Grad school decisions
June 29, 2014 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I've been accepted into two MLIS programs. I need help deciding.

I got into Dominican University and University of Michigan's School of Information. From reading old AskMefi questions, I understand that work experience matters more than school reputation for getting a job. I plan on working in libraries in any capacity while getting my degree. I've been volunteering at a public library at home for the past 6 months and loving it. I would like to be a general librarian but hope to get enough tech knowledge for contingency plans under neoliberal budget hell. Fortunately, I will not go into debt for either school.

I volunteer with a woman who graduated from Dominican and she told me its classes aren't particularly useful and require lots of outside work to make relevant - but I've heard that about MLIS programs in general. Would Dominican's location near a large city provide more networking opportunities to make it worthwhile?

As a single 24 year old, I'm personally more inclined to move to Chicago, but I know that 2 years isn't a very long time and I won't necessarily find a job in the city I graduate in. So I'm still seriously considering Michigan if it has a stronger program.
posted by gorbweaver to Education (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you ask for contact information from either school from current students? They'll give you the most up-to-date information. Also, it's great that you won't go into debt but how do living expenses compare between cities? What about work opportunities during library school? How are placements for internships/availability of library assistant jobs in either location?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:46 AM on June 29, 2014

Michigan is very engaged in the intellectual work of managing, organizing, and forming policy around information issues. It's also a massive research university near Detroit, so it's not exactly in the hinterlands -- but it's expensive. If you're interested in the rubber stamp for professional library work, which is totally a reasonable approach, go for Dominican. If you are looking for a degree that, in addition, will provide an intellectual framework applicable to other ancillary fields -- and you can afford it -- go for Michigan.

(Bona fides: wanted the former, went to Michigan anyway, worked as a librarian for a while, now have been a software product manager and UX person for a decade.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:57 AM on June 29, 2014

Former MLIS grad here. My two biggest pieces of advice are: 1) Don't incur any debt (which you've already addressed) or burn through savings for a library degree, and that includes the money you might have to allocate for living expenses if your employment opportunities are largely going to be practicum placements or internships, and 2) Networking is key and there is such a surplus of library school grads that employers usually have their choice of local candidates, so attend a program in an area where you would like to live and work long-term.
posted by northernish at 10:01 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm still seriously considering Michigan if it has a stronger program.

It is a much stronger program. And I'm usually one of those people who is like "Whatever, live where you want" but UM is one of the best programs in the country as far as I am concerned. If you can afford to go to either school equally, go to Michigan.

I know a lot of great grads from Dominican and it's got good solid programs but I always felt the stuff there was more geared to savvy public library types and I was always surprised how non-tech-forward some of their classes were. UM is an amazing program and has been solidly good for decades (I know people from my cohort that graduated from there and it's been amazing to watch them, as a pack, just keep doing awesome things in librarianship). That said chesty_a_arthur is right on. You will get a good solid education from Dominican so it's not at all like the program sucks but there are thinky people ay UM who would be good to know.
posted by jessamyn at 10:28 AM on June 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Not completely relevant, but I've known a lot of people with MLIS degrees that have not been happy with their post-grad outcomes. Make sure that you know the job market and what you need to do to get the career you want!
posted by zscore at 11:08 AM on June 29, 2014

I volunteer with a woman who graduated from Dominican and she told me its classes aren't particularly useful and require lots of outside work to make relevant

That right there would be enough to persuade me not to go to school there if I had other options but YMMV. And River Forest, Illinois is sooo very much NOT "Chicago." It is a wealthy-ish, Western suburb. Near Chicago, yes, but not Chicago. Big difference.

As someone outside your field who is from the Midwest, and has worked and gone to college and grad school in both Chicago and Ann Arbor, I can tell you that Dominican has very little name recognition outside of the specific field. I also lived and worked in downtown Chicago for many years, and did not know until your post that it's even one of the many Chicagoland-area schools -- I thought it was in California.

My advice might be different if you had a full ride to Dominican, but since you won't go into debt either way, I urge you to go with the bigger, way more tech-savvy, more name-recognizable school because life is long, and The U of M will look far better on your resume if you ever want to make a job change.

So yeah, you should go to Michigan. Ann Arbor rocks, and speaking from experience, it is a pretty cool place to be a 24-year-old student, plus as others have said the Detroit metro area is huge. You're also close to Windsor, Ontario, and Chicago is only a short train ride or drive away if you want to job search there while you're in school. Good luck!
posted by hush at 11:11 AM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would definitely go to Michigan if you can afford it. Michigan's MLIS program is very forward-thinking and has a great reputation in the library/archive world. You'd get some great experience there that will be very helpful when you look for a job and the networking you'll be able to do will be helpful as well.

Also, Ann Arbor is a great place to live. There's lot of culture and it's pretty easy to get from there to other places. So, pretty much what hush said above me.

Good luck!
posted by Fister Roboto at 11:33 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Michigan is not the best program for people who want to work in a traditional library role (reference, instruction, readers advisory). If you want to do tech stuff- not cataloging but like Web Design, systems, etc- it is great. It is also expensive, and when I looked at in 2003, it was a cohort program: everyone takes the same classes, no free choices until your second year.

I went to Wayne State for my MLS but lived in Ann Arbor. I had and have friends from both schools. My Michigan grad friends don't know some stuff I considrr the basics and that i use daily in my job as reference and instruction librarian at am academic medical Center (how to catalog, how to conduct a reference interview, how to write s learning objective) . They know stiff I never learned too (how to pick and set up a chat refrrence service, how to run a user experience test for a website).

I ultimately chose Wayne because i spoke to the head reference librarian at Michigan's grad library (yes, the same school) and asked which degree was better for a job at her library, on her staff. She said, no contest, michigan students dont learn relevant stuff for working in this environment, we'd pick a wayne grad. So maybe talk to a person who hires for the job you want, get their advice too.
posted by holyrood at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2014

If you will not be going into debt, I can't recommend Michigan's program highly enough. I'm a recent graduate, and had a fantastic experience there. Most of my cohort had very good job outcomes, and I credit much of my success in the job search to the experience and courses I had at Michigan. And man, Ann Arbor is an awesome place to be a student. It's a seriously great town, and this is coming from someone who moved there, very reluctantly, from a big city.

There are lots of opportunities for all types of librarians: the academic library system is gigantic, with all sorts of specialized libraries; the local public library system is well-known in the field for being on top of its game; there are museums and libraries in Detroit, Lansing, etc., that are close enough to be doable for internships. You should also check out the University Library Associates and Public Library Associates programs.

And if you're interested in picking up some tech skills, the range of specializations within the MSI (HCI, etc) mean that you have lots of choices in terms of what types of "non-library" classes you take. These opportunities also mean that your degree is more flexible, should you have trouble finding a library job or want to make a career change. But you can also get through the degree with hardly any tech coursework, since they do still have more traditional library courses as well.

It is worth noting that while the school heavily promotes its career services office (which is relatively unique among LIS programs because it's dedicated specifically to the iSchool), they focus heavily on the more technical specializations, and LIS types are often left out in the cold. That said, a career services office that doesn't focus on your specialization is still better than none at all. Just something to keep in mind.

And re: holyrood's comment, you definitely do get to pick your own classes these days. There are three core classes that everyone takes in their first year, but other than that you're on your own. Of course there are prerequisites, etc., so many people end up taking the same sequences of courses. But I don't think that's at all unusual.

Would be happy to chat further if you have specific questions about the program.
posted by apricity at 11:43 AM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

N'thing Michigan, from fairly deep engagements with the field.
posted by spitbull at 2:09 PM on June 29, 2014

Dominican might get you a job in Chicago if you can compete with all the other Dominican and UIUC grads in the area. Michigan, like UIUC, will get you a job anywhere.
posted by MsMolly at 3:13 PM on June 29, 2014

My vote goes to Michigan, too. This is sort of should "I choose an Ivy League selective school or my local college." You can learn at both, but name recognition, depth of faculty, and other opportunities are far greater and longer-lasting at Michigan.

I am a librarian and I do look at the school when hiring--and see a difference in what candidates from different schools know & understand. Some schools tend to focus on the skills-end of librarianship, which is important, but I like candidates who have a broad view of the library world and how it is evolving--and not only technologically. I find that those who attended larger schools--Michigan, Illinois, UW-Madison, Kent, Catholic U, and similar--are better able to articulate such a vision. Is it the student or the education? Not sure, probably both, but that is my observation.

Many I meet who have attended schools similar to Dominican are looking for the credential valued in that one market, which is a legitimate reason. You're fortunate to be in the no-debt position that removes that factor from your decision. A degree from Michigan will offer much more to you now and in the future.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 3:24 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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