Which schools have strong programs in digital librarianship?
August 14, 2013 8:56 PM   Subscribe

What schools have strong programs in digital librarianship or digital curation?

After years of resisting the pull due to the abysmal state of the job market, I'm considering going back to school for an MLIS, preferably with a focus on digital librarianship or curation. If I do this, I want to go in strong in order to maximize my chances at employment. I'm considering Pratt's program in Digital Management for Cultural Heritage, because it's closely in line with the kind of work I am currently doing and would like to be doing at a higher level. (I'd also possibly be able to remain in New York and continue doing this work if I attended Pratt.) I've also been alerted to UNC's Digital Curation certificate. What other strong programs are out there that are doing great work in digital librarianship or digital humanities?

Some background info:
As an undergrad I was a student worker in the preservation department of my university, followed up by time working the circ desk in the music library. My senior year I worked in our ethnomusicology center's collections on a particular set of sound recordings, essentially verifying a bunch of metadata and creating a searchable spreadsheet of information on it. I also wrote my senior thesis on this collection.

This work led to an interest in archives when I went to grad school for anthropology. I took two information science classes in the School of Information where I did my MA- Organizing Information and Understanding the User Experience. I loved Organizing, and hated UX, but I think about the principles I learned in UX on an almost weekly basis and I've used what I learned in Organizing in a variety of contexts and really enjoyed applying that knowledge.

I graduated in 2010 with an MA in Anthropology, having decided not to finish my PhD. I'm currently back at my undergrad university working as a temp research assistant in the same center as my undergrad work. We're working on digitizing our collection and I'm in particular involved with a project involving an indigenous community where we plan to eventually build a website (essentially a digital archive) that will be used by this community. This will function as a cultural heritage resource for them and but will also eventually be public facing in various ways.

Despite the fact that I am essentially a grunt uploading photos and adding basic metadata, I really love this work. It combines my love of organizing information, my background in anthropology and my interest in what digital humanities can do for the spread of information. I would really love to have much higher level tech skills (and archive skills and metadata skills, you get the picture) in order to contribute to the construction of this website/archive or any others that we build in the future. I am particularly interested in being able to do sort of community based digital work that helps indigenous or other communities create their own archives (but that might be a pipe dream). Currently my web skills are not too advanced, but one of the genuine appeals of a program like this is getting some really solid computer and web dev skills which would be useful on their own.

I want to go into this with eyes wide open, so I am happy to hear come to Jesus talks about the value of an MLIS in today's economy, but I'd also love to have some information about how to do it right and what program would best set me up to do so. Just as a data point, I have excellent GPAs from both my undergraduate and graduate programs, which were from strong schools.

Also, I'm familiar with THATcamp, and D-Lib Magazine, but other resources would be very welcome.
posted by Polyhymnia to Education (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

Also, you may want to consult a forum specific to librarians, as this is a general website and may not have the specific information you are looking for.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:13 AM on August 15, 2013

I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was in their data curation program. I found that it was really quite excellent and that I came out of it with highly marketable skills, and now have a great job using those skills (though not explicitly in a library setting).

I also have another Masters- in Biology- which I found really helps in the job hunt. Cross disciplinary skills and all that really helps you. Data curation is seriously the only place that libraries are hiring in right now- I still subscribe to all the jobs listservs. I move to a new city, and had my choice of jobs, which was pretty cool.

I know the UIUC's data curation program is really focusing on digital humanities/social science right now, and that they also have a good bit of scholarship and RA support for their program as well.

Info here

Also, I found that Illinois's distance program was really a great way of doing things for a distance program. You have to fly in once a semester which kind of sucks, but it also means that you get to make real connections and build a network, which is essential. to eventually getting a job.

Feel free to me-mail me if you have further questions.
posted by rockindata at 6:43 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The MLIS certification is usually just one bullet point in a long list of job requirements that, above all, will be looking for previous experience in libraries or with digital collections—and the experience is far more important, in most cases, than the degree. The single most valuable thing I took away from my time working on my MLIS was the experience of my internship, which was onsite at a library.

It sounds like you're actually somewhat ahead of the game here: You already have a master's degree, and you work with digital collections. You might benefit from looking into some of the American Library Association chapters to meet other professionals in this field—the annual conference is huge and expensive, but there are countless "committees" dedicated to specific areas (I'm sure music librarianship is one).

Basically, yeah, the degree doesn't buy you as much as you might think in the job market. Considering your experience, I would see how far you can get with traditional networking before enrolling in an MLIS program. Even if you do end up in an MLIS program, you'll probably end up teaching yourself most of the web stuff anyway on the side.
posted by saramour at 7:35 AM on August 15, 2013

I'm a digital librarian in an academic library, and you're one of the few people I would actually encourage to get a degree in library science right now. You've worked in libraries and have an interest in some things that should make you pretty hireable. I also come from UIUC's program and would highly recommend it. The on-campus program and the distance ed program are equally strong, and they have a lot of great professors teaching DL and data curation classes.

UNC's also good, and I know there's at least one Metafilter member who's in their LIS PhD program, so she might be along in a while to give more insight on that school.

Pratt isn't really super well-known or respected outside of NYC, although it might be fine if you're planning to stay in the city. A friend of mine got her MLS there and works at the Museum of Modern Art, but she already had the job before starting the program.

The work experience is CRUCIAL to your future marketabilty, so keep working in libraries while you're in whatever program you decide on.
posted by MsMolly at 8:10 AM on August 15, 2013

Your profile says that you're in NY, so maybe you could join a local archivists' group (e.g. http://www.nycarchivists.org/), go to some events, chat with people, see who has digitization projects, who needs help, and also see what degrees would be worth pursuing.

Both UNC and UIUC are good programs, although they might not have exactly what you want. You might also want to check out Museum Studies programs, to see if they have digitization concentrations.
posted by carter at 9:05 AM on August 15, 2013

I'm a PhD student in Texas' LIS program. I think the recommendations here are good ones. Digital curation is not my area, but the best and most solid stuff I've been hearing at conferences and reading in journals has probably come from UIUC and UNC. While a degree doesn't buy you as much as you might think (as others have noticed) it can be fairly quick and relatively painless (if you can get funding) and can be a huge help connecting you with the right people and programs. The interesting projects you describe wanting to be involved in often emerge in collaboration with LIS departments.

It might be worth checking out a variety of programs beyond those "top tier" ones -- a lot of schools are working on developing this area of research. At Texas, we recently hired a faculty member who is really plugged in to digital humanities and seems to be a whiz at getting grants. So, even if there isn't an well-established program where you might want to (and can afford to) go, if you can find a faculty member actively working to develop digital curation studies there, you might be able to get in on the ground floor of something really cool.

Good luck and feel free to MeMail me.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:03 AM on August 15, 2013

Academic librarian here, specializing in metadata (for digital materials), with some project based data curation experience. I agree with MsMolly, I think this could be a good investment for you. Many jobs, at least within libraries, will require a ML/IS, and I think there is a lot of value to be had in a decent program. It's not going to guarantee you a job or teach you everything, but it should provide you with a good theoretical foundation (which can be very important with info organization) as well as practical toolbox.

Course work targeted at your specialization and practical hands on experience will make you stand out from other job applicants and greatly increase your chances of getting a good job, or getting a job in a specific local.

Speaking of specialization, I just want to point out that there are some somewhat overlapping but not equivilant areas in the field right now:
- Digital Libraries - This is more in the rough area you seem to be working in, often project based management of digital resources - frequently humanities/special collections materials. This is a specialty that's been around for about a decade and has become increasingly common. That means you might have an easier time finding applicable course work and job postings but there will also be more people competing for those jobs.
- Digital Curation - This is kind of fuzzy but can cover work done by librarians or archivists. Honestly, it feels like a bit of repackaging of a lot of the DL stuff with curation (such a popular buzz word right now!) thrown in.
- Data Curation - This is the current bleeding edge. It's focus is generally not on cultural heritage resources but on research data (data sets). It doesn't sound like this is what you're interested in but this is where the new jobs are going to be for a bit, and folks are just starting to graduate with specialized coursework/experience in this area, so definitely a good investment.

I got my MLIS from Indiana University Bloomington about 9 years ago, and had a very good experience. There was a wide variety of technically oriented classes as well as the opportunity to work with a great DL program. I don't know where the school has gone since then though.

[as with any graduate program -- watch your debt!]
posted by pennypiper at 11:44 AM on August 15, 2013

Digital anything is a good choice for a librarian right now, so I'm not sure the normal library "DON'T DO IT PANIC!" rules apply here.

But, really, others have said this, and this is truly the most important thing: get experience in a library while you are in school. The school you go to is a lot less important than relevant work experience. Librarians are a bit different in that we don't typically assume someone is better because they went to a better school. Someone who went to a lower-ranked library school who has worked for a year or two in the Digital Something Department in a university library will have a huge leg up on someone who went to a top school and has never worked in a library. (I say this as a proud grad of one of those top-ranked programs.)

While it's great to get a paying job, internships and field experiences are great, too.

One of the advantages of the bigger, more traditional on-campus programs is that they often have paid assistantships in their university libraries, so look into that. It may not be obvious from their websites so call their office folks to chat with them.

Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 5:21 PM on August 15, 2013

Thank you, guys. This was both encouraging and informative. I realized I actually know a few folks at UIUC and am reaching out to them right now. In the mean time, I'm going to try to get involved with some professional organizations here in the city. If any of you are ever in town and would like to talk digital libraries, give me a buzz!
posted by Polyhymnia at 12:16 PM on August 17, 2013

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