Southern’s state-of-the-art Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree program earned full accreditation this spring by the American Library Association (ALA), earning it notoriety as the only accredited program of its kind in Connecticut and one of just three in New England. With an emphasis on technology, the program is designed not only to prepare professionals to implement and manage library and information services, but with COVID-19 shaping the way people interact with physical spaces, like libraries, it also will help future librarians steer the changing landscape.
“This is a significant achievement for Southern following seven years of hard work, planning, and new decisions,” Stephen J. Hegedus, dean of Southern’s College of Education said. “The work and planning are aligned with our commitment to social justice and meeting the needs of our regional and state partners through an affordable and accessible degree program. This is the product of a shared commitment and dedication to the library communities and our students by the faculty and senior administration at Southern.”
Southern’s former Master of Library Science (MLS) program was accredited for 45 years, from 1970 to 2015. True to its name, the new online MLIS program, which launched in fall 2016, builds upon the expertise of the former program but features a curriculum that teaches students to “embrace, utilize and critically assess both current and emerging information technologies.” It consists of six core courses, including a field-based internship, five courses focused on specializations of a student’s choice, and one concluding capstone experience, which enables students to showcase and apply their knowledge and skills.
“This accreditation is very important,” Hak Joon Kim, chairperson of the Department of Information and Library Science, said. “All librarian jobs in the United States and Canada require an ALA-accredited degree to even apply. Southern’s program truly is unique.”
Kim noted that while the program has been a success so far, the journey was not without its obstacles — most notably building a program from the ground up and attaining accreditation during a pandemic.
“It takes years to even develop a new course — and we developed 20 of them to launch this program,” Kim said.
The department had prepared for an on-site visit from ALA this spring to conclude the accreditation process but quickly switched gears because of the pandemic.
“We had prepared everything for their visit,” Kim said. “ALA had never had to deal with this — Corona — and so we had to prepare for a virtual 3-day site visit instead. Everyone needed to meet online — faculty, administrators — and we shot videos instead. For the first time ever, ALA did a virtual, onsite visit, even lunch. We were caught in the middle of the pandemic, but they accommodated us and vice versa. ALA believed in us, and we had 45 years of history with them.”
In addition to its status as one of a kind in Connecticut, Kim said the MLIS program is set apart by the fact that it “closes the loop” — meaning it continually improves as the department compares learning outcomes with data sets, each semester.
“And we always ask faculty, ‘How can the program can be better?’” Kim said.
Students’ opinions also factor in. MLIS student Tanner Mroz, ‘20, sat on the Department Curriculum Committee (DCC) and has served as a graduate assistant; as such, he’s contributed student input and curriculum feedback.
“I did my undergrad at Southern,” Mroz said. “I worked at Wallingford Public Library and knew people who went to Southern, and they said [the MLIS program] was a great experience.”
An avid lifelong reader, Mroz’s ultimate goal is to work in a public library, but acknowledges that at least for now, in light of COVID-19, libraries must move away from “brick and mortar and just books.” The digital component of Southern’s MLIS program, which offers courses such as Digital Librarianship, the study of and practice in designing, constructing and evaluating digital libraries for today’s digital media curation, can help future librarians guide libraries in this process.
“At the end of the Digital Librarianship course, we picked something we were passionate about,” Mroz said. “I picked music, because I have a lot of cassettes, and then I chose to create an inserts library for the cassettes. We were developing a virtual library experience, which is especially relevant because of COVID. I think there’s a lot of creative opportunity now to help brick and mortar libraries so we can supplement them, not replace them.”
Hegedus concurred: “Libraries play a critical role in our society both in the academic communities and at the municipal level. Their identities continue to evolve with the needs of society. We are proud to offer a new library science accredited master’s program — the only one in Connecticut — that will benefit all library organizations.”
The Department would like to express its sincere thanks for the support of the University President, the Provost, the Dean of the College of Education, the ILS Advisory Board, and the Connecticut Library Community. ILS looks forward to the future growth of the program and its continuous updating in line with the needs of the profession.