world of library and information science, they need to start offering an MLIS, as well as concentrations that integrate informatics and computer science into the MLS curriculum track (perhaps offering a Systems Analysis and Design track, a Knowledge Management concentration, or even a Digital Information Certificate). The school currently offers a completely separate informatics degree, but the program just came into existence in 2015.

See TL;DR for a concise summary.

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