Fill me in on iSchool
October 10, 2011 11:30 AM   Subscribe

I’m interested in going to an iSchool or studying information science. Have you gone this route? What career options might be open to me after earning the degree?

I’m a couple years out of undergrad, and for a while I’ve played around with the idea of going back to school to study library science. My current job allows me to do a bit of research on a variety of topics and interface with members of the public. These are some of my favorite aspects of the position, and I also love the idea of assisting researchers or professionals with information requests. However, someone recently posted an askmefi question about earning a graduate degree in library science, and many of the responses were quick to point out the bleak job prospects for librarians.

Based on the dismal career outlook, I’m not eager to jump into an MLS, so I’m wondering if I should go to an iSchool for an MSIS instead. In addition to my interests mentioned above (research, customer service), I also like the idea of helping others make sense of large amounts of data, and I’m particularly interested in data visualization, infographics, geoinformatics, and applying information management within cultural institutions like museums. Plus, the student & faculty projects at places like UC-Berekley’s iSchool or Pitt’s iSchool look so interesting. While I don’t have any programming experience right now, I’m definitely open to learning.

But the information science field seems very broad and nebulous. This is probably why I’m having a hard time determining the value of an MSIS degree and what options would be open to me after earning it. So, to get down to the specific questions:

-What jobs/career paths would be available after earning an MSIS/attending an iSchool?
-Are there many options to apply the degree in non-proft/education/cultural/public service institutions? Or are the opportunities heavily concentrated in private companies?
-If you have a career in this field, do you enjoy your work? Would you recommend it?
-Finally, is the job market for iSchool/MSIS grads better than it is for "traditionl" library school grads?

Any additional advice is welcome, too!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (2 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The broadness and seeming vagueness of "information science" isn't inherently a bad thing--a degree from an iSchool can open doors for you in a really wide variety of fields, with job possibilities in government, research, and the private sector, depending on what you specialize in at school.

I have a master's in library & information science from an iSchool, one that--at least when I was enrolled--still had a fairly traditional library science orientation--but I've never worked in a library. I went for the degree as a means of getting into the field of information architecture, which is just one little corner of the information science world. I've been doing information architecture, interaction design, and user experience (UX) design (which are all interrelated) since I graduated. My school offered coursework in those areas, and that was invaluable, but so were two core library science classes: reference and cataloging. My degree wasn't necessarily the best way of getting into this field, and if I had it to do over again, I might go into a more strictly UX-focused program, which wasn't an option when I went to school. On the other hand, my MLIS gave me a strong grounding in the part of UX work that appeals to me most: organizing and structuring information. FWIW, I absolutely love the work I do--it's consistently interesting and challenging.

Many of my classmates went on to traditional library careers, but others went into informatics, metadata and taxonomy work, information/knowledge management, digital library management, and other non-traditional roles. I'm not sure how the job market is in each of those specializations, but I'm pretty confident that it's better than the traditional library job market. My own field is growing rapidly, though it can be difficult to break into, depending on how much related experience you have. If you're willing to do volunteer projects or internships to build up your portfolio and get some experience, though, the job prospects are very good.

My suggestion is to explore some of the areas of specialization as described on the various iSchool websites--learn more about what's meant by those vague and similar-sounding titles, see where graduates from each program have gone on to work, and maybe try talking to some current and former students from programs that interest you. You don't have to know exactly what you want to focus on before you decide to apply to an iSchool, but having an idea of what the possibilities are will help clarify whether or not you want to go for it.

Good luck!
posted by RedMolly at 12:18 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the MSIS degree is actually ALA-accredited. So you could focus on information science, but have the degree you'd need to be a librarian. It'd give you a lots of flexibility.

From what I've seen, even though the job market is a bit tight for librarians, it's easier to find a job if you are a systems librarian or electronic resources librarian. So if have more techy skills, that might be one path.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:26 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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